Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Monday, March 8, 2010

Bomber Pilots and Wild West cowboys...

...and the Hard of Hearing

Strangely, despite passing the strict medical examinations they must have undergone by Luftwaffe doctors, some of the German bomber pilots who incessantly droned around the night skies of London while carrying out their intense air raids during the winter of 1940-1941, appeared to suffer from a serious hearing loss.
This often became a grave matter for many Londoners on the receiving end of the Nazi’s Blitz hardware. So they tried to assist them in following the rules of good conduct in such stressful times.
Usually this happened when, after a night of sporadic aerial interruptions to their night's sleep, the populace would finally see the first welcome light of dawn and sink thankfully into a deep slumber for a brief hour or so before having to get up to go to work.
It was then, as soon as the authorities were sure everybody had at last fallen soundly asleep, that they would order the sirens to wail the loud continuous note of the all-clear signal. And wake everybody up again.

Then maybe a few minutes after the unforgettable siren sound had finally moaned into silence, and a brief sleep was once again being sought, it was then that some foolish German airman would drop yet another bomb. Now, this was very annoying. Not only had the all-clear definitely already been sounded and woken everyone up, but here was some idiotic cloth-eared enemy airman who for some reason had not heard the all-clear and was still hanging about up there dropping noisy bombs instead of heading off back home for breakfast with the rest of his gang.

Understandably, it was at that time that many bedroom windows were flung open, angry heads thrust out, and irate shouts sent skyward telling the hard-of-hearing Jerry to kindly keep his ears open for the all-clear next time he was over and, for now, to go away home and learn the rules of civilized warfare.

But not all the hard-of-hearing during the Blitz were Luftwaffe personnel up in the sky. Some were out in the American Wild West — dressed as cowboys.
On the big screens of our cinemas.
During movie shows, if the street sirens sounded the very disconcerting up and down wailing of an air-raid warning the cinema management would flash a discreet message on the bottom of the screen. This informed the audience that an alert was now in effect and any patrons who wished to leave the show were at liberty to do so. Upon seeing this strange message, strange in that most everybody had heard the sirens anyway and who on earth needed permission to leave a cinema. Few ever did. There was seldom any point to do so. Especially, during the later blitzes when Londoners had become inured to such things.
In particular, there was one evening during a cowboy film when, after the wailing of the sirens sounded the alert, I did not see a single person leave the cinema. Not one solitary soul. The show inside the movie theatre was just too good to miss.
The scene on the screen:
Two stetson-hatted, Wild West characters, six-guns in hand, are holed up inside a cabin. Some distance off from outside the cinema a bomb falls and the dull reverberation is distinctly felt by the audience.
"Listen," whispers the first screen cowboy. "I think I heard something outside."
"You're imagining things," replies his hearing-impaired partner.
Several loud voices from the cinema audience: "Of course, he is. There's nothing out there. Just some old Jerry bomber. That's all!"
"No!" whispers the first cowboy again. "Be quiet. There is something out there."
Another bomb drops, a little nearer this time.
"Did you hear it that time?" asks the lead guy. "There really is something out there."
"Maybe you're right," says the second cowboy tensely. "Look out the window and see if you can see anything."
Cinema audience: "There aren't any windows in here, stupid."
First cowboy: "Yeah! I can see something out there — I think."
Partner: "How many of them are there, out there?"
Audience: "It's no good asking him. Ask Goering."
By now the crump of a closer bomb and the crash of antiaircraft guns is loud outside the movie theatre. But inside everyone is having a wonderful time. Shouted witticisms from the audience, unbeknownst drollery by the cowboys on the screen and noises off from outside, all combined for the biggest laugh-and-sound show ever held in the REGAL CINEMA, High Road, Ilford, northeast London, that early evening in 1941.
Hollywood, unwittingly, had never before been so good.

No comments:

Post a Comment