Category Archives: Humour

The Supermarine Walrus (3)

The RAF’s provisions for Air Sea Rescue during much of the Second World War were absolutely abysmal. Nowadays there would be Public Inquiries and the newspapers would be explaining to their readers exactly what corporate manslaughter was.

Throughout the first two years of the conflict the RAF had twenty eight ships and no search aircraft. During the Battle of Britain, recent research has revealed that around two hundred pilots died unnecessarily when they ditched in the English Channel:

Indeed, in August 1940, Air Vice Marshal Sir Keith Park, who commanded the fighter group in the south east, actually ordered his flight controllers not to vector pilots over the sea because “too many were getting drowned:

The problem was that most of them perished once they hit the water because they were only visible until their parachute folded up into the waves and both pilot and parachute sank.

There was just no effective means of looking at all those waves from above and finding a downed pilot.

It all came from that lack of decent search aircraft. Making up the deficit in reconnaissance aircraft with Avro Ansons and Westland Lysanders was no use. Their range was not long enough. The Anson was 660 miles, and the Lysander just 600 miles. A limit of 600-700 miles didn’t allow them to carry out patrols of either the required time or the required distance.

Overall therefore, there was very little chance of survival if you ditched into the sea, and only the occasional flier was picked up by a passing destroyer or fishing boat:

On one day in August 1940, fifteen of the eighteen RAF pilots who baled out over the North Sea and the English Channel were lost to the cold, cold, waves. Overall, the statistics showed that if a pilot baled out over land, he had a fifty per cent chance of survival. Over water that fell to twenty per cent. In the words of one writer, “The ditching of a British aeroplane in the Channel or the North Sea usually doomed its crew.”

The men to blame, of course, as always, were the top brass who sat in their offices and decided:

“There are so many ships constantly sailing round British waters that nobody could possibly fail to be picked up, and picked up pretty damn speedily at that, don’t you know, what ? what?”

 

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Famous Monsters of Filmland (1)

When I was a little boy of ten or eleven, I used to go up the road to the shop which sold newspapers and magazines to see if anything new had come in. One day, the proprietor, Albert Taylor, had taken delivery of some recently arrived American magazines called “Famous Monsters of Filmland”. In 1963, they were absolutely amazing from a ten year old’s point of view.

They allowed me to meet people I had never encountered before. Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein in the Universal film of 1935, one of the very few sequels better than its original:

I met Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula in 1931, with his wonderful line of “I never drink….. wine.”  and  “To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious! ”

Here’s the werewolf who, in 1961, barked at the postman and chased cars in “The Curse of the Werewolf”:

There were also more recent monsters such as Gorgo, who I later found out was, more or less, the British Godzilla:

Here is the demon from “Night of the Demon”, a film from 1957, which certainly spent most of its life in the UK at least, banned completely, as being too horrific even for the censor to watch:

Occasionally, some of the magazines actually featured a compilation of all the monsters. Can you find Christopher Lee, or Claude Rains in this one? Lon Chaney Senior? More difficult to find is Fredric March:

I was actually quite disappointed when I eventually found out that only the cover of the magazine was in colour. This was because the majority of the films inside the magazine had been made in black and white.

In actual fact, the black and white photographs could still be very striking. Here’s Boris Karloff and Una O’Connor waiting for a bus:

Or what about this wonderful shot from “The Bride of Frankenstein” ?:

To finish with, look at Boris Karloff’s spiritual son, Christopher Lee. In this shot, Lee was playing Kharis, the muddiest boy ever to lose his mummy. See how Tommy Cooper on the left is still working on one of his magic tricks:

Who’s Tommy Cooper? Never  heard of him? Well you have a treat in store:

I hope you watched Tommy Cooper. He could make statues laugh. He actually died of a heart attack on stage and people laughed because they thought it was part of the act.

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The Supermarine Walrus (2)

Last time, we were looking at the Supermarine Walrus amphibian which was used by the RAF in the second half of the Second World War:The Germans entered the war completely prepared for air-sea-rescue, of course. They had a dedicated arm of the Luftwaffe called the Seenotdienst and they made extensive use of the Dornier Do24, one of the comparatively few three engined aircraft used in the conflict:

The Dornier Do 24 was initially built for the Royal Netherlands Navy, the Koninklijke Marine, to be used primarily in the Dutch East Indies, today’s Indonesia. The Do24 was very much admired by the Seenotdienst so, in the words of Adolf Hitler, “I invaded the country and I stole all six of them.”

The Germans also made extensive use of the Heinkel He59 which was unarmed and painted white with big red cross:

These floatplanes would cheerfully rescue both Luftwaffe and RAF aircrew. Nevertheless, there was a suspicion that the Germans might have been using their aircraft for proscribed reconnaissance activities and the RAF was told to shoot them all down in Bulletin 1254, which indicated that “all enemy air-sea rescue aircraft were to be destroyed wherever they were encountered”. In retrospect, perhaps a little disappointing as a decision.

The older He 59 was much more comparable with the Walrus, perhaps, than the Do24. This Heinkel biplane was much slower than the monoplane Dornier (and was therefore much easier to shoot down as part of Bulletin 1254). Both aircraft made extensive use of the invention of Ernst Udet, the yellow-painted “Rettungsbojen” or rescue buoys:

These buoy-type floats were highly visible and they held emergency equipment such as food, water, blankets, dry clothing enough for four men, and an assortment of board games including, of course, “Risk”, for the Germans. Here’s a cut-away of the buoy:

And here is a rare picture of Admiral Donitz about to begin his famous speech announcing that all the lighthouses of the world were now part of the Greater German Reich:

Shot-down airmen from both sides were strongly attracted to these buoys and many a desperate game of Schcrabble or Buckaroo was played to decide who had first dibs with the rescue buoys’ bratwurst or their assortment of smoked cheeses. British airmen and seamen called the Rettungsbojen “Lobster Pots” for their shape:

The rescue buoys also attracted the close attentions of many sailors in both German and British rescue boats. They would come to inspect the buoys from time to time and “friendly” downed airmen were rescued, but enemy aircrew automatically became prisoners of war.

 

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The Supermarine Walrus (1)

In a recent blog post, I wrote about the most famous flying boat of World War Two, the Short Sunderland. I was lucky enough to visit the RAF Museum at Hendon in north London, where the aircraft is positioned in a very large space, unlike the way it was rather cramped way it was displayed when I went to Duxford in 2009:

With the Sunderland, under its starboard wing almost, is a Supermarine Walrus, which is not a flying boat but an amphibian, an aircraft which can go on land as well as on water.

The Walrus is an extremely unattractive flying machine, and it is extremely difficult to imagine that it was designed by RJ Mitchell, the man who designed the world’s most beautiful aircraft ever. This was the fighter that was originally to be called the Supermarine Shrew, until the name was changed to Supermarine Spitfire (“just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose.” (Mitchell)).

The Walrus was intended to be a gunnery spotting aircraft for sea battles between big warships, but this only happened twice, in the Battle of Cape Spartivento and the Battle of Cape Matapan. In actual fact, the Walrus’ main task was to patrol the seas looking for German or Italian submarines and surface warships. By 1941, the Walruses, or perhaps Walri, had air-to-surface radar for this purpose, although by 1943, all catapult-launched aircraft on Royal Navy ships, including the Walrus, were being phased out as the catapult and the hangar took up too much deck space.

The Walrus was then used at sea only on aircraft carriers as its landing speed was very low and neither flaps nor a tail-hook was necessary. The Royal Navy didn’t have that many aircraft carriers, so the main use of the Walrus now became chiefly air-sea rescue from land bases.

Before the Walrus, the British had not had any aircraft specifically designed for air-sea rescue in home waters.

Here’s the Walrus from the front:

And here it is from the back. Notice how the four bladed propeller is so close to the rear gunner that it may give him a short-back-and-sides haircut if he is not careful:

Here are the wheels which the pilot would lower before landing in the normal way on a runway. As I mentioned above, the Walrus had such a low stalling speed that it could land on an aircraft carrier without recourse to an arrester hook or to any safety nets. Presumably this allowed the Walrus to transport very badly wounded casualties to an aircraft carrier for immediate medical treatment, if the wounded man was too badly injured for a long flight to land :

Here are the floats underneath each wing tip. They appear to have about three thousand of Rosie the Riveter’s finest holding them together:

And to finish up, here’s an overall view of a Walrus:

It flies at about 55mph, but finds long climbs rather challenging. No, just joking!

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My Dad, Fred, and the Hollywood cinema of yesteryear

When he was a little boy, perhaps around ten or twelve years of age, around 1933, my Dad, Fred along with some friends, walked the mile or so to nearby Swadlincote, to go to the cinema. Here is the cinema:

That’s not the best of views, so here is the “Empire” but in later years:

Swadlincote has always had two cinemas but never at the same time. The sequence is usually

Cinema 1 open

Cinema 1 goes bust

Interval of five years

Cinema 2 open

Cinema 2 goes bust

Interval of five years

Cinema 1 is reopened by over-optimistic idiot

Cinema 1 goes bust

Cinema 2 is eventually reopened by another over-optimistic idiot

And so on

Anyway, Fred and his pals, all around ten to twelve years old, weren’t there to see any old film. They were there to see Boris Karloff in “The Mummy”, one of the most frightening horror films of that decade. Feeling extremely brave, they sneaked in and settled down, waiting to be frightened:

Fred was not, of course, like the modern child, immured to fear by hour after hour of relentless television, and he came out chilled to the core by Karloff, completely terrified by the whole film. And so did the rest of them.

There could be no sharper contrast, however, than that between this Karloff chiller and Fred’s favourite, and funniest, Laurel and Hardy film. The latter was “Fra Diavolo”, which, again, he would have seen at the cinema in Swadlincote:

One other tiny detail that I can remember my Dad supplying, which must have come from this era, was how, when watching silent films at the cinema, however old you were, you were expected to read the words of the dialogue for yourself. Nobody would help you. If you asked for assistance, you would be told contemptuously, “Learn to read !”

Overall, Fred must have been very interested in the cinema. His collection of old magazines, kept for thirty or more years in the glass fronted bookcase in the front room of his parents’ house, contained ones which featured German expressionist cinema of the 1920s, including both Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari”. The stills featured included Rotwang’s house, Maria the Robot and the somnambulist Conrad Veidt carrying his victim high above the rooftops.

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On one occasion, Fred was actually able to meet a real, genuine Hollywood star. Just after the war ended, he was in Brighton for some long forgotten reason. He decided to visit a very distant cousin who worked in a local cinema, and who may well have been one of the Sussex branch of the Knifton family.

At the time, this particular cinema was the centre of all attention, as it was being visited by Charles Laughton, the world famous English and Hollywood film actor. Laughton was there to give a little publicity to one of his less famous films, a rather unloved feature entitled “The Beachcomber”, made with his then wife Elsa Lanchester in 1938. All of the cinema employees lined up to meet their famous guest, and Fred, at the urgent bidding of his cousin, joined on to the very end of the line, thereby managing, eventually, to shake hands with the great man:

Years earlier, of course, Fred had watched the inimitable Laughton in the 1933 film, “The Private Life of Henry VIII”. In common with countless thousands of other cinema goers, he had particularly vivid memories of the greedy king eating a whole chicken with his bare hands, and then throwing bits of meat and bone over his shoulder to the waiting hounds:

Who said that table manners were a thing of the past?

But, please be aware. Restaurants of all types seem to frown on throwing bits of meat and bone over your shoulder, and there are very seldom any waiting hounds to tidy up the mess.

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What would you do ? (9) The Solution

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys, and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what has been called “A dilly of a pickle”.

Here’s the situation:

And here’s the Orange Box, still awaiting the result of the paternity test:

For what it’s worth, I haven’t got a clue, but I do have a Page Two where the answer is given for all and sundry:

So there we are. Take your boots and socks off. Tie them to your belt and climb down, or up, barefooted. I really would like to see somebody try that !!!

Oh, and by the way, the paternity test was negative. The search goes on.

 

 

 

 

 

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Pictures from my past (3)

Last time we looked at the Romano-Scottish discussions of 148 AD about the height of the New Wall . Some limited progress was made towards a solution: As promised, though, here is “Where’s Wally?” on his visit to a famous battlefield, the “Battle of the Little Bighorn” where George Armstrong Custer finished a close second to the Lakota warriors led by Crazy Horse and Tatanka Yotanka or Sitting Bull :

Wally takes some finding because he hasn’t got his usual shirt. Instead he is masquerading as a Lakota horseman on the far left of the picture. Bare chested, he has been forced to paint his skin with his trademark hoops, on this occasion in blood red:

Today though, I wanted to tell you about some pictures which were very important to me as a child, as I ploughed through the ten volumes of the Arthur Mee’s Encyclopedia which had been owned by my Dad when he was a boy in the early 1930s. Arthur Mee was a wonderful contributor to the education of children:

The encyclopedias contained a good deal about dinosaurs. I was very struck by the picture of Mary Anning, the 11 year old girl who, in 1811, found the first ever ichthyosaur skeleton:

I hadn’t realised what an incredibly hard life Mary had. She was oppressed for six things she couldn’t help. She was working class. She was poor. She was a Dissenter, a group who were not members of the Church of England. Her father died when she was eleven. She was a woman. Furthermore she was not allowed to join the Geological Society, because she was working class, poor, a Dissenter and a woman.

I didn’t ever realise that, in order to supplement her income, Ann used to sell those delightful Henry de la Beche scenes from prehistoric life. There were some beautiful ones in Arthur Mee’s “Children’s Encyclopædia”:

The first image occupied only the top part of the page, and on the lower half there was a representation of the fossils created by those splendid creatures:

To help children learn the names of the dinosaurs, they were added to the second picture. There were Ammonites, Cetiosaurus, Chelonian, Rhamphorynchus,  Scelidosaurus and Teleosaurus. Go on, have a go, you know you want to!

Every volume of the Arthur Mee encyclopedia had a full colour frontispiece. For this volume, not surprisingly, there was a picture of an Iguanodon. It is probably the most striking image of my childhood:

I love the way that this iguanodon has exactly the same enigmatic smile as the Mona Lisa. And as an added bonus, his eyes follow you all round the room, just like the world’s greatest artists do in all their pictures. Such greats as Michelangelo. Raphael. Leonardo. And Donatello.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pictures from my past (2)

Last time we looked at bubble gum cards. There are still a few I haven’t talked about. In the late fifties, there was a TV series called “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. Richard Greene played Robin Hood :

The person who impressed me most, though, was the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham who was played by Alan Wheatley. I was unable to find the relevant card from the  “WHO-Z-AT-STAR?” series. The one I admired as a little boy had the Sheriff wearing his leather jacket covered in metal studs. Here’s the jacket in a still from the TV series:

I couldn’t find the card I remembered, though. So here’s a near miss:

One of my favourite ever images came from a comic called “Beezer” which wasn’t really the most academic of publications, but every year, at Christmas, it produced a book containing not just everybody’s favourite cartoon characters but also one or two special features. These were invariably linked with warfare and famous battles. It was a book for boys, after all!

In 1962, they produced a double page picture of the Scots, aka the Picts, attacking the Roman garrison on Hadrian’s Wall. For me, this was one of the very best images that I took from my childhood years. It’s not Rembrandt, but I loved it:


It even had an insert explaining that Hadrian’s Wall was built by the Emperor Hadrian in 128 AD to keep the Scots out of England. It is 73 miles long and took 15,000 men six years to build. And I just loved this picture. It has everything a picture should have. Just look at that  centurion, up to his knees in angry Scotsmen:

“Picti” means “painted” and these Scottish warriors must have spent considerable amounts of time at the local tattoo shop. But look at that Roman soldier below. Haven’t you always wanted to do that if you ever came home, went upstairs and found a burglar trying to break in?

And what about their weapons of choice? Never go to a Peace Rally without at least one of them, but if you have a choice, then steal a Roman sword:

Here’s a beautifully made lump of stone on a stick:

And here’s how the Romans invented the boiled egg:

And just look at the determination on the face of this long haired reveller (bottom left), as the barman announces that the bar will close in five minutes’ time. He’ll get in if it kills him. And don’t miss the massive club that some clown has dropped (centre). That’s really dangerous and it might hurt somebody:

“Oh no! It’s all going pear shaped! Quick soldier!! Ring CMIC (or CMII in the Iunctae Res Publicae )

What on earth is all that about ??? A clue…….”Numeri Romani sunt.

“Next time, “Where’s Wally?” has the chance to go to a famous battlefield.

 

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Pictures from my past (1)

I don’t know how my memory works other than to say that, nowadays, for the most part, “It doesn’t”. That’s just a question of age, though, and the fault of some of my prescription medicines.

Some of my earliest memories are pictures. Pictures that somehow have remained in my mind for year after year, decade after decade. They come from many sources. Books and comics. Films and TV programmes and sport as well. And rather disconcertingly, as I have done the necessary research for these blog posts, many of my longstanding memories have actually proved to be rather false.

My earliest recollections come from the very few bubble gum cards that I had. In the late 1950s, a company called Chix did a very nice set of footballers, and I was captivated by the card depicting Jeff Whitefoot, whose name absolutely fascinated me. With all the cowboy  programmes we used to watch on TV at that time, I suspect that I came very close to believing that Jeff was a member of some obscure tribe of English Red Indians who lived in the Black Hills of Manchester:

The best example of what might be termed false or mistaken memory is the card showing a player called Cliff Holton. My recollection as an adult is that as a child I was fascinated by the strange colour of Holton’s shirt. He played for Northampton Town whose shirts were an unusual purple-very dark violet-maroony colour. But now, with the help of ebay, I have discovered that Chix only ever portrayed Holton as an Arsenal player, with an ordinary red Arsenal shirt. So, for what it’s worth, here’s Cliff Holton, that well known Arsenal centre forward. Let’s be generous to an eight year old, though. Perhaps some of the cards had a more purple tinge than others, especially when it came to those hooped socks:

Other distant images that have stayed with me include a few from a series of bubble gum cards which were rather snappily entitled “WHO-Z-AT STAR ?” . One card was of a young actor called Edmund Purdom, the star of “an adventure show” I used to watch entitled “Sword of Freedom”. It was not particularly popular in the industrial East Midlands of England. I suspect that it may have been too heavy handed an allegory of the Cold War and the Dirty Repressive Commies. The tights clad hero was “a maverick freedom fighter, prepared to die for his belief in a free society.” He was busy fighting “the tyrant who exercises control over 16th century Florence, the tyrannical Duke de Medici “.

Where I lived, within easy walking distance of at least half a dozen coal and clay mines it was pretty difficult to identify with “a city of poets and painters, wealth and marvels”. What I did like, though, was our hero’s rapier which looked as if the baddies were being stabbed by a yard long toothpick.

Here he is!

The same series provided a card depicting Conrad Phillips in the lead role of “William Tell”, complete with his rather strange sheepskin coat and crossbow. As a small child, I always felt rather unsettled because he never seemed to have proper sleeves in his coat, and I used to worry that he would catch cold, up there in those Swiss mountains:

Another card in the same series depicted Willoughby Goddard, who portrayed the gigantic Gessler, the villainous Austrian ruler of Switzerland. I was fascinated by the piece of information on the back of the card that when he went by airliner, he always had to buy three tickets for three seats to avoid crushing other passengers. At that time there was an incident in one episode that I didn’t understand at the time. William Tell had Gessler at his mercy, but let him go free. Tell’s little son asked his sheepskin clad Dad why he hadn’t got rid of the evil Gessler once and for all. Tell replied that there was a risk that if they ever killed Gessler, the Austrians might send somebody who was competent and then the Swiss would be in trouble:

Two puzzles to finish with. Which member of our family persuaded us all to watch “The Four Just Men”? an English TV series which was allocated its own card in the WHO-Z-AT STAR ?” collection.

How can the plot have been any more complicated ? The Four Just Men were Richard Conte, Dan Dailey, Jack Hawkins and Vittorio De Sica. Except for Jack Hawkins, I have no idea which one was which :

There were five assistants for the Four Just Men, played by Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore in Goldfinger), Lisa Gastoni, Andrew Keir (Professor Quatermass), Robert Rietti and June Thorburn :

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The list of guest stars in the series, though,  was simply amazing :

Judi Dench, Alan Bates, Leonard Sachs (Manuel), Patrick Troughton (Dr Who), Donald Pleasence (Blofeld), Richard Johnson, Ronald Howard (son of Leslie), Basil Dignam, Roger Delgado (The Master in Dr Who), Charles Gray (another Blofeld) and Frank Thornton (Captain Peacock) :

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Next time, the pictures I remember from my comics.

Meanwhile, fill the lonely hours with………..

 

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What would you do ? (7) The Solution

Here’s the emergency from last time:

And here’s the situation:

So, twenty seconds have already passed, and it’s already a dilly of a space pickle.

The space craft is still floating helplessly after the failure of the atomic motors. The crew have their space suits but they have had very little time to start the repairs to the motors before the alarm suddenly goes off. An extremely large meteorite is approaching them at ten miles a second. The time remaining before impact is less than forty seconds and decisive action is required.

What can the crew do ?

Well, page 2 of “Boys’ World” says that the correct solution is:

“There is only one thing they can do. They re-open both doors of the port airlock, allowing all the air to rush out of the ship. The rushing air acts like a rocket jet in the vacuum of space, and propels the ship away from the meteorite. Later the ship can be re-pressurised from their emergency air cylinders. “

And just to prove it, here’s the slightly blurry page of the comic:

“Why”, said the nine year old Ridley Scott. “What an amazing idea. When I’m a famous Hollywood director, I shall make use of it.”

“Stop daydreaming”, said his mother. “Have you done your paper round, Ridley? And have you done your English homework? That story about that woman on that space rocket?”

One intriguing thought is that Ridley Scott is known to have been a subscriber to “Eagle” comic. Did he used to read “Boys’ World” as well?

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