Reach for the Sky to The Dam Busters: our Norfolk links to RAF film gems
PUBLISHED: 15:07 23 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:28 23 February 2018
The Royal Air Force was founded on April 1 1918 and it has played a leading role in East Anglian life ever since... but there have also been some fine films made in the region featuring the fliers. Derek James reports
The story of the how the movie-makers headed to Norfolk and Suffolk when they wanted to make films about the RAF featuring household names will be told in a special display at Wymondham next month.
Members of The Regal Experience will be staged the memorabilia during a film show on Sunday April 8 when 633 Squadron will be screened, along with The New Men, an RAF recruitment training film from 1962 which will bring back memories for some.
Thanks to movie historian Philip Yaxley of Wymondham we can take a look at some of the films about the RAF with local connections.
The Lion Has Wings (1939): Produced by Alexander Korda, it was the first propaganda film of the Second World War. Starring Ralph Richardson, Merle Oberon and Flora Robson. It was filmed at Denham Studios in Buckinghamshire and at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.
Target for Tonight (1941):
This movie shows the planning and execution of a night mission by a Wellington bomber to destroy an oil storage facility by the Rhine in Germany. There were no big-name stars with RAF personnel playing the parts, the real 149 Squadron’s aircraft being used. The squadron was based at Mildenhall where filming took place.
A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941):
This wartime – and tragic - flag-waver featured Hollywood heartthrob Tyrone Power as the American pilot and Betty Grable as a chorus girl stranded in London before the States had entered the war.
Two 20th Century Fox civilian film experts, Jack Perry and Otto Kanturek, were in an Avro Anson which crashed in June 1941 when it collided with one of the Hurricane fighters they were filming.
The plane went down near Mingay Farm off Holt Road at Cawston and both men were killed. The pilot was believed to have survived. Kanturek is buried in Scottow cemetery near the site of the former RAF Coltishall.
One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942):
The star-studded story tells of an RAF bomber crew who bail out over occupied Holland after their plane is damaged by enemy fire. The flat landscape of South Lincolnshire and especially
King’s Lynn doubled for the Netherlands.
Nelson Street in Lynn was flooded by the fire brigade to give the impression of moonlight and a local doctor’s house was used as a Nazi HQ – complete with Swastika flag flying.
The film starred the likes of Eric Portman, Godfrey Tearle, Bernard Mills and Googie Withers who said Lynn “was a good location for Holland – so alike.”
In a break from filming she spent the evening in the officers’ mess at a nearby RAF airfield. Sadly, shortly afterwards, some of the men she had dined with were killed when their plane blew up on take-off.
Journey Together (1945):
The film provides a vivid and gripping depiction of the selection and training of some RAF pilots, culminating in their first mission over Berlin. Among those taking part were Richard Attenborough, Jack Watling and David Tomlinson with Edward G Robinson making a cameo appearance.
On August 30 1944 the Royal Air Force Film Unit arrived at RAF Methwold, then home to 149 Sqn to film sequences with the Lancaster bombers being used.
Conflict of Wings (1953):
This is an sub-Ealing comedy/drama in which Norfolk villagers fight to save a bird sanctuary from being taken over by the RAF as a rock-testing range. The film was originally to be entitled The Norfolk Story but it didn’t happen. In America it was called Fuss Over Feathers.
Shooting took place at Hickling Broad and at Ludham, Catfield, Wells beach and Cley. The airfield shots may have been taken at RAF Honington in Suffolk.
The stars included John Gregson, Kieron Moore, Harry Fowler and Muriel Pavlow who later told Philip the film was fun and enjoyable to work on, not least because of “my first sight of the beautiful Norfolk Broads.”
Kieron Moore added: “I considered myself very fortunate to be able to work in such a very special countryside.”
The Dam Busters (1954):
Starring Richard Todd as Wing Commander Guy Gibson and Michael Redgrave as inventor Barnes Wallis, it tells the true story of how 617 Sqn undertook a mission to destroy key dams in Germany with Barnes’ famous bouncing bombs.
It was filmed largely in Lincolnshire, the Lake District and Wales but the searchlights seen in the film were positioned around Langham airfield in Norfolk, where some of the Lancaster bombs used in the film had their windscreens cleaned and the bombers were also seen flying over the North Norfolk coastline.
Reach for the Sky (1956):
This was the biopic of Group Captain Douglas Bader, who overcame the loss of both legs in a 1933 flying accident to became a legendary fight pilot during the Second World War. Kenneth More was brilliant as the irrepressible Bader and Muriel Pavlow his wife.
During the summer of 1940 Bader, then a squadron leader, was stationed at RAF Coltishall with a brief to get 242 Squadron, which had suffered heavy losses, in shape.
Moving to Duxford in October that year he was eventually shot down and captured by the Germans. After his rescue from a Nazi prison when the war was going the allies’ way he returned on a triumphant visit to Coltishall on July 27 1945 flying... a Spitfire.
On part of the former Coltishall base is a housing estate called Badersfield and the Douglas Bader School.
With thanks to Philip Yaxley.
Tickets for this special RAF film show and exhibition at the Wymondham Ex-Services Club (the old Regal Cinema) on Sunday April 8 at 2.30pm. Tickets cost
£5, (£4 concs) and are available from Michael Armstrong (01953 603246) or from Simply Cards, Market Street, Wymondham.
Don’t miss a special edition of EDP Weekend on Saturday March 31 when we shall be telling the extraordinary story of the Royal Air Force in East Anglia and how it has shaped our lives over the last century.