James Stewart impresses Robbie Robinson

And when I say James Stewart I mean this James Stewart, that American fellow who used to act in movies like It’s A Wonderful Life, and Mr Smith Goes To Washington, and The Philadelphia Story. Many screen heroes are nothing much to bother with off screen, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s called acting. But Stewart was a hero both on screen and off. He didn’t just star in movies, concerning such things as WW2. He fought in WW2, as a bomber commander in the US Air Force.

I’ve been reading Big Week, James Holland’s book about “the biggest air battle of World War Two”. I haven’t yet got to the actual big week in question, which happened in February 1944. But I can’t help thinking that Captain James Stewart is going to be up to his neck in it, bombing Germany and fighting off German fighters, because he has already had several mentions. Here is one of them, concerning an encounter that happened late in 1943, described on pages 226-227.

Captain James Stewart had been ordered to London to face the press on Thursday, 2 December. He had been promised this would happen only once. The questions were ridiculous and he found the exercise painful and embarrassing, but then he returned to Tibenham to get on with being a squadron commander.

On Sunday, 5 December, a sergeant came to Robbie Robinson’s hut and told him and his crew-mates to prepare – briefing at 9 a.m. and ready to fly. It was to be a ‘shakedown’ flight – a training flight to see whether they were ready for combat operations. Out by Bullet Serenade, they were just getting ready to move off when a Jeep pulled up and Captain Jimmy Stewart stepped out. ‘Fellas,’ he told them, ‘I’ll be riding with you.’

“Bullet Serenade”being the airplane they’d all be flying in.

On board, Stewart went to the flight deck, but once the were airborne he came back down, speaking to each of the crew, then went back to the cockpit. Over the intercom, Robinson listened to him asking questions of every man. ‘What are you doing now, Sergeant Robinson?’ he asked. ‘What do you see out of the waist window?’ Robinson told him. More questions followed. ‘Can you see the super-charger gate position? Are the exhausts smoking? What colour is the engine exhaust? How much fuel do we have on board? Are you checking it? Are the fuel gauges off and drained?’ He then called them up in turn to the cockpit. Robinson, like the rest of the crew, had gone through incredibly thorough training. Although a waist gunner, he was a fully qualified flight engineer and even had sixty hours’ piloting in his logbook. The idea was to ensure there was always back-up if anything happened to the main operating crew members. ‘Robinson,’ Stewart asked once he had reached the flight deck, ‘can you fly as first engineer?’ He also wanted to know whether he could man all gun turrets and arm the bombs. It was quite a grilling, but Robinson was impressed. ‘Stewart really knew this airplane,’ he noted. ‘He wanted us to know it too.’

By all accounts I’ve encountered, Robinson wasn’t the only one who was impressed by this star of stage and screen. And war.

Broadway in black and white

Yesterday afternoon, on my way to St James’s Tube, I once again passed, and photoed, the ever changing scene that is The Broadway (or something similar), as it takes shape. It’s going to be a cluster of Things of a Certain Size.

Yesterday I decided I’d photo it all in black and white:

Well, no. What really happened was that the place itself presented itself to me in black and white, with only very vestigial traces of colour. I was photoing in full colour.

When I first saw that big word there, “MULTIPLEX”, I thought; Hey, they’re building a multi-screen cinema! But it turns out that all it is is that a company called Multiplex got the contract to construct this place.

The things you learn from lurking on Twitter …

Here:

The most interesting thing about Apsley House, former home of the Duke of Wellington, is that there’s a massive naked statue of Napoleon at the bottom of the stairs.

It’s huge apparently, over eleven feet tall. Official Apsley House website here.

And no, he does not look like Danny de Vito at all. All that hooey about Napoleon being small, “Napoleon complex”, etc. is indeed hooey. (Can’t remember where or when I read this, but I did.)

“It is now well known that …”

I continue to read The Square and the Tower, and very good it is too, just like it says inside the front cover and on the back cover.

In the chapter about the Russian Revolution, appropriately entitled “The Plague”, we read (by which I mean that I read (on pages 214-5)) this:

It is now well known that fewer people were killed in the October Revolution than were killed in the shooting of Sergei Eisenstein’s tenth-anniversary film about it.

Well, this may now be “well-known”, but I did not know it.

Not that this makes the event insignificant. After it, the “plague” spread with astonishing speed.

Only amongst the vast peasantry and the Cossacks did the Bolsheviks lack leaders – which helps explain therapid descent of Russia into an urban-rural civil war in the course of 1918. Essentially, the Bolshevik virus travelled by train and telegraph; and literate soldiers; sailors and workers were the most susceptible to it.

That literacy was at the heart of the Bolshevik story is something that I did know.

Ancient cars in LA

Indeed:

That was photoed by this blog’s setter-up Michael Jennings, last month, in Los Angeles. Presumably these cars were for some sort of movie or TV show. Whenever you see cars being carried about in lorries like that in London, that’s why they’re doing it.

I missed this photo when MJ first put it up at his Facebook site. But I encountered it more recently when an email incame, alerting me to another MJ photo. I liked that one, but then I scrolled back through all his recent Facebooked photos, and liked the above photo even more.

How London is moving downstream

What do you suppose this is?:

Okay, no silly games, this is Disneyland London. They have in mind to construct this during the next few years, out east, on the south bank, on that bit of land that sticks upwards into the beginnings of the Estuary (“Swanscombe Peninsula”), just this side of Tilbury.

The details don’t interest me. I’m pretty sure I’ll never go, not to the finished object. I don’t know when or even if they’ll build this.

What does interest me is that this huge project, even if it never gets beyond being thought about and puffed in the media, illustrates how the centre of gravity of London is moving inexorably downstream. The other Thing as big as this in that part of London is London Gateway, the big container port now being built on the north side of the Estuary, a long walk beyond Tilbury.

4-4-0

This evening I happened upon episode 1 of Trains That Changed The World on Yesterday TV, the show which has Steve Davies in it. This was the episode I missed the first time around, so I am very happy about this.

For the first half of the show, we were in Britain, covering the Stephensons and the transformation that trains wrought, as you’d expect, upon Britain. But then we crossed the Atlantic, and learned how trains put the U in USA. Which all the talking heads, including Davies, agreed that they did.

In particular I learned about this loco:

On the left, an Old Photo of what I take to be, more or less, the original. And on the right, painted in totally implausible paints of many colours, and also photoed in full colour, a Reproduction produced in the 1970s. And looking like it’s just got the part of its lifetime in Back to the Future 3.

This is the 4-4-0, the Model T of the railroad track. The big thing I learned about the 4-4-0 (which gets its name from its wheels) is that it burns wood rather than coal, on account of America being made of trees rather than coal; and that the big bulge on its chimney is to stop solid bits of burning wood pouring out and setting fire to America. I did not know this.

“Bill – do not do this!”

This is a Tweet where you have to show it all or it makes no sense:

(LATER: In the first version of this posting, it said “22 people are talking about this”. And I put, at this point: “Make that 23”. Ho ho. But now I note that the above manifestation of this tweet automatically updates itself. Blog and learn.)

Maybe, to you, that tweet still makes no sense. Well, on the right there is a black-and-white fifties British film actor, saying all that stuff. And on the left, William Hartnell, about to become the very first Doctor Who.

It was surely this attitude, that television didn’t matter and would never amount to anything, which was all part of why some of those early Doctor Who episodes went missing. Shame. Selfishly, I don’t much mind, because I never got excited about Doctor Who when it first happened. But I have a friend who still does mind.