BBC repeats interview with Michael Anderson

BBC4 WarFilms

Somehow I missed this BBC4 documentary the first time it was aired in 2013, but I’m happy to say that I caught up with it on Monday evening. The journalist Simon Heffer, who has a longstanding interest in the British war films genre, wrote and presented a fascinating programme which looked at the plethora of 1950s films about the war.
What made it even more interesting were the interviews with the people who were involved with these films. These included the actors Donald Sinden, Virginia McKenna and Sylvia Syms, and Guy Hamilton, who directed The Colditz Story. For me, of course, the star of the show was Michael Anderson, the director of The Dam Busters.
Interviewed in his home in Canada and looking very spry, Anderson described the first time he had heard Eric Coates play the Dam Busters March and knew instantly that this was the music for the film. He also praised R C Sherriff’s script, a ‘masterpiece of understatement’, something that he was keen to preserve in his direction. And he confessed that he was still moved by the final scene, where Gibson tells Barnes Wallis, distraught at the loss of 56 men, that even if all the men had known that they wouldn’t be coming back, ‘they’d have gone for it just the same. I knew them all and I know that’s true.’ Wallis isn’t really consoled, but he accepts what Gibson says, and suggests that the CO should get some sleep. This Gibson cannot yet do, and he delivers the film’s final line of dialogue: ‘I have to write some letters first.’ Without another word, Wallis stumbles out of shot and Gibson marches towards his office, exchanging salutes with a passing sergeant. As John Ramsden remarks in his BFI monograph: ‘It is as fine a moment as actor, screenwriter or director ever managed in a film, and coming at the very end, its result is devastating.’ (John Ramsden, The Dam Busters, Tauris 2003, p.95.)
Anderson has had a long and distinguished career in the cinema. He was nominated for the Best Director Oscar for Around the World in 80 Days (the film itself won Best Picture that year).

Fifties British War Films is being repeated on BBC4 on Friday 12 February at 0140. Or you can watch it on iPlayer for the next four weeks.


Dorothy Nutley, wartime WAAF in 617 Squadron

Dorothy Nutley

Among the many unsung members of 617 Squadron in wartime were the WAAFs, women who performed a number of important ground roles. One of these was Dorothy Nutley, who met and married her husband Tommy while serving with the squadron at RAF Coningsby, and who has died recently at her home in Devon.
Sgt Tommy Nutley was the flight engineer in a crew piloted by Plt Off John Sanders. They joined 617 Squadron from 49 Squadron in April 1944, and went on to complete a full tour of operations together before being posted out early in 1945.
After more than 60 years of marriage, Tommy Nutley died in August 2005, and was buried in Brendon churchyard in Devon. Dorothy was buried beside him more than ten years later.


Pic: IWM CH17863

A photograph of John Sanders and five of his crew is in the Imperial War Museum collection. The only person identified in the shot is Sanders, fourth from the left. The figure third from the left looks like Tommy Nutley, but this is yet to be confirmed.
Thanks to Christopher Priest.

Sing, everybody – we’ve found the song!

Music1 loresMusic2 loresMusic3 loresPics: Ray Hepner

This blog’s good friend Ray Hepner has turned supersleuth, and had an incredible result. I wrote last week about the music which is heard in a short scene in the film, ‘The Dam Busters’. This shows the actors Richard Todd and Basil Appleby, playing Wg Cdr Guy Gibson and Flt Lt Bob Hay, watching a chorus line perform a song at a London music hall. Neither the song nor the performers are listed in the film’s credits.
Ray has now tracked down the sheet music for the song, which is in fact called ‘Sing Everybody Sing’. The words and music are by John P Long, and it was published in 1942. Long had several hits in the first half of the 20th century, the most notable of which being ‘Oh, It’s a Lovely War’, written in 1915 with Maurice Scott. This of course later provided the title song for the 1960s musical play and film ‘Oh What a Lovely War’.
According to this listing (scroll down), ‘Sing Everybody Sing’ was recorded during the war by Jenny Howard with Victor Silvester and his orchestra. It is not yet known who were the singer and orchestra featured in ‘The Dam Busters’, which was not released until 1955. More may follow.

Update: 5 February 2016
Ray Hepner has sent a new, slightly earlier, piece of sheet music, which shows that the original artistes associated with the song were Ernest Binns’ Arcadian Follies.

Music4 lores
Thanks to Ray Hepner.

Dams Raid medical officer dies, aged 97

Dr M Arthurton

Dr Malcolm Arthurton joined the RAF as a medical officer in 1942. [Pic: Arthurton family]

Dr Malcolm Arthurton, who was 617 Squadron’s Medical Officer at the time of the Dams Raid, has died, aged 97.
Dr Arthurton was born in London in April 1918 and trained at Westminster Hospital Medical School. After qualifying, he was commissioned into the RAF as a medical officer and was posted to RAF Scampton in 1943.
The low level flying training which was being undertaken by the crews brought a steady stream of patients complaining of air sickness to the young doctor’s door. He decided to check out the effects for himself, and flew with Henry Maudslay on an exercise on 25 April 1943. The weather was gusty and severe buffeting at low level caused Arthurton to record in his logbook: ‘Low flying experience. Weather bumpy. Airsick after ½ hour.’ Thereafter, he was reported to be more sympathetic to requests for the appropriate medication.
Having presumably taken a dose of this, on 14 May he flew with Maudslay again on the full dress rehearsal of the raid at Uppingham and Colchester Reservoirs. ‘We took off at 2150 hours and flew for four hours. I have not the foggiest notion where we were nor exactly what we were doing … people said very little and I did not embarrass them with very difficult questions as I realised there was something in the wind.’ (John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, 2002, p.116)
He recalled seeing Barnes Wallis after the raid, and noted how distressed he was by the loss of life.
Later in the war, he served in the Balkans and was mentioned in dispatches in 1944.
After demobilisation he completed paediatric training  and worked in this branch of the profession. He became a consultant paediatrician in Yorkshire, first in Dewsbury and then Bradford, and was very popular with his young patients, staff and junior doctors, many of whom kept in touch.
After retirement he became a director of Martin House Children’s Hospice in Wetherby, Yorkshire and served there for 10 years.
He moved to Cartmel in Cumbria in 1994, and was active in the local community. He was predeceased by his wife of 45 years, Eve, in 1995 and leaves two daughters, one a mathematician, the other a consultant geriatrician, and two grandchildren.

John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, 2002
Robert Owen, Henry Maudslay, Dam Buster, 2014
Obituary in Westmorland Gazette

In the spotlight

Dam Busters Sing Soldier

Every Dambuster aficionado knows that some scenes in the 1955 film The Dam Busters were fictionalised or embellished for dramatic effect. One of the most famous of these is when Guy Gibson and Bob Hay are seen at a musical in London, and notice how the spotlights are trained from either side to highlight the singer. This gives Gibson the idea of using the intersecting beams from two aircraft Aldis lamps to enable it to fly at a fixed low altitude. (The real story is that the mechanism was devised by Benjamin Lockspeiser, a scientist at the Ministry of Aircaft production, who remembered that a similar solution had been tried out by RAF Coastal Command earlier in the war.)
This scene was obviously filmed in a real theatre – the historian John Ramsden reckons it might have been the London Coliseum – with a real singer and chorus line. The performers, however, do not appear in the credits, and likewise there is no acknowledgement of the writers of the music and lyrics which are performed on the stage while our heroes ponder their logistical problems.
Over the last few years there has been the occasional comment on this blog wondering if readers could come up with the words to the song, and also the names of the writers. After much careful deliberation and repeated listening, the consensus is that the lyric is:

Sing, soldier, as you march along
Sing, sailor, sing a shanty song
Let the sound float around everywhere
Soon the pilots will pick up the air
Boom-tarara! Sing, worker, make a cheerful sound
Let it ring, have your fling, like the birdies in the spring
And sing, everybody, sing!
Sing, soldier, as you march along
Sing, sailor, sing a shanty song
Let the sound float around everywhere
Soon the pilots will pick up the air
Boom-tarara! Sing, worker, make a cheerful sound
Sweet music makes the wheels go round

But still no one has yet come up with the names of the writer or composer. However, this blog’s good friend, Ray Hepner, has hit on another clue. He was recently watching a 1943 film called Variety Jubilee, which has been rereleased on DVD.


This stars a number of popular music hall stars such as Marie Lloyd and George Robey as themselves. Amongst the lesser known acts was a man called Slim Rhyder, whose speciality was cycling tricks. In this film, he comes on and does a turn, while the ‘Sing Soldier Sing’ music is performed by the orchestra alone, without a vocal. But once again, there is no credit given in the film to the writers.
So we now know that the song was around in 1943, and could therefore even have been performed in front of real life RAF wartime personnel. The references in the lyrics to soldiers, sailors, pilots and workers would also lead one to think that they were written during the war.
It is quite likely that sometime in the future someone who knows the answer to this mystery will google the lyrics and come across this post. If that is you, then please get in touch!
[Thanks to Ray Hepner]

Listing for Variety Jubilee on IMDB and Wikipedia.

May your bells ring out for Christmas Day


Best wishes for the festive season to all the readers of this blog, wherever the boys in the NYPD Choir* are singing for you.
I have had a great year working on this blog, with two particular highlights. The first was travelling to Germany to take part in the unveiling of the memorial to the Dams Raid crew of AJ-E, in the company of relatives of six of the crew who died on that night. Thanks once again to Volker Schürmann and the rest of the local German community who instigated the memorial and made us so welcome. The second was the completion of the 133 Dambuster of the Day biographies in August, which I hope means that at last every single man who took part in the Dams Raid gets his own small place in history marked for ever.
I look forward to another year of providing a lot more Dambuster information. Have a very good Christmas and a happy New Year.

*And in memory of the late great Kirsty MacColl.

Models on the move

IMG_10371_zpsmmekupri loresPic: © Sean1552

An alert aviation buff called Sean in Wellington, New Zealand, spotted some interesting activity back in October near his workplace. Writing on the Wings over New Zealand forum, he reported: “The rumors that five Lancaster’s were / are stored next to where I work have now proven to be true, as over the last few days I have seen three truckloads of Lancaster parts being put back into storage. These included wings, and engines and other big parts. The trucks were uncovered, so they were not trying to hide anything. Have no idea where they came from but I am guessing Masterton, as that was where there were seen last. Not sure if this means they are going back into storage as there is no further need for them (no film), or they may have finished some filming…. hopefully someone here might know. I know Peter Jackson stores a lot of his stuff here as we are always seeing his WW1 tanks and buses etc being moved in or out usually in the weeks up to ANZAC day.”
A few days later, Sean saw another shipment in transit, and took a series of photographs, one of which is shown above. The fact that one segment of fuselage displayed the code letters AJ-G is of course confirmation that the models were made for the Dambusters film remake. However, as Sean points out, there has been no clue from the notoriously secretive Wingut Films as to when the remake will go ahead.
Sources do continue to suggest that Peter Jackson remains personally committed to the project. This was confirmed in the interview given by Jackson in Oxford in the summer, which appears to have been reported only in the hitherto obscure medium of the website of Exeter College, whose ex-students include JRR Tolkien.

Asked what projects he might want to pursue next, Jackson stated he was in “no rush” to recommence filming. Nor indeed, to return to Hollywood.
“At the moment . . . a lot of the films there are not the sort of films I particularly enjoy. So what Fran and I are probably going to do is make some smaller movies, make some New Zealand movies.
“I’ve got The Dam Busters too: I’ve been working on a script with Stephen Fry over the last few years on and off. But whatever we do over the next few years, it will be quite a lot smaller.”

So there we have it. A small Christmas bonus for Dambusters fanatics.
If you want another treat, then scroll backwards in the Wings Over New Zealand posting mentioned above, and find some great pictures from the New Zealand premiere of the 1955 film:

Dambuster NZ