Don’t get me wrong, filming is great fun, but it’s also extremely draining and can be slightly stressful too. We’ve got a much better budget for this one than we did for the Battle of Britain, but even so, it’s still not a large amount, which means that if we plan a week’s filming in Germany there’s not much margin for error – we can’t come back and do it again.
The German summer seems to be as much of a damp squib as it has been at home in England, and Tuesday morning was not easy. The plan was to film two German eye-witnesses of the attack on the Eder, at the dam, then to visit and film a third a little way away. By mid-afternoon, my old friend Clive Denney and John Dodd were due to arrive at Allensdorf airfield in the Beech 18. It was always going to be a tight schedule because no matter what, filming always takes longer than you think it’s going to.
Things started to go wrong when we turned up at the dam and the rain started to come down. Herr Schaeffer and Herr Bremmer didn’t seem too bothered as we stood around making jokes about ‘Englischer Wetter’, but the minutes were passing. Eventually, it relented, but by the time we got going with the usual interruptions from people walking past, children shouting near by etc, it started to rain again.
Eventually, a decent stretch of blue sky appeared but by then the light was so different we had to start right from the beginning again. Schaeffer and Bremmer took it all on the chin with relaxed good humour, but already our next interview had slipped badly.
In between the downpours, however, news arrived from Clive that they had been flying over the Channel when a cylinder blew in one of the engines and they had been forced to turn back. This was devastating news: we had planned a major scene with the Beech flying over the Eder with me on the dam wall demonstrating why the attack itself had been such an incredible feat of flying. A Cessna just wouldn’t work – we needed a vintage aircraft to make the point, especially a Beech with its double tail fin like the Lancaster. I was also personally gutted because I’d been looking forward to seeing him and John. Clive promised to do his best to find an alternative, but at such short notice, no one was holding out much hope.
We eventually finished interviewing Schaeffer and Bremmer, who, I have to say, were fascinating, not only about the destruction of the dam itself, but also the rebuilding. After a brief tour of the inside of the dam, we headed off to see Herr Gallenkamp, our third eye-witness. No sooner had we reached his house than Clive rang to say he’d found another Beech in Switzerland and that the owner, Carlo Ferrari, could make it up to the dams the following day. This was a huge relief. So maybe the day hadn’t been such a wash-out after all.
But would Carlo reach Allendorf without a hitch? And would the rain hold off? And would the German military, who, it turned out, were due to be practicing parachute drops over the Eder the following day, put a stop to our filming? There was much that could still go wrong.
Thankfully, the day was a triumph. Carlo and his co-pilot Greg arrived in a beautiful shiny silver Beech, the rain held off all day, and the paratroopers were sufficiently far away that we could crack on without any interruptions at all. And the Beech looked fabulous – flying over the dam at around 500 feet, its throaty engines roaring, and glinting in the sunlight. It demonstrated everything that we hoped it would. Even the German tourists on the dam seemed to enter the spirit. ‘No Lancaster?’ one asked. Another said, ‘You’re not planning to drop a bomb this time?’ Who says Germans don’t have a sense of humour.
Of course, it all took longer than we had intended, but back at Allendorf after a break-neck drive from the Eder, the airfield agreed to stay open later than normal and so we still had time to clamber into the Beech for a filming flight over the Mohne and Sorpe Dams. And what a flight! It was fantastic – the stuff of dreams. This week”s shoot is turning out rather well after all.