Déjà vu all over again in Sunday Express as columnist writes same story three times

A colleague sent me a link to this week’s Sunday Express, thinking I would like the fact that it had given me a namecheck and also quoted a commenter on this blog. Fine, I thought at first, but when I looked at it more carefully it did seem to be rather an old story. And so it was.

The article appeared in a column written by Adam Helliker (‘Whispers from the Top: The best informed, most entertaining diary you need to read’) published last Sunday, 30 April 2017. The piece started:

UNLIKE the brave men of Bomber Command who hit those dams so accurately in Germany in the Second World War, the producer who wants to remake the famous film about the raid keeps on missing his target.
It is now more than a decade since Sir Peter Jackson, producer and director of The Lord Of The Rings, declared he was going to remake The Dam Busters.

Sounds familiar? Yes indeed. Here is the ‘best informed’ Mr Helliker, with another of his ‘whispers’, written on 9 August 2015:

UNLIKE the brave men of Bomber Command who hit those dams so accurately in Germany in the Second World War, the producer who wants to remake the famous film about the raid keeps on missing his target.
And with the death of pilot Les Munro, who was to have been the film’s technical adviser, the likelihood of it being made is dropping faster than a bouncing bomb.
Sir Peter Jackson refuses to say when his new version of The Dam Busters will be made.

And if this is not enough for you, here’s where the sequence starts. In what was doubtless named as an exclusive on the day, the ‘most entertaining’ Mr Helliker wrote this on 7 December 2014:

UNLIKE the brave men of Bomber Command who hit those dams so accurately over 70 years ago in Germany, the producer who wants to remake the famous film about the raid keeps on missing his target.
Sir Peter Jackson refuses to say when his new version of The Dam Busters, with a script written by Stephen Fry, will be made. Indeed he professes to becoming increasingly “irritated” when people ask him about it now, even though he has held the rights for five years.

It’s not just the text which is interchangeable in all three versions. Mr Helliker has recycled the same 2014 quote from Sir Peter Jackson: ‘There’s only a limited span I can abide of people driving me nuts asking me when I’m going to do it.’ To add interest, Sir Peter is variously described as ‘being dismissive’, ‘declaring tetchily’, and becoming ‘increasingly irritated’. As indeed he might when he reads this comment for the third time.

The recycling doesn’t stop there. Each article has a quote from a Mr Jim Dooley of the Bomber Command Association. In both 2016 and 2017 he is quoted as saying: ‘It’s a film everyone wants; the original one is always being shown and they wouldn’t do that if there wasn’t an interest in it.’ In 2014, he said: ‘The time to make this film is right now; we are waiting with baited breath. These chaps might not be with us for much longer, and we were hoping for a big opening night to boost funds needed to maintain the new Bomber Command memorial in London.’ So Mr Helliker must have troubled himself to pick up the phone to Mr Dooley on two separate occasions.

Each of the three articles also mentions what Mr Helliker calls ‘chatter’, but seems largely to be generated by him, that the cast of the film will include Colin Firth as Barnes Wallis and Tom Hollander as Guy Gibson. The fact that Tom Hollander (a fine actor, of course) is now in fact 49 and therefore unlikely to be cast as a 24 year old war hero is not mentioned. But original research (such as checking out his Wikipedia entry) doesn’t seem to be Mr Helliker’s forté.

Instead, he just pulls up an old piece he wrote a few months ago, swaps around a few paragraphs and hopes that no one notices. Maybe the line at the top of the page should be changed to ‘Whispers from the Bottom. Recycling old tat every week.’ 

[Thanks to Dom Howard! Full disclosure: the quote in the headline ‘Déjà vu all over again’ is attributed to baseball coach Yogi Berra. Or so it says on his Wikipedia page. ]

“Part of our country’s glory”

RH21 Coates score1 lores

Pic: Ray Hepner Collection

This blog has a new good friend, the collector Ray Hepner, who is very kindly allowing me to show some items from his archive over the next few weeks. The first of these is a copy of the sheet music for The Dam Busters March, autographed by its composer, Eric Coates. The item shown above is the vocal version with words by Carlene Mair.
The stirring words are not often performed, perhaps because they are not widely known. They read as follows:

Proudly, with high endeavour,
We, who are young forever,
Won the freedom of the sky;
We shall never die!
We, who have made our story
Part of our country’s glory
Know our hearts will live on
While Britons fly!
Britons fly!
We know our hearts will still live on
While Britons fly!
While Britons fly!
Words by Carlene Mair, © Chappell 1954/1956

To my mind, these are rather better words than the rather dirge-like recent hymn, about which I posted last June.
Not much seems to be known about Carlene Mair, other than that she wrote a book about the history of Chappell, the music publishers, and also the words in English for Chappell’s collections of Bavarian and Welsh folk songs.  She also wrote an English translation of Charles Trenet’s La Mer, but not the words to Beyond the Sea, which uses the same tune and later became a hit for Bobby Darin. Any further information would be gratefully received.

Buyer beware

I’ve never been happy with the idea of people digging up bits of crashed wartime aircraft, and then selling them for personal profit. How can you tell that a small piece of rusty metal came from a particular model, and that it was actually found in a specific location – a site that is actually the place where someone usually died? Even if the bodies of the men who perished were eventually recovered and buried, there is something ghoulish about trawling the ground in the hope that a personal artifact – maybe, a watch, a torch or an ID tag– will turn up.
But turn up they do, and then, inevitably, they emerge for sale on eBay or in the hands of specialist relics dealers. There’s obviously a good living to be made from this, as is proved by the emergence of large trading companies with substantial inventories and impressive websites.
One of these companies goes by the name of Historic Aviation, based in Minneapolis, in the state of Minnesota, USA. A reader of this blog, Steve Dulson, commenting on my recent article about the proposed memorial at the site where Flt Lt Norman Barlow and his crew crashed on the night of the Dams Raid, alerted me to an item for sale on this company’s website.
It is described as: ‘A rare opportunity to own a piece of World War II history! This display includes an authentic fragment from the Avro Lancaster bomber piloted by Robert Barlow of Squadron No. 617, the “Dambusters,” RAF, that was lost on May 17, 1943, during Operation Chastise, as well as a beautiful print depicting that fine machine soaring low in the night sky.’
At this point, the alarm on my Dambuster bullshit-meter began to sound. The picture quite clearly shows a Lancaster aircraft, coded AJ-E, flying over a dam but, as any Dambuster student knows, Barlow never reached the Ruhr area, colliding with a pylon shortly after crossing the Rhine. AJ-E, however, was the correct call sign for Barlow’s aircraft.
Kudos to another regular reader, Philip Knight, for pointing this out. He says that the picture shows Barlow at the Möhne Dam, but looking at it more carefully it seemed to me to be more like the Eder, which has arches in the dam wall and angled roofs on its towers.
The picture was painted by an artist called Ron Cole, so I went on a search for further information and found his website.
Well, what a surprise. The same picture, but with one important difference. The code painted on the aircraft side is AJ-N, which was borne on the Lancaster flown by Les Knight, the pilot whose weapon finally breached the Eder Dam.
It looks as though Ron Cole himself can tell his AJ-N from his AJ-E, but someone at Historic Aviation has decided that any old Lancaster picture will do as a mount for what looks like a small piece of metal plate. And it costs $24.95 more than you would pay for the print on its own on Mr Cole’s site, numbered and signed by the artist.
So what other treasures might be lurking in the Historic Aviation shop? A search through all the aviation art prints turned up another oddity. Here is a print of a picture by the British artist, Anthony Saunders, signed by the artist and Corporal Maureen Stevens, and retailing at $130.

The same image can be found on Mr Saunders’ own website, back in Blighty. So we can be fairly sure that he is responsible for this picture.
But on another page in the Historic Aviation shop, here is the same picture, but with a different title, scribed to a completely different artist, Richard Taylor, and allegedly signed by Les Munro and Johnny Johnson:


The text shown in the above screengrab seems to describe a completely different picture, which of course it is. The real “On Course for the Möhne Dam” by Richard Taylor can be found on the website of many art dealers:
So what do Messrs Cole, Saunders and Taylor make of the different ways in which their work has been misrepresented by the guys from Historic Aviation? And what does this say about the provenance of items which purport to be ‘authentic’ Dambuster relics.
I think we should be told. And, in the meantime, buyer beware.

POSTSCRIPT: Ron Cole has now contacted this blog, as can be seen in the comments below. He says that it was he himself who altered the original code on the side of the aircraft. He has also explained how it came about in an email to me:

I obtained a rather beat up panel from AJ-E about two years ago that hailed from the roof of a farm outbuilding, where it had been incorporated since the war. Since I make a business of combining such relics with my artwork, and had an earlier watercolor that portrayed a Lanc, I combined the two for a limited series of displays with the idea that one day I’d actually paint AJ-E and put together a more specific and historically accurate presentation. Then about six months ago I was commissioned to paint the cover for Guy Gibson’s ‘Enemy Coast Ahead’ on audio book, depicting AJ-N. Not long after, Historic Aviation contacted me about the possibility of carrying a ‘Dambuster’ relic display, and since I still hadn’t gotten around to painting AJ-E, I did the next best thing by altering the book cover painting. It was at least better than the old watercolor Lanc, and looked nice. So that’s the story behind the otherwise odd combination, such as it is; an imperfect compromise.

Well at least we have an explanation! And also we now know where the panel from AJ-E now resides. As Mr Cole says, it is quite well known that during the war a local farmer had used it in some building work. However, I can’t help feeling that it would be a better idea to use an accurate portrayal of AJ-E, and its brave crew who often only appear as a footnote in the Dambuster story. They were in fact the first crew to take off from Scampton on that night, and were killed some two and a half hours later.
This official RAF picture, taken on the night, is the only picture of a Dams Raid Lancaster in flight and is thought to be of AJ-E taking off from Scampton. [IWM CH18006]

Channel 4: Mission to confuse


Channel 4 programming bods have come up with what sounds a very confusing documentary, The Dambusters Great Escape –Secret History, to be aired tonight at 8pm UK time.
Can’t imagine what the thinking is behind this, because the subject is about the operation which finally sank the German battleship the Tirpitz, in November 1943 1944, which had nothing to do with the Great Escape. On this raid, the Dambusters, in the shape of 617 Squadron, were accompanied by another Lancaster squadron, 9 Squadron, also armed with Tallboy bombs.
However, the programme is presented by the completely sane Patrick Bishop, the distinguished author of Bomber Boys and other great books, so we can only hope that the bonkers title won’t reflect what should be a lucid presentation of interesting content.

Take the weight off your feet

Bench all three

If you fancy a walk along part of the Oyster Bay Trail, on the North Kent coast, why not relax for a moment or too on the new portrait bench just outside Reculver? It’s the brainchild of Canterbury City Council, who allowed the public to choose the three images who would represent the area’s culture and history. The winners were (from left to right) a woman in Roman dress, an oyster fisherman, and Dambuster pilot Warner (“Bill”) Ottley, who flew AJ-C on the Dams Raid and was shot down near Hamm. Bill Ottley’s family lived in Herne Bay, which is the local connection to the portrait bench. Although he was only 20, he had already completed a tour of operations in 207 Squadron, and been recommended for a DFC.
The picture of Ottley on which this bench portrait is based was supplied to the council by Alex Bateman, long time friend of this blog.
If you are quick, you can enter a draw to win £250 simply by taking a photo of someone on the bench and sending it to Canterbury City Council. Closing date 31 March!

The wrong Dambusters

Patrick Bishop is a great author, and his books Bomber Boys and Fighter Boys are invaluable sources of reference for anyone wanting to find out more about life in the wartime RAF. But someone has taken their eyes off the ball in creating the artwork for the jacket of his latest work, Target Tirpitz.

In the breathless prose loved by publishers’ blurb writers (confession: my first ever job!) HarperCollins tell us:

The Tirpitz, Hitler’s greatest weapon, was reputed to be unsinkable and the battleship inflamed an Allied obsession: to destroy her at any cost.
More than thirty daring operations were launched against the 52,000 ton monster. Royal Navy midget submarines carried out an attack of extraordinary skill and courage against her when she lay deep in a Norwegian fjord in an operation that won VCs for two participants.
No permanent damage was done and the Fleet Air Arm was forced to launch full scale attacks through the summer of 1944 to try and finish her off. But still the Tirpitz remained a significant threat to Allied operations.
It was not until November 1944 that a brilliant operation by RAF Lancaster Bombers, under the command of one of Britain’s greatest but least-known war heroes finally killed off Hitler’s last battleship.

The writer is referring to the raid carried out by 617 and 9 Squadrons, who dropped Barnes Wallis-designed Tallboy bombs which blew the final massive holes in the Tirpitz’s hull. The 617 Squadron contingent was under the command of Group Capt Willie Tait, and a picture of him and a crew which was not his own, taken after the raid, appears in a recent Sunday Telegraph review. However, these are not the five airmen who appear on the cover. Instead, the designer has chosen to use figures from one of the most famous pictures of the war, the photograph taken of Guy Gibson and his crew as they set off on the Dams Raid, 18 months before the Tirpitz was sunk.

(Imperial War Museum, CH18005)

From the left, the figures are Richard Trevor-Roper (rear gunner), John Pulford (flight engineer), George Deering (front gunner), ‘Spam’ Spafford (bomb aimer) and Bob Hutchison (wireless operator). Guy Gibson, on the ladder, and ‘Terry’ Taerum, the navigator, have been cropped out of Harper Collins colour-tinted version.

All five men were of course Dambusters, so they fall into the category mentioned in the book’s subtitle, ‘X-craft, agents and Dambusters’. But it’s a disservice to the real men who were on the raid, and a bit of an insult to the five portrayed on the cover, who couldn’t have been there for one simple reason – they were all dead.

UPDATE: Alex Bateman has kindly pointed out another bit of artistic licence on this cover. The Lancaster shown in the background is in fact Guy Gibson’s usual aircraft from 106 Squadron, known colloquially as ‘Admiral Prune’.

Dambusters down under

This picture is from correspondent Fred Wild, who took it when passing through the delightfully named Warrnambool in Victoria, Australia.

Fred tried to find out more about the owner who is obviously a bit of a Dambusters fan, but so far has not come up with any information. Anyone who can help can contact him through this site.

Just the thing for the cold snap

At the moment, Britain and Ireland are both experiencing the second bout of severe weather conditions in ten months, with temperatures some nights down to -19C. If you have a flat roof, you could be running the risk of water damage as and when the thaw comes. What you need is a Dambuster Deicer, available right now from the manufacturer, in Sicklerville, New Jersey, USA, or usual stockists. A good Christmas present for that uncle who likes DIY?