Society gathers at High Wycombe to honour wartime playwright Air Gunner

Some 50 members of the Terence Rattigan Society gathered at RAF High Wycombe Officers’ Mess on Saturday 29 September 2012, to celebrate the late playwright’s wartime RAF service and watch one of the films he scripted for the RAF Film Production Unit. 

Terence Rattigan, whose famous plays include ‘French Without Tears’, ‘The Browning Version’ and ‘Separate Tables’, served in the RAF as a Coastal Command Air Gunnery Leader during WW2.  He drew on his experiences to write his seminal wartime play about Bomber Command, ‘Flarepath’, recently revived to great acclaim in the West End.  Whilst still in uniform, he also penned the film adaptation, ‘The Way to the Stars’, filmed at RAF Catterick.  Subsequently, he was co-opted onto the RAF Film Production Unit where he wrote the screenplay of ‘Journey Together’, a recruiting vehicle for multi-engine crews and featuring a host of British actors, then serving in the RAF.

This rarely-seen film was introduced at the special screening by one of Rattigan’s biographers and Society Vice-President, Michael Darlow, himself a former RAF National Serviceman.  Michael Darlow was also the director of the acclaimed 1989 BBC drama ‘Bomber Harris’, starring John Thaw in the title role.  The occasion was an opportunity to reunite Michael with actor, historian and former RAF pilot Robert Hardy, who starred in the drama in one of his many performances as wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and who took time out of a busy schedule to join the Society event.  Together with members of the Society committee, Robert and Michael visited Air Chief Marshal Harris’ former office, now restored to its wartime configuration by a team from RAF High Wycombe and containing a number of original items of furniture and fittings.

In his introduction to the film, Michael Darlow poignantly commented, ‘It’s a sobering thought that, had Rattigan been posted to Bomber, rather than Coastal, Command, he might have been one of the 56,000 lost aircrew commemorated on the memorial unveiled this year, depriving us of some of the finest works in Twentieth Century English theatre.  We are fortunate that he was able to use his experiences to bring the world of wartime flying to life for the British public’.

Said Group Captain Clive Montellier, Secretary to the Society, who organised the day, ‘It was a great privilege to be able to bring together such key figures from the world of film and drama to assist the Society in celebrating a great English playwright who, like millions of others, donned uniform to serve his country in wartime.  To be able to do so in the surroundings of the former Bomber Command HQ mess added a resonance to the occasion that our members felt genuinely moving’.