Jackson’s model Lancaster in close up

I can’t believe that I missed this, more than three years ago! When filming their Last Chance to See natural history TV programme, Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine interviewed Peter Jackson in New Zealand. And there, right in the hangar, was one of the full size model Lancasters built for the Dambusters remake.
A very perceptive recent visitor to this blog has sent me these screen shots, taken from the programme which was first broadcast in 2009:




From these pictures, the level of detailing on the model seems extraordinary.
In recent interviews, Jackson has said that ten models have been built. It is noticeable, however, that only one seems to have been on show here.
By the way, this edition of Last Chance to See became notorious for a film clip showing the very rare kakapo flightless parrot attempting to mate with Mark Carwardine’s head. Far be it from me to suggest that you amuse yourselves by watching it again on Youtube.

Blink and you’ll miss it

My good friend Dom Howard kindly recorded Stephen Fry’s very brief reference to the Dambusters remake on The One Show on BBC1 last night.

Receiving an award for “Most Consistent Attempt to Remake a Film” the great man revealed that he will be flying out to New Zealand “next Monday” for talks with Peter Jackson on “restarting” the remake. Rest assured, gentle readers, that they will be taking nothing away from the original, “one of the greatest British films ever made… Peter is still passionate about it, and so am I”.

(And, if this is your first time reading this blog, please don’t waste your time writing in about the dog’s name. It won’t be published. See this post for the reason why.)

Acceptable in the 50s

The sigh which Stephen Fry gave live on radio on Friday 3 June as he was interviewed by Simon Mayo was clearly audible. Mayo read out a question about the Dambusters remake, sent in by a listener: ‘Is the dog still with us and does it have a different name?’
Fry made the perfectly justifiable point that things have changed since the original film came out, and that the name was to be changed to ‘Digger’. He went on:

It’s no good saying that it is the Latin word for black or that it didn’t have the meaning that it does now – you just can’t go back, which is unfortunate.
You can go to RAF Scampton and see the dog’s grave and there he is with his name, and it’s an important part of the film.
The name of the dog was a code word to show that the dam had been successfully breached.
In the film, you’re constantly hearing ‘N-word, N-word, N-word, hurray’ and Barnes Wallis is punching the air. But obviously that’s not going to happen now.
So Digger seems OK, I reckon.

You would think that in these days of instant reaction, this comment would have been round the world by teatime. But, strangely, most of the interwebnet was silent on the subject. (Although not this blog. Thanks to a tipoff by a reader, I was able to download the podcast and wrote a piece last Saturday.)
A full week later on Friday 10 June, the BBC Lincolnshire webpage picked up the comments and later in the day so did, inevitably, the Daily Mail.
Cue furore. Every discussion board and forum has gone nuts over the story. As usual when a Dambusters story hits the headlines, there has been a huge spike in hits on this blog. And, as usual, there are a number of comments in my pending file as readers express their views.
That’s where they’ll stay. I’m not going to publish them on this website because, frankly, this is a tedious debate that has happened many times over.
Back in 2009, writer Steven Baxter put the point well in his Enemies of Reason blog: ‘I think there was a time when it was acceptable to use words like Paki or nigger or sambo, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t offensive, or hurtful, or wrong.’
I agree. The world has moved on, folks. The word is offensive and it simply can’t be used in the remake of the film, however historically accurate it might be. You can justify using a racist word in other places on the interwebnet, but you can’t on this blog. If you send me a comment about it, I won’t publish it. My blog, my rules.

Fry speaks: how Jackson took on The Dam Busters

The nation’s most loved polymath, Stephen Fry, was this week’s guest on Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode’s film review sequence on Radio 5. You can download this as a podcast from the BBC website. For about 25 minutes he discussed a number of his film projects, including a couple of references to work on the Dambusters remake. He describes how David Frost, who had bought the rights to Paul Brickhill’s book, couldn’t find anyone for the remake. When he was told that Peter Jackson had a poster for the 1955 Michael Anderson film hanging in his office, he rang him immediately and did the deal there and then. (If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing scroll to about 18.30-22.00 minutes.)
At about 33.30, he also responds to the inevitable listener’s question about the dog’s name. I don’t normally mention this tedious debate, but in this case, I’m making an exception.
[Hat tip: Nigel Parkin]

Do keep up, dear

Once upon a time the Hollywood magazine Variety was regarded as the voice of show business, regularly breaking dozens of stories in a famously sensationalist style which used a language all its own:

Now, it seems, it employs ‘reporters’ who are reduced to reading film directors’ Facebook pages and regurgitating material without any pre-existing knowledge. Last week, Dave McNary fearlessly exposed the brand new (to him) news that:

Peter Jackson has tapped British thesp Stephen Fry to play the Master of Laketown in “The Hobbit” and revealed on his Facebook page that he and Fry are collaborating on “Dambusters,” a WWII actioner that has been in development since 2006.

“I’ve known Stephen for several years, and we’re developing a ‘Dambusters’ movie together,” Jackson said in his Facebook post. “In addition to his writing skills, he’s a terrific actor and will create a very memorable Master for us.”

Fry’s involvement with “Dambusters,” produced through Jackson’s WingNut Films, hadn’t been announced previously. Project is centered on the 1943 Allied air raid on three German dams essential to the Nazi steel industry. [Emphasis added]

If Mr McNary had bothered to check on Google (it’s called a “search engine”, old boy) he would have come across a few thousand references to this ‘actioner’ project, going back several years:

Modesty forbids me mentioning the name of the blog which ranks third and fourth in these search results.

Suffice it to say that Mr Fry’s involvement with the film has been around so long that he even wrote about it in the latest instalment of his autobiography. And that came out in September last year.

More news from Stephen Fry on Dambusters remake

New Zealand TV reporter Kate Rodger caught up with Stephen Fry at the launch in London of The Lovely Bones, and received a 30 second update on progress on the Dambusters remake. (If you want to see the video you’ll need the latest version of Adobe Flash player, BTW.) Fry confirmed that the project is still very much going ahead, although the financing etc needs a little ‘finessing’. So, no sign of back burnering, at the moment, it would seem.

[Hat tip Dave Homewood, Historic Aviation Forum.]

Gibson in tears exclusive

For some reason a Lincolnshire newspaper has decided that the Dambusters remake is likely to be postponed, or even cancelled. They have no evidence for this, other than the fact that no one from Peter Jackson’s production company has recently been in touch with a few local enthusiasts. More reliable information comes from scriptwriter Stephen Fry in a Radio 5 interview last week. 
Podcast of interview here, talking about the responsibility he feels working on the remake, and revealing something of Guy Gibson’s sensitive side. It’s about 7 minutes in. (Hat tip Aviation Forum.)

Dambusters remake: Fry says 2010, we say 2011

UPDATE, 16 August 2014. We were even wronger! Best guess is now 2016 or 2017.

UPDATE, 24 September 2011. We were wrong! Best guess is now 2013 or 2014.

UPDATE, 16 December 2009: Jackson confirms shooting to start in 2010

While he was recently down under in New Zealand, filming a nature programme for the BBC, Stephen Fry gave an interview to the entertainment section of the Wellington newspaper, the Dominion Post. Most of this was about his travelogue, Stephen Fry in America, which was coming up on air down there, but at the end he spoke briefly about his work on the remake of The Dam Busters.
The article is not available on the interwebnet, but I managed to track it down via a library subscription, so I bring it to you here.

Interviewer: Is it true that you have rewritten The Dam Busters?
SF: Yes, well, I won’t say rewritten. The great New Zealand director, Peter Jackson, asked me if I would be interested in writing a screenplay on The Dam Busters. This was fascinating because – I yield to none my admiration to him as a film-maker; he’s astounding – I had no idea he’d be interested in this story.
It turns out, actually, that it was David Frost who had bought the rights to the Paul Brickhill book The Dam Busters and was desperate to find someone to direct it, and he was told by a friend that Peter Jackson had a huge poster of the original film on his wall in his office and David thought, ‘I’ll call him up’, and the deal was struck. Then Peter got in touch with me. Now the original film is a magnificent film – it genuinely is a masterpiece.
Interviewer: And when will we see your version?
SF: 2010.
Dominion Post, Wellington, NZ, 17 February 2009.

The great man says ‘2010’, but I still think he is being optimistic. IMDB Pro has a few people listed as working on pre-production visuals, but no one else, which would indicate that shooting is still some way away.

Dambusters remake: 2011 still most likely date

A New Year turns (and a happy one to all readers of this blog) but there is no word yet on how the remake of The Dam Busters is going. Screenplay writer Stephen Fry is currently in New Zealand, but is working on a BBC nature documentary, rather than the movie. All the industry gossip about Peter Jackson’s current workload is to do with his forthcoming film version of Tintin, to the cast of which Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are the latest additions. Christian Rivers who is due, as they say in film circles, to ‘helm’ the Dambusters project is currently working on a film called The Laundry Warrior about an Asian warrior assassin. Where does this leave the remake of Britain’s 11th favourite war movie? As there has been no word at all on a cast, I’m not budging from my prediction that it won’t hit the cinema screens until 2011.

Partly political

Some politicians are as dull as ditchwater, but many have a genuinely wicked sense of humour and love an audience, however small. (I remember an evening in 1990 in a Bradford curry house with a lovely man called Derek Fatchett, a Labour MP who died far too young, who made the three or four of us present laugh so much that my head hurt. I can’t recall a single joke that he told, but it was one of those glorious nights, doubtless fuelled by lager and poppadoms, that you hope won’t end too soon.)

From the other side of the house comes Michael Gove, behind whose overgrown schoolboy looks is a mind which comes up with a stream of witty repartee. In the new, slightly risqué, Tory party he is a rising star, and is therefore allowed to write columns, like this one for The Times, which poke tongue-in-cheek fun at his colleagues. ‘Is your partner Tory enough?’, he wants to know, setting a quiz to find out. In the answer to Question No. 6, he states that if ‘The Dam Busters’ or ‘any film where Jerry gets it in the eye’ is your favourite you are ‘Simply Too Tory for words’ and need to be cossetted with copies of the Salisbury Review and bloater-paste sandwiches. 

For some reason, that sentence conjures up to me an image of someone not unlike the sainted Stephen Fry – but he bats for the other team in politics, as well as in his private life. I have no way of knowing the truth, but the great man always sounds as though he wears a smoking jacket in his rare moments of leisure. Last night, he was a guest team captain on ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’, next weekend he is going to be driving a taxi around the USA. Has he finished his work on the new Dambusters script is the question to which we all want to know the answer!