Friday, 10 July 2020

The Few

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." The words of Winston Churchill in August 1940 acknowledged the debt of gratitude to the fighter pilots and bomber squadrons that had driven the Luftwaffe back across the Channel. 
Britain had lived through the uncertainty of the Phoney War, the Dunkirk evacuation, Churchill becoming the new Premier in May, the march of German troops across Northern Europe and the fall of France in June and Hitler's plans for Operation Sea Lion: the invasion of England. 

Over the summer of 1940 the war had turned to the air. At the start of the conflict the odds were heavily stacked against Fighter Command by about five to one: the Luftwaffe's 3,600 bombers and fighters against 660 RAF fighter planes. But in the final analysis it was the one thousand or so young pilots - their average age was twenty - in the faster and more manoeuvrable Hurricanes and Spitfires, supported by a line of radar command, that won what became known as The Battle of Britain.

On BBC radio as early as June 1940 they produced a feature on the work of RAF Fighter Command called Spitfires Over Britain (25 June). An impressionistic reconstruction of combat it mixed sounds and voices recorded Cecil McGivern together with dialogue written by J.D. Kinross. It was followed by similar radio features produced by McGivern that included Bombers Over Germany (15 August), Fighter Pilot (5 November), The Battle of Britain (8 May 1941 and available online) and, after the war, RADAR (20 August 1945).

Hundreds of radio and television have followed to remember and commemorate the Battle of Britain. However, the last programme to be made with the traditional radio feature elements, a sound collage of actuality, dialogue, song but no narration, is probably this example from BBC Radio 4 heard on 12 September 1980.

For Battle of Britain new interviews were recorded by Norman Tozer with surviving fighter pilots and those that had worked behind the scenes. You hear the voices of Hubert 'Dizzy' Allen, Douglas Bader, Paddy Barthrop, Denis Crowley-Milling, Dennis David, Boleslav Drobinski, Christopher Foxley-Norris, Roger Frankland, Tom Gleave, Frank Hartley, Donald Kingaby, Brian Kingcombe, James 'Ginger' Lacey, Ludovic Martell, Vera Shaw, Bob Stanford-Tuck, John Tanner, Bernard West, Helen Watkinson and Innes and Bett Westmancott.

The songs, readings, and dramatic sequences are by Edward Arthur, Alison Christie-Murray, Michael Cochrane, Peter Howell, Polly March, Basil Moss, Jennifer Piercey and Gregory de Polnay with Bill McGuffie at the piano.

The 'sound realisation' is by Lloyd Silverthorne, a BBC sound engineer who worked in the Radiophonic Workshop (look out for his name if you have one of those BBC Sound Effects albums) and for the drama department (he recorded Andrew Sachs' play without words The Revenge).

It was produced by the award-winning drama and features producer Piers Plowright.

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