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Multi-million pound HBO series could show the “compelling” story of two US airmen based in Norfolk

Kirk Saduski, executive in charge of production at Playtone, Tom Hanks' production company, in the control tower at the 100th Bomb Group Museum at Thorpe Abbotts. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Kirk Saduski, executive in charge of production at Playtone, Tom Hanks' production company, in the control tower at the 100th Bomb Group Museum at Thorpe Abbotts. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2017

East Anglia could be at the centre of a multi-million pound HBO miniseries following the story of two US airmen.

Photo from the archives of the 100th Bomb Group who were based at Thorpe Abbotts with their B17 Flying Fortress aircraft.
 Photo supplied by 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum.Photo from the archives of the 100th Bomb Group who were based at Thorpe Abbotts with their B17 Flying Fortress aircraft. Photo supplied by 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum.

Based on stories from Masters of the Air, a biographical account of America’s “bomber boys”, it will examine the lives of the 100th Bomb Group who came to Norfolk in 1943.

The series – which may take the book’s name – would be the third in HBO’s trilogy of programmes about the US services after Band of Brothers in 2001 and The Pacific in 2010.

Veteran director Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ production company Playtone will be involved in the nine-episode series – rumoured to have a budget of more than $200m.

Squadron Leaders John 'Bucky' Egan, left, and Gale 'Buck' Cleven at the 100th Bomb Group, who are two of the service men based at Thorpe Abbotts that a character in the HBO series will be based on. Picture: Courtesy of the 100th Bomb Group archive Squadron Leaders John 'Bucky' Egan, left, and Gale 'Buck' Cleven at the 100th Bomb Group, who are two of the service men based at Thorpe Abbotts that a character in the HBO series will be based on. Picture: Courtesy of the 100th Bomb Group archive

Scriptwriter John Orloff, who worked on Band of Brothers, Masters of the Air author Donald L Miller, and Kirk Saduski, executive in charge of production at Playtone, are currently on an exploratory tour of the region and were present at the launch of Visit East Anglia’s The Friendly Invasion project.

On Wednesday they visited the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum at Thorpe Abbotts, which was used by the group – nicknamed the Bloody Hundredth – from 1943 to 1946.

It was also the home of the main characters in the planned miniseries – squadron commanders John Egan and Gale Cleven, who were shot down on bombing missions within days of each other in 1943 before being reunited in a German prisoner of war camp.

Robert 'Rosie' Rosenthal, pilot and squadron commander at the 100th Bomb Group, who is one of the service men based at Thorpe Abbotts that a character in the HBO series will be based on. Picture: Courtesy of the 100th Bomb Group archive Robert 'Rosie' Rosenthal, pilot and squadron commander at the 100th Bomb Group, who is one of the service men based at Thorpe Abbotts that a character in the HBO series will be based on. Picture: Courtesy of the 100th Bomb Group archive

Mr Saduski, who was acquainted with Donald Miller’s work, said: “The material was so compelling and so evocative, noting not only the physical dangers these men faced but the psychological changes they went through.

“You get a real sense of what it was like.”

Mr Saduski added that the proposed series was in the “creative stage”, with the scripts expected to be finished by the end of the year.

From left, John Orloff, scriptwriter; Don Miller, author of Masters of the Air; and Kirk Saduski, executive in charge of production at Playtone, Tom Hanks' production company, at the 100th Bomb Group Museum at Thorpe Abbotts. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYFrom left, John Orloff, scriptwriter; Don Miller, author of Masters of the Air; and Kirk Saduski, executive in charge of production at Playtone, Tom Hanks' production company, at the 100th Bomb Group Museum at Thorpe Abbotts. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Mr Orloff said: “The 100th is wonderfully representative of a larger story of all the airmen. They had a particularly rough time at the beginning of the war and they were led at various times by some very dynamic characters.”

Pete Waters, executive director of Visit East Anglia, said the series would be a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for the region’s tourist industry.

Tom Hanks, whose production company is involved in creating an HBO mini-series about the US Air Force. Photo: Yui Mok/PA WireTom Hanks, whose production company is involved in creating an HBO mini-series about the US Air Force. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

A story of reunion

John “Bucky” Egan and Gale “Buck” Cleven were squadron leaders with the 100th Bomb Group.

Having trained together in the States, Egan and Cleven came to East Anglia together in 1943 and were based with the Bloody Hundred at Thorpe Abbotts, near Diss.

On October 8 that year, Cleven’s plane was shot down in Germany during a flight to Bremen, and he was believed dead. Just a few days later, Egan was also shot down over the continent during a mission to Münster.

Both were captured by German soldiers and were interrogated before being sent to Stalag Luft III, a prison camp for American and British air force officers. It was here that they were reunited, even becoming roommates again when they were moved into the same compound.

The series will also follow a lieutenant with the 100th, Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal, who went on to become one of the most decorated airmen in the Eight Air Force.

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