Spitfire!

The Arts

After reading yesterday’s comments, I quickly researched the PSB films recut from COI and GPO shorts. They seem to have started out with many musicians, who eventually boiled down to two, who became the band Public Service Broadcasting. They’re appear to be British, thoughtful, low-key backroom boys who have discovered a niche and give live concerts. I found a large number of their soundtracks online, and there are several albums.

They mix an indie sound with a driving beat and add soundbites from the original footage to create something both fresh and familiar, and in this sense they are not dissimilar to Lemon Jelly, who did the same a few years back, and Pogo, who has used his mother’s gardening tips and a discussion about declarations of love involving Kenneth Williams and Kenneth Connor (not with each other!)

Incidentally, the RAF-sponsored film ‘Spitfire’ is delightful (if over-long) and has a terrific soundtrack.

22 comments on “Spitfire!”

  1. Ian Luck says:

    They’re definite favourites round our manor, guv.
    My brother’s in-laws have seen PSB play live several times, and pronounced them excellent. One of PSB’s tracks, ‘Lit Up’ features the hilarious commentary on a 1930’s Spithead review, broadcast live on the BBC by a ‘heavily refreshed’ Royal Navy Captain. ‘Protect And Survive’ is still chilling, if only to realise how utterly inadequate any safety measures were – you really need to see the video for it. ‘Elfstedentocht’ is about a long distance skate race, and the video for it is bleakly beautiful. They’re a great group. I would class them as ‘Hauntology’, for the simple reason that the voices on their tracks, are, a lot of the time, those of people long dead, who, at the time of the recording of their voices, would have had no idea that one day they would be on a record played on 6 Music, at a festival, or in a club.

  2. SimonB says:

    Another resounding endorsement for PSB from me.

  3. admin says:

    Isn’t there an example of a famous commentator (I can see his face but can’t think of his name) witnessing a disaster live on British radio and saying ‘Jesus wept’ and being banned for years for blasphemy?

  4. Rich says:

    I can definitely recommend Public Service Broadcasting! Seen them live a few times over the past few years and it’s always been a good night out. Spitfire is a NB if favourite of mine

  5. Ian Luck says:

    Chris, I have a feeling that it was the normally unflappable Richard Dimbleby, in the 1950’s or 60’s. I have a record of his broadcasts, and some are simply astonishing. In one, he’s reporting from inside an RAF bomber as it takes part in a raid over Germany. He’s with a sound engineer, who is recording the whole thing… On to a shellac disc, and the cutting arm jumps about as the aircraft jinks about to avoid flak, and Dimbleby comments on the anti-aircraft fire bursting around them. Others, such as his report from Belsen Concentration camp, are simply heartbreaking. He was amongst the first to enter the camp after it’s liberation, and it’s not an easy listen, even today. The horror, sadness, disgust, and anger in his commentary are clearly evident.

  6. admin says:

    Thank you – that’s exactly who it was. I think he was there when a zeppelin exploded too,

  7. Paul Graham says:

    Spitfire takes it samples from the Leslie Howard biopic of R.J. Mitchell “First of the Few”. PSB’s Race for Space is certainly worth a listen. Came in useful in getting Kennedy’s Rice University speech into a student friendly version for my world history kids!

  8. Peter Tromans says:

    Chris, are you thinking of the commentary on the Hildenborough disaster? I think that was an American radio journalist meant to report a triumphant arrival.

    Any film with a Spitfire has to be good. The machine has such irresistible beauty.

  9. Ian Luck says:

    There are some Hurricanes that have sneaked into the video for ‘Spitfire’. See if you can spot them. I’m very fond of ‘The First Of The Few’. It was made quite early in the war. The pilots’ P.O.V. through their gunsights is interesting: they always show the old ‘Ring And Bead’ sight. This is because the reflector sight used in Hurricanes and Spitfires, which was a very early kind of ‘Head Up Display’, was still secret. A bit similar to the bombs in ‘The Dambusters’ being shown as undefined lumps under the Lancasters – it was still on the secret list when the film was made.

  10. Ian Luck says:

    Peter, did you mean ‘Hindenburg’? It crashed at Lakehurst , New Jersey, in 1937. The famous commentary on the disaster was by Herbert Morrison. His horrified reaction, broadcast live, to millions of American wireless listeners, is rightly famous, and contains his immortal line: “…Oh, the humanity!” My six year old nephew is fascinated by Zeppelins, The Hindenburg, in particular.

  11. snowy says:

    Unless you fancy a trip to Hull, don’t mention R38 to your nephew. It fell apart over the Humber during handling trials.

    [Doing ‘handbrake turns’ at 70 mph in a vessel that is mostly cotton and ‘lolly-sticks’ was never going to end well.]

  12. Wayne Mook says:

    At the War Museum at Salford Quays they show part of protect and Survive. White wash your windows to reflect the heat blast. Even as a kid we knew it was all in vain, as comics stated it was basically put your head in a brown paper bag put your head between tour knees and kiss your arse goodbye.

    Having mentioned this it would be remiss not to mention Raymond Briggs ‘ When The Wind Blows and the film which is one of the most heart-breaking films ever.

    Lemon Jelly splendid and it has been Nice Weather For Ducks, which I prefer to the Staunton Lick.

    Wayne.

  13. Peter Tromans says:

    Auto correct: Hindenberg

  14. Ken Mann says:

    NB The live version of “Lit Up” on their Brixton concert album is far superior to the studio version. An when I say lit up I mean with fairy lights. There’s nothing between us and heaven, nothing at all.

  15. Ian Luck says:

    Snowy – I’ll take that on board. I’ve already managed to steer him away from the fates of the USS Akron, Macon, and Shenandoah. He’s still got time to discover the R-101, though. At least with that, we can show him the sheds at Cardington.

  16. Helen Martin says:

    Yes, the R100 and 101. That’s our friend Mr. Norway. Read his autobiography “Sliderule.” How many people know what one of those things is, let alone how to use it? I keep asking why we couldn’t have had nice slow air travel like that and a Canadian author gave us “Air Born” (the character was actually born in an aircraft). We still could have it.
    That Spitfire clip was marvelous.

  17. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – Somebody once said: “The camel is a horse designed by a committee.” The R-101 was such a camel. Built in direct competition to the R-100, which was designed by the genius Barnes Wallis, and was constructed using his revolutionary ‘Geodetic’ system. The R-100 was built as well as the technology of the time allowed. It wasn’t particularly fast, or good looking, but here’s the thing: it worked, and it worked very well, and was safe. The R-101, on the other hand, was built to compete with the German Zeppelins. It’s construction was haphazard, to say the least. At one point, it was decided that it wasn’t big enough, so the airframe was cut in half, and a section shoehorned in, rather in the manner of making a ‘stretch limo’ today. The huge gasbags in the frame were not secure, and kept rubbing together, which caused two things not recommended when hydrogen is being used: holes, and worse, static electricity. To propel it through the air, the Government funded team thought that diesel engines might be safer than petrol ones, and so, the four huge powerplants, that were normally found in railway locomotives, were installed in the outboard gondolas. It was quickly realised, however, on early tests, that the R-101 had problems manoeuvring at low speeds – essential in airship mooring operations, so a fifth gondola was added at the rear, which could be run in reverse, to aid mooring to a tower, but was dead weight at all other times. Reports were made on test flights, that pitch (⬆⬇), and roll (⤴⤵) authority was poor, with an alarming tendency to wallow, or suddenly pitch forwards, unless the trim was constantly monitored. On a test flight to show the new airship off over the country, it appeared to behave – but the crew were actually fighting for control, as it kept trying to pitch down. Nonetheless, after a long period of testing and structural work (the outer skin kept splitting, and was allowing rainwater into the envelope), it was given the all clear to fly to Karachi. In early October1930, it was observed by lots of people as it flew quite low over London, in increasingly heavy rain. It crossed the channel, and then, not far from the town of Beauvais, it crashed into a wooded hill, and caught fire, killing all but a couple of people on board. It had hit the ground nose down. The R-100, which had flown across the globe fairly successfully, was immediately grounded, put in one of the huge sheds at Cardington, where it was eventually scrapped. A sad affair indeed.

  18. SimonB says:

    Ian – you are in Suffolk aren’t you? Take the nephew to Theberton for more crashed zep…

    Drove past Cardington a couple of weeks ago for the first time in years and the sheds still took my breath away.

  19. snowy says:

    I was musing, to no particular purpose ’bout some of the thoughts above. And Ian’s nephling might get to see ‘airships†’ as a common, everyday means of transport.

    Because to move non-perishable freight a craft that can carry a 100 tons of cargo powered by nothing more than the rays of the Sun has to make more sense than what we do now.

    If you announced to an expectant World that you proposed a new transport system that consisted of building a series of massive bath-tubs that you would push through an enormously thick liquid‡ by burning the juice extracted from fossilised Dinosaur poo, they would think you rather odd.

    [ † ‘Airships’ covers a lot of interesting ‘lighter-than-air’ designs, pure aerostats, hybrid aerodynes, dynastats and rotostats. ]

    [ ‡ Sea water is about 50 times thicker than Air. ]

  20. Ian Luck says:

    Simon – there’s a display about the Theberton Zeppelin in the Ipswich museum. I went there in April with my nephew, and showed him – they have some fragments of the Duralumin alloy frame and period pictures. My late father told me that there was a sizeable segment of frame hung up, in the manner of a trophy, in, of all places, Theberton Church.

    The Cardington sheds are literally shiver-inducingly awe inspiring, in the same manner as a Gothic Cathedral. They sit in the middle of nowhere, and can be seen for miles. If you don’t know what they were used for, these vast, black constructions can appear sinister, frightening, even. I think that they’re oddly beautiful, appearing like an inverted, bisected ocean liner,(yes, they are that huge) and wish that the mooring tower had been preserved.

  21. Helen Martin says:

    My husband says that they’re talking about airships for the North – a Prof. Barry Prentice in Manitoba particularly. Ken thinks they would use helium rather than hydrogen, although the latter is a possibility still. Presumably no air bags rubbing against each other, though. Surely there’s a way of creating a wave of enthusiasm for this project.
    I am constantly in awe at the amount of knowledge contained in the frequenters of this blog.

  22. Ian Luck says:

    Then, of course, there’s the 1971 movie, entitled simply: ‘Zeppelin’, an enjoyable First World War action movie, starring Michael York, and partially shot at the Cardington sheds. It has a great score by Roy Budd, best known for his wonderfully minimalist score for ‘Get Carter’ (also 1971). It’s a lot of fun, and, oddly, it has exactly the same ‘feel’ to it as the second half of the recent ‘Wonder Woman’ movie.

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