Pic: Ray Hepner
Among the many fascinating items in Ray Hepner’s collection of Dams Raid artifacts are a number of press cuttings from down the years. This great article from the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine is just one. It was taken sometime in early 1993, and appeared in the magazine on 9 May 1993, the week before the 50th anniversary of the Dams Raid.
The picture shows (left to right) Dudley Heal, Edward (“Johnnie”) Johnson, Jimmy Clay, David Shannon, Basil Feneron and George Chalmers lined up in front of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster at RAF Coningsby.
The caption to the picture doesn’t say this but the article which accompanies it does note the sad event which occurred between the photograph being taken and its publication a few weeks later: the death on 8 April 1993 of David Shannon, something which rather put a dampener on the anniversary events.
Time has marched on since then, and now all these gentlemen are no longer with us. But it is nice to see them all together in the autumn of their years, for one last time.
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.
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.
Pics: 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.
Thanks to Ray Hepner.