Apocalypse Now and The Dambusters

What connects the movies Apocalypse Now and The Dambusters? Yes they’re both war films and yes they feature highly in ‘most popular movie’ lists but there is another link, provided by music.

The raid on the Ruhr dams in the Second World War took place on 16/17 May 1943. The RAF’s squadron commander was Guy Gibson, who survived (unlike half his crews) and became a well-known figure, after being awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts.

He was later invited onto a BBC radio programme called Desert Island Discs. One of his musical pieces chosen was “Ride of the Valkyries”, composed by that favourite of Adolf Hitler: Wagner. (Nowadays this choice might be deemed inappropriate, but in those days of war against fascism they had much bigger things to worry about).

Gibson said of the piece: “It reminds me of a bombing raid. Though I don’t say it’s like one.” He died in 1944.

This piece of music was of course central to a memorable scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now, used in another aerial attack scene, this one featuring not Lancaster bombers but US army helicopters in a fictional assault on a village.



Cartier-Bresson Image

Great story in the Guardian in a series on people who feature in famous images.

That’s Me in the Picture

Incredible to think you could somehow phone up a figure as famous as Henri Cartier-Bression and ask if he could do you some copies.

Reminded me of the story of the young and aspiring comedy writer Peter Cook who wrote to the BBC and ended up going out for lunch with the writer of one of their hit show The Goons, Spike Milligan.

That sort of access is just not so easy nowadays which is a sad, but understandable, thing.

Remembrance Day 4 August 1918

During the summer of 1918 the Lord Mayor of London wrote to his fellow mayors around the country proposing that a day of remembrance be marked on the fourth anniversary of the First World War’s beginning. It was to honour the dead and those still fighting. He also suggested a “heap of flowers” would represent the graves in France and Flanders.

A resolution was agreed, to be read out at each public gathering:

“That the citizens here assembled on Remembrance Day, August 4 1918, silenty paying tribute to the Empire’s sons who have fallen in the fight for freedom on the scattered battlefields of the world-war, whether on sea or shore, and mindful also of the loyalty and courage of our sailors, soldiers, airmen, and men everywhere, and those who are working on the munitions of war and helping in other ways for the preservation of civilization, unanimously resolve to do all that in their power lies to achieve the ideals on behalf of which so great a sacrifice has already been made.”

Events were to change the date and Armistice Day which occurred on 11 November 1918 was secured as the day when national remembrance would take place.



The Ones That Got Away – Rejected Sitcoms

As a budding radio or TV comedy writer the steps go:

  1. sketch show contributor
  2. sketch show writer
  3. sitcom contributor
  4. sitcom writer
  5. BAFTA winner
  6. film writer
  7. Oscar winner

Well, for a very select few that is.

I got to number 2! That was my level and I was happy to get there. After listening to and watching comedy shows when I heard my actual own material on air I was elated. I had many never to be forgotten moments. New Year was celebrated that bit more keenly if you’d managed to get a sketch on the shows being broadcast before the bells.

So once this had been achieved I thought I had nothing better to do than have my own sitcom on the TV or radio. Ah. Not quite so easy. While established shows will happily take your sketches, a production company is not quite so amenable to spending vast amounts of its own money on trying your show out. The BBC get deluged with budding writers and very, very few get their own shows made just like that. It takes years and having connections and agents and connections who are agents and if you have a mate who suddenly becomes a successful stand-up then that will help your knock at the door get answered. If you are a successful stand-up, even better.

Of all the submitted sitcoms that I have had rejected (the tears long dried) this one is perhaps my favourite. It stems from a subject that has never been depicted: planespotting and I figured there was a lot of laughs for both the committed aviation enthusiast and the innocent watcher in a world inhabited by dedicated, knowledgeable amateurs who seem to be obsessed with their goals.

A few years after this was rejected I watched the BBC series Detectorists which has some echoes of what I was trying to do, albeit from the arcane and ancient world of metal detecting and with much more skill and gentle comedy than my effort.

My own sitcom was called Plane Daft and here’s the pilot (pun very much intended) episode. (Still not sure about the ending.)

Plane Daft – Episode One – The Daft Busters



Dundeestruction – When the Hilltown Flats went down

In 2011 the famous Dundee Hilltown Flats were demolished in an explosive way. By explosives. Many thousands gathered, though the number who mourned their removal wasn’t counted. I thought about doing a book on Dundee and made sure I was in the city to take photos and witness this event.

Block of flats before demolition / Photos: Flickr

What might make poetry fans mourn is my tribute: a poem in the style of another of Dundee’s upstanding figures: William Topaz McGonagall.

McGonagall gave much in the way of entertainment but not to fans of the verse who he seemed to annoy. He enjoyed a renassiance which was too late for him as he was long dead before it arrived. You have to have a bit of regard for his tenacity in the face of widespread indifference.

If he was alive now he’d have a quirky twitter persona, a Radio 4 show and several books on the shelves, though possibly in Humour, and not Poetry.

He is remembered, and that is something. Something else is my poem written after soon the demolition and suitably named.

Lines on the Demolition of the Hilltown Multis, 31st of July 2011

Today will be remembered – the thirty-first of July,
When the Hilltown Multis came down from being in the sky.
On this very day, there was a great clatter,
Some said it didn’t – but I thought it did – matter.

Workmen had surrounded the site in fences steel,
In order that flying concrete on our brains we didn’t feel.
They flicked a switch and four great towers,
Were soon blown down, our senses overpowered!

Thousands watched the great drifting clouds of dust,
As many folks’ homes became totally bust.
Tears were shed and stories swapped,
When tons of high-rise to the ground were dropped.

So all of you whose days are full of trouble,
It could be worse, you could be rubble.

(With many apologies to Wm McGonagall)

Blocks of flats after / Photo: Flickr

The Gunner

The Gunner
At RAF Rochford on 26 August 1940 a visiting Medical Officer went to help the crew of a German Dornier that had crash landed. As he tended to the pilot he was aware of one of the aircraft’s machine guns being pointed at him by one of the crew.

The RAF officer moved away quickly out of aim; he went around the fuselage where he found the gunner had been dead the whole time.

On this day the Luftwaffe lost 44 aircrew killed, over six times that of Fighter Command.

Excerpt from The Battle of Britain A Miscellany, published in July 2015 by Summersdale and available at all good booksellers, online and offline.

Airshow disasters: past and present

No one can fail to be shocked by the tragic events at the Shoreham airshow last Saturday. (Apart from the few who attempted to make jokes about it on social media.)

A Hawker Hunter failed to pull out of a loop and crashed onto a busy road, killing 11 people and injuring more.

The last time members of the public were killed at an airshow in Britain was in September 1952 at the Farnborough Airshow when 29 spectators died following the break-up of a de Havilland DH.110 jet aircraft being flown by John Derry. Derry and his observer Tony Richards were also killed.

The disasters were similar in that both involved jet fighter aircraft from the 1950s.

What significantly differed was the immediate reaction.

In 2015 following the Shoreham crash, the rest of Saturday’s flying display was cancelled and subsequently the next day’s show was also abandoned.

In 1952 the flying continued – as soon as the runway was cleared of debris. Test pilot Neville Duke was next on the flying schedule and he took off and carried out his display. (Coincidentally in a Hawker Hunter).

As he lined up on the runway he was encouraged by the air traffic controller to go easy when flying over the crowd. (Later regulations stopped this practice). He was later saluted by Winston Churchill for taking to the air.

Although it might seem incredible to modern audiences, John Derry’s wife watched Duke giving his display, soon after watching her husband die. It’s true that this took place barely over a decade since the Blitz but this was the British stiff upper lip of a different order of magnitude.

The Farnborough show continued the following day and was attended by 140,000 people.

A different era.

Instagram can

Social media can be a great way of wasting time – sorry, sharing valuable moments with others around the world. And taking photographs of your dinner.

InstagramNot wishing to be left out I have an Instagram account wittingly labelled


where I try to remember to post pictures of things that might look nice, or be of interest.

One of the pictures taken recently was an avenue of a bright yellow plant which might possibly be Laburnum. It is in a walled garden in the East Lothian town of Haddington, famous for being the birthplace of 16th century Scottish protestant John Knox.

It’s not known if the garden was built during his time, or if he ever walked through it.

I doubt he would have enjoyed anything so frivolous as a nice hanging plant though.

Hanging yellow plant that might be Laburnum