Pic: © Sean1552
An alert aviation buff called Sean in Wellington, New Zealand, spotted some interesting activity back in October near his workplace. Writing on the Wings over New Zealand forum, he reported: “The rumors that five Lancaster’s were / are stored next to where I work have now proven to be true, as over the last few days I have seen three truckloads of Lancaster parts being put back into storage. These included wings, and engines and other big parts. The trucks were uncovered, so they were not trying to hide anything. Have no idea where they came from but I am guessing Masterton, as that was where there were seen last. Not sure if this means they are going back into storage as there is no further need for them (no film), or they may have finished some filming…. hopefully someone here might know. I know Peter Jackson stores a lot of his stuff here as we are always seeing his WW1 tanks and buses etc being moved in or out usually in the weeks up to ANZAC day.”
A few days later, Sean saw another shipment in transit, and took a series of photographs, one of which is shown above. The fact that one segment of fuselage displayed the code letters AJ-G is of course confirmation that the models were made for the Dambusters film remake. However, as Sean points out, there has been no clue from the notoriously secretive Wingut Films as to when the remake will go ahead.
Sources do continue to suggest that Peter Jackson remains personally committed to the project. This was confirmed in the interview given by Jackson in Oxford in the summer, which appears to have been reported only in the hitherto obscure medium of the website of Exeter College, whose ex-students include JRR Tolkien.
Asked what projects he might want to pursue next, Jackson stated he was in “no rush” to recommence filming. Nor indeed, to return to Hollywood.
“At the moment . . . a lot of the films there are not the sort of films I particularly enjoy. So what Fran and I are probably going to do is make some smaller movies, make some New Zealand movies.
“I’ve got The Dam Busters too: I’ve been working on a script with Stephen Fry over the last few years on and off. But whatever we do over the next few years, it will be quite a lot smaller.”
So there we have it. A small Christmas bonus for Dambusters fanatics.
If you want another treat, then scroll backwards in the Wings Over New Zealand posting mentioned above, and find some great pictures from the New Zealand premiere of the 1955 film:
The number of actors left who played parts in the original 1955 film The Dam Busters has been sadly diminished over the last few years with the deaths of Richard Todd, George Baker and Richard Thorp. To this list must now sadly be added Bill Kerr, the Australian actor who played Mick Martin, who died on 28 August.
Like the rest of the cast, one of the reasons he was chosen was because of his strong resemblance to the character he would play. The director Michael Anderson said on first meeting him at a casting session at Elstree, “Gentlemen, Micky Martin has just entered the room.” Despite this, the role required him to spend 90 minutes in make up each day, having a wig, moustache and chucks behind his ears fitted, so that they stuck out more prominently.
Being a genuine Aussie allowed him to critique the accents which some of the other actors had to put on – notably the rather posh Englishman Nigel Stock as “Spam” Spafford (“Get a move on skipper, or you’ll miss the bus!”).
Like Stock and Richard Todd, Kerr had actually served in the army during the war, so donning uniform again held no difficulties. He was also one of the better known of the younger actors who took part: he had already played a flyer in the film Appointment in London, and by the time The Dam Busters was released was a regular on the radio comedy show Hancock’s Half Hour.
He returned to Australia in 1979 and played many roles on the stage, and in TV and film. He died, apparently, while watching an episode of one of his favourite TV comedies, Seinfeld.
Obituaries of Bill Kerr in The Guardian and Daily Telegraph.
Sources used: John Ramsden, The Dam Busters, Tauris 2003
Thanks to Alex Bateman, I’m now able to list the mother of four of the Dams Raid aircrew who attended the Premiere of The Dam Busters and were presented to Princess Margaret. They appear in the Pathé News report of the occasion.
The mothers are: top left, Mrs Florence Hatton, mother of Bill Hatton; top right, Mrs Nellie Knight, mother of Les Knight; bottom left, Mrs Dorcas Roberts, mother of Charlie Roberts; bottom right, Mrs Elizabeth Nicholson, mother of Vivian Nicholson.
Pic: Greg Pigeon
Greg Pigeon, son of Percy, has kindly sent me some material from his late father’s collection. It includes this interesting press cutting from an unnamed Canadian newspaper, undated but obviously published in May 1955.
The five Dams Raid participants still serving in the RCAF were all flown to London to attend the Royal Premiere of The Dam Busters. They were Ken Brown, Joe McCarthy, Donald MacLean, Percy Pigeon and Revie (Danny) Walker.
The text of the article contains a number of mistakes, perhaps reflecting the fact that the raid was not so well recalled by Canadians 12 years after it took place. It states that “13 Lancasters” were directed to attack the “Moehne, Eder and Serpex Dams” and implies that all were breached. It also underestimates the casualties – “five of the 13 Lancasters did not return to base”.
Flt Sgt Joe Kmiecik, a Second World war veteran, was a pilot in 83 Squadron in 1954, and flew one of the three RAF Lancasters used in the 1955 film The Dam Busters. His son Jan has kindly sent me another photograph, taken at Lake Windermere during the filming.
It is quite extraordinary to see how low the pilot is flying. The figure standing in the bow of the boat underneath must have been almost deafened by the experience.
My good friend Dom Howard has come up with another gem. A full set of Warner Brothers promotional material for the American release of “The Dam Busters” in 1955. See the whole collection at his Photobucket site.
This is the second post running featuring the son of a member of the RAF who took part in the filming of “The Dam Busters” in 1954. This time it is Jan Kmiecik, whose father was Flt Sgt Joe Kmiecik, a Second World war veteran who was by then a pilot in 83 Squadron. Jan has kindly sent me these two photos.
The first shows ground level filming of one of the two Lancasters which was modified for the film to resemble the “real” Dambuster aircraft more closely, with its mid upper gun turret and bomb bay doors removed. It has also had its squadron code changed to AJ-M, the code of the aircraft flown on the actual raid by Flt Lt John Hopgood.
The second picture shows the three Lancasters used in the film flying together probably for the last time. This was taken at a Battle of Britain Day tribute in Cumbria. The caption on the reverse says that this was taken at Silloth, but in Jonathan Falconer’s Filming the Dam Busters, this is mentioned as taking place at nearby Anthorn. (
If anyone can confirm which airfield this is, please let me know. Cumbria resident Dom Howard reckons that it is Silloth– see this link .)
Note in the picture that only two of the aircraft have been modified to the “Dambuster” configuration. The central one must be NX782, which was left as standard and used in an early sequence where Gibson is completing his final flight as CO of 106 Squadron.
Note also how low the three Lancasters are flying, and how close they are to the members of the public wandering across the runway. Modern air displays have much stricter health and safety rules!
William Hill was serving as a Navigator in 83/150 Squadron after the war when he was called on to be part of the crews put together to fly the three working Lancasters used in making the 1955 film. With only three operational aircraft left, various subterfuges were used so that they looked like more, including painting different squadron call signs on each side.
William’s son Stephen has kindly sent me a cutting from an unknown newspaper published some 20 years later, which recalls the writer’s memories of the film shoot, and also the relevant pages from his father’s logbook.
If you watched The Dam Busters earlier today on ITV4, and are now paying your first visit to this blog, welcome.
You may be searching for more information about the remake of the film, which is in the hands of Peter Jackson, in which case I can tell you quite categorically, there is no news. There are rumours aplenty, but all we can currently say is that it seems unlikely that he will make much progress on the project until he has got his Hobbit blockbuster out of the way – and that will last well into next year.
But in the meantime we can report that in the more rarefied atmosphere of the BBC Radio 3 studios, there will be a radio talk this week on the original film by the well known pundit, Simon Heffer. This is one of a series he is doing on British war films of the 1950s. You can catch it on Wednesday 11 January at 10.45pm.
The British Film Institute has revamped its stills website, so that it now displays many more items from its collection. The first thing I searched for was, of course, The Dam Busters, where there are 24 items including most of the well known film stills and posters.
What is still missing, however, are those extra unused stills from cinematographer Erwin Hillier’s personal collection which turned up a couple of years ago, on which I reported at the time.