Friday, 17 September 2010

Flak Jacket

Inundated with Battle of Britain celebrations (celebs flying Spitfires, everyone making Woolton Pie) I turned to Flying Officer X. He was a kind of uniformed Writer In Hangar for the wartime RAF, and produced two books of short stories: The Greatest People In The World (1942) and How Sleep The Brave (1943). They actually concern Bomber Command, but the ethos is the same- young men flying by the seat of their khaki overalls on operations. The pilots, navigators, observers and rear-gunners of those leviathans of the sky, their bravery, their courage, their bar bills. Flying Officer X was of course the masterful story writer H.E.Bates, and these two little books should help put paid to the lie, recycled by James Delingpole recently when he repeated in the Spectator what friends had told him, namely that Bates books were just 1930's romantic slush. There may be romance (usually bitter sweet) in his work, but none of it is slush. Quite the opposite. And he wrote superb novels, novellas and collections of short stories right up to the 1970s. The two RAF books were combined as The Stories of Flying Officer X and you can get a cheap copy on Abe Books .

4 comments:

David Gouldstone said...

A film was made during the war called 'Squadron Leader X' with a script by Emeric Pressburger (of Powell and Pressburger), but sadly it seems to have been lost. No print of it exists, as far as I know.

MikeP said...

Yet another thing James Delingpole is wrong about...at least he's consistent!

Sue said...

Thanks for drawing my attention to this - I will seek it out and read! Another tip for anyone who's interested in this type of thing - "Fighter Pilot", published originally anonymously in 1941 (I have a first edition with dust jacket and price of 6s from my granddad!) - a terrific book, very well-written.

Barry Newman. said...

James Delingpole? Never heard of him, hope I never do again. No lack of self promoting winkers these days.