January 20, 2006
I’ve finished Twenty-One after working almost flat-out over Christmas (bar Christmas Day and half of Boxing Day), so felt ready to enjoy a lunch at Bentley Priory thanks to Alan Curtis. Alan is a highly successful businessman and former pilot who is one of only two members of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association not to have flown in the Battle of Britain – the other is the association secretary, which says much for the good work Alan has done over the years with these boys. The MOD are now planning to sell off Bentley Priory, as part of general cost-cutting. This is hallowed turf to the BoBFA as it was the HQ of RAF Fighter Command during the battle and understandably they feel it should be kept for the nation, with Air Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding’s office as important as Nelson’s cabin on Victory. Alan has set up the Battle of Britain Bentley Priory Trust to not only lobby the government but also to hopefully buy the place from the MOD and save it from developers. Anyway, he’s trying to galvanise all sorts of people and has been to see me at home and has now very kindly invited me to lunch in Stanmore. It was great fun, and after lunch Seb Cox, Head of the Air Historical Branch (based at Bentley Priory) showed me round and took me into Dowding’s old office. I’ve been thinking about doing a book about the Battle of Britain for ages, and this visit has somewhat galvanised my thinking. Yes, there have been lots of books on the subject, but there has been no narrative history telling the story from both sides. Nor have many books given the context of the time proper consideration. So I think there are definitely new things to say. Anyway, I can mull this over for a while and gently start reading up a bit.
But there is still a big mountain to overcome with the Italy book. Julia is proving to be brilliant, but I still don’t have anyone to help with tracking down German veterans and translating, and it’s beginning to worry me. Initially I got in touch with Angelica von Hase, whose name was given to me by Antony Beevor but she’s very busy and I think would prove too expensive. Then I tried a former British spy still living in Berlin. Larry had helped last year when I was involved with making a film about the end of the war. I asked him then about helping out and he agreed, but he’s been unable to come up with anyone. Then a friend in the next-door village agreed to help as she speaks fluent German. She would have been fantastic and helped me place an ad. in Kameraden, a German veterans’ magazine – with good results – but has since sadly had a family bereavement and has had to put any more translation on hold. But at last there seems to be a glimmer of hope: I was speaking to Jeremy the other day (who directed the end of the war film) and he suggested I get in touch with his wife’s friend, Sarah Riviere, who lives with her German husband in Berlin, and who we met when we were filming out there last year. I rang her, and although she is a trained architect and has no translation experience or any real knowledge about the war, she has agreed to think about it.