The man who, unwittingly, set me off on the track of writing a book about the Dambusters was the actor George Baker, whose birthday is today. In an interview on the BBC Radio Today programme in December 2005 he told the story of how he had been cast to play the part of my uncle, David Maltby, in the 1955 film The Dam Busters. During the making of the film Gp Capt Charles Whitworth, the technical adviser, relayed to him the information that David was sometimes so wound up after operations that he released the tension by shooting china plates with his service revolver. This was a story that no one in my family had ever heard before, and it therefore seemed to me to be important to tell more of the family history before time took its inevitable toll on us all.
In an email to me a few months later he told me how hard casting director Robert Leonard and film director Michael Anderson had worked to ensure the actors looked like their real-life characters. This was sometimes a bit confusing for poor old Charles Whitworth:
On the desk in front of them [Leonard and Anderson] they had a photo of [David Maltby] and one of me and I must admit that there was a considerable similarity. Then when I met Group Captain Whitworth he fell into the habit of calling me Dave, which was really quite disconcerting.
[Whitworth] would often refer to an incident thinking that I had been there. This is how the story of the plate shooting came to be told, quite obviously the men of the squadron became extremely tense before and after an operational ﬂight but other indications from the Group Captain told me that [David Maltby] was a very funny man and a delightful companion. I feel very honoured to have had the chance to portray him in the ﬁlm.
Happy birthday, Mr Baker!