Dam Busters film pilot meets Queen

Ken Souter is in the flying helmet on the left of this shot from his own collection. Picture taken during the shooting of flying sequences for The Dam Busters. Pic: The Sun

Dom Howard tipped me off about this recent story in The Sun.

Flt Lt Ken Souter was one of the RAF pilots who flew the Lancasters used in the 1955 film The Dam Busters. He had served in North Africa during the war and in the Malaya Emergency afterwards before being selected to fly the aircraft, which were taken out of storage and hired out to the film company at the princely cost of £130 each per hour.

Now 100 years old, Ken and his wife Brigitta live in a Haig Housing veterans’ retirement home in south London, which was recently visited by the Queen. According to The Sun they met, and then chatted about the card she sent him for his 100th birthday. But then Ken forgot to mention his place in cinema history to the monarch!

The flying re-created for the film was almost as dangerous as that undertaken on the raid itself, Ken later told the newspaper:

“The director wanted two aeroplanes to fly very low over the water and then climb up the side of a mountain. As we flew up the mountain, we were getting lower and lower to the ground. There was nothing we could do about it. We were on maximum power and maximum climb and the ground was coming up fast. We couldn’t climb any more and I thought, ‘This is it’.
How we managed to scrape over the top of that mountain I’ll never know. It was very dodgy but we ­survived. We were flying lower than we had ever flown before, even ­during wartime, and I had arguments with the film company about it.
I kept telling them we were going to be killed, but they insisted.”

Despite the danger, Ken Souter and his colleagues didn’t get any extra money for their work on the film, having to rely only on their normal RAF pay. However, they can be assured that they have their own special place in cinema history, even if Ken forgot to tell the Queen about it.

Thanks to Dom Howard.

3 thoughts on “Dam Busters film pilot meets Queen

  1. Tony Souter July 11, 2020 / 1:06 pm

    I’m sorry to report that the Sun interview and subsequent article got it wrong in identifying Ken Souter as the guy in the helmet…I imagine the figure is a member of the film crew but certainly isn’t Ken. I think the aircraft in question might have been Wellington or a Varsity…both were certainly used for the air to air filming. I’m Ken’s eldest son and although I must have been about seven when the flying for the film was done at Scampton…I remember it well and must be the only kid to have been smuggled aboard a Lancaster for a short positioning flight with my dad prior to filming.

    • charlesfoster July 13, 2020 / 7:21 pm

      Tony – thanks for this info. As you say, this is how The Sun captioned the picture. I will amend the post accordingly.

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