The actor George Baker, who died on Friday, had a long and distinguished career on the stage, in TV and films, most recently as Inspector Wexford in the long running series based on Ruth Rendell’s detective stories. Dambuster aficionados will, however, recall that one of his first important film roles was that of Flt Lt David Maltby in Michael Anderson’s 1955 film.
The new Daily Telegraph film critic, Robbie Collin, has written a long and perceptive obituary for the paper, which you can read online. He cites the story I told on this blog a couple of years ago, about how George Baker wrote to me when I was researching my book about David Maltby, saying that one of the reasons he was chosen for the part was his strong resemblance to his real life character.
The real David Maltby, photographed in 1942
George Baker as David Maltby, in The Dam Busters (1955), standing at the back of the group.
In truth, the part of David Maltby in the film is quite small, and much of the time he appears his face is hidden by a flying helmet and oxygen mask. But he does get a few memorable lines, one in the ‘rag’ in the mess when the 617 squadron aircrew are teased once too often by their 57 squadron colleagues about their endless training and lack of operational flying.
This results in a giant ‘debagging’ fight with both crews trying to remove each others’ trousers. Guy Gibson, played by Richard Todd, hears the row from his office, and then has to pick his way through the scrum outside on his way to a meeting with station CO Charles Whitworth. He pauses to rescue David Maltby from the melee and receives heartfelt thanks: ‘Thank you sir. Saved my life. Never forget it.’
It was always a source of pride to my family when we were growing up that the part of our uncle in such a great film had been played by so distinguished an actor, and we used to follow George Baker’s career with proprietoral interest. He was a modest, self deprecatory man, who will be much missed.