Arise, Sir Peter

Peter Jackson is to receive the same accolade as that given to other great film directors such as Sir David Lean and Sir Alfred Hitchcock, with a knighthood. (Another report here.) Regular readers of this blog will know that amongst his future projects are a remake of The Dam Busters, the 1955 classic war film, which may start filming in late 2010 with a possible release in 2011. I’ve covered this story at length, and look forward to bringing you further news in the year to come.
In the meantime, a Happy New Year to all blog readers!

Christmas greetings 1942 style, from Dambuster Cyril Anderson

Card image © Dominic Howard
I don’t know if any Christmas cards signed by other Dams Raid participants survive from the latter part of the war, but this pre-Dams Raid ones does. It was sent by Sgt Cyril Anderson to his wife Rose in December 1942, when Cyril was still training as a pilot. He was then based at RAF Finningley.
In February 1943, Cyril went on to join 49 Squadron and had flown 7 operations before being transferred to 617 Squadron on 25 March, along with his crew. On the raid, his aircraft AJ-Y was part of the third wave, the mobile reserve, and was eventually dispatched to the Sorpe Dam. He encountered heavy flak en route and had a problem with a malfunctioning rear gun. So at 0310, with dawn approaching and the valleys filling with mist, he turned back still short of the target. He landed at Scampton at 0530, with his mine still on board.
Guy Gibson was not pleased with the fact that he had returned without dropping the mine and, taking no notice of the other extenuating circumstances, sent Cyril and his crew back to 49 Squadron. They completed another 15 operations before being shot down by a German fighter and killed on a raid on Mannheim on 23/24 September 1943.
One interesting feature on Cyril’s card is its atmospheric photograph. There are other cards featured in this posting on the Lancaster Archive.
On a personal note, I’d like to wish all readers of this blog a very happy Christmas and a good New Year. I know from my WordPress stats that there are now several thousand of you, and I hope you will continue to find the blog interesting and informative. Charles Foster

Jackson speaks: Dam Busters remake to start shooting in 2010

Here’s a great seasonal present for all Dambuster film fans. Speaking on Campbell Live, a New Zealand TV show, on Monday 14 December Peter Jackson confirmed that the remake is going ahead, and that shooting is likely to start sometime next year. He is a busy man, and the bulk of the TV interview was about his newest release, The Lovely Bones, which has just concluded a series of premieres around the globe. Also on his studio’s horizon is The Hobbit, with Ian MacKellen lined up to play a role. But towards the end of the interview he said “if all goes well we’ll be shooting Dambusters in 2010″, and confirmed that ten full size Lancaster models are currently in a warehouse in Wellington.
As the moderator of NZ’s foremost aviation forum, Dave Homewood, has pointed out this interview should dispel any doubts that the project has been put on permanent hold: “Maybe you guys aren’t getting the full gen up-over” are his exact words. Thanks, Dave!

Unseen stills from ‘The Dam Busters’ film

Over on the Classic British Flight Sim forum (yes, there is such a thing!) member Trevor Clark has posted a wonderful find:

Whilst installing an internet connection at a friend’s house this morning, she asked if I was interested in seeing ‘aircraft photos’ she came across in a box of old photos.
What she showed me, will all be scanned and put up on the internet!!!
Her uncle was Erwin Hillier, the director of photography on the 1954 Dambusters film (as well as many other famous films).
The photographs are wonderful 8×10 B/W production stills, about 20 odd of them… I am not sure if they have ever been in the public domain before??

Calypsos is right. He has now posted all the pictures and I don’t think some have been seen since the 1950s, as they don’t appear to be in the BFI’s collection.

The picture above is particularly fascinating to me, as it shows the ‘crew’ of aircraft AJ-J (played by unnamed extras, who may have been real life RAF servicemen) standing behind actor George Baker, in the role of Flt Lt David Maltby, my uncle. This scene doesn’t appear in the final cut of the film. It would be fascinating to know if any unseen sequences of film remain — no special extras kept for the DVD release in those days!

Erwin Hillier is a giant in 20th century British cinematography, although his name is largely unknown to the general public, and it was his skill, along with that of director Michael Anderson and writer R C Sherriff, which made The Dam Busters such an iconic piece of cinema. I will be writing more about him another time.

UPDATE November 2014: Link to pictures updated. Click here.

Barnes Wallis exhibition in Goole

Should you find yourself in the East Riding town of Goole in the next few weeks (and why wouldn’t you want to go there?) then head on down to Goole Museum and take a look at the free exhibition about the work of Barnes Wallis, which opens today. As the press release explains, Wallis was responsible for many other invention, often overlooked, beside the so-called ‘bouncing bomb’:

Widely celebrated for his wartime work on the Wellington bomber and the so-called ‘bouncing bomb’ used on the ‘Dambusters’ raid on the Ruhr dams, his other successes have often been overlooked.  During the mid-1920s, Barnes Wallis was based at Howden, working on the successful R100 airship project there. The Yorkshire Howden connection is the starting point for this exhibition, which also covers not only his military work, but his subsequent investigations into supersonic flight, and projects as diverse as the Parkes Telescope in Australia, de-icing systems for Arctic trawlers, and lightweight calipers for polio victims.

The exhibition runs until the end of January – an ideal day trip for the holiday season!

The Dams Raid: contemporary report in The Times

It may well vanish behind a paywall again shortly, but at the moment you can read The Times’s contemporary accounts of the Dams Raid. The page available is from 19 May 1943, two days after the raid. The previous day’s papers had carried the first reports, but the story was to dominate the news agenda for several more days to come – fed by the Air Ministry’s public relations officers, who had become highly skilled at releasing information in several stages.

Richard Todd, 1919-2009

In the early 1950s, Richard Todd was halfway through a seven-year contract with Associated British Pictures when its director of productions, Robert Clark, bought the film rights to Paul Brickhill’s book The Dam Busters. Todd was already an established star, having received an Oscar nomination for The Hasty Heart in 1949, and playing Robin Hood in the Walt Disney movie of the same name. Clark wanted a vehicle for Todd, and the physical resemblance between Todd and the character he was chosen to play, Wg Cdr Guy Gibson, obviously helped him in the choice.
What is perhaps surprising, given that Todd is now remembered for his roles in ‘war’ films, is that The Dam Busters was in fact his first such part. (He was to be seen in naval uniform in The Yangtse Incident (1957) and played various army officers in D Day, Sixth of June (1956), Danger Within (1959), The Long and the Short and The Tall (1960), and The Longest Day (1962) before ‘rejoining’ the RAF and director Michael Anderson in Operation Crossbow (1964).) In The Longest Day, he played the role of Major John Howard, who commanded the glider force at Pegasus Bridge, and had a scene opposite another actor playing himself, an officer in the 7th Light Infantry (Parachute Battalion), who was amongst the first to meet Howard at the bridge. (Todd’s account of his real life role on D Day is here.)
Most of the obituaries (Telegraph BBC) single out Todd’s part in The Dam Busters as the highlight of his career, and he certainly took great pride in being remembered for the role, regularly turning up for reunions, other events and signings. It was, as American critics of the time pointed out, his ‘characteristic British understatement’ which made his portrayal of Gibson so memorable. His own war experiences must have contributed to his decision to play his ‘war’ roles in such a way – he was determined never to demean or trivialise the memory of the actual war and its casualties.
[Information from John Ramsden, The Dam Busters, Tauris 2003.]
Update: Further obituaries Guardian Guardian pictures Times Independent

The sinking of the Lutzow

As I have said before, this blog is mainly concerned with events in 617 Squadron round about the time of the Dams Raid, but occasionally strays into other events during the war. This is another example!

Flg Off Joe Merchant joined 617 Squadron as a bomb aimer towards the end of the war, and was in the crew piloted by Flt Lt Gordon Price on one of the squadron’s last wartime operations (and the last one in which it sustained casualties). He dropped the Tallboy bomb which blew a hole in the German pocket battleship Lutzow. You can read the story, written by Joe Merchant’s son Vivian here.