tue 20/10/2020

The Battle of Britain, Channel 5 review - 80th anniversary of the RAF's finest hour | reviews, news & interviews

The Battle of Britain, Channel 5 review - 80th anniversary of the RAF's finest hour

The Battle of Britain, Channel 5 review - 80th anniversary of the RAF's finest hour

Behind the scenes of the air war that saved the nation

Dan Snow and Kate Humble flash back to the summer of 1940

The notion of massed aircraft dogfighting over southern England seems inconceivable now, but the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940 was all too horribly real for its participants.

The notion of massed aircraft dogfighting over southern England seems inconceivable now, but the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940 was all too horribly real for its participants. Marking the 80th anniversary, this three-part recreation of three pivotal days in the campaign began with 15 August, the day of the first major German attacks.

This is fairly typical Dan Snow territory, and you can imagine that the chisel-jawed historian might secretly picture himself flinging his Spitfire through the skies in pursuit of the despicable Luftwaffe. Ironically, though, it was his co-presenter Kate Humble, more associated with organic sheep farming than aerial combat, who went aloft in the back seat of a modified Spitfire, whence she reported gushingly that “it’s kind of extraordinary and terrifying at the same time” (and there wasn’t even anybody shooting at her). However, it transpires that Kate has a couple of distinguished RAF flyers in her lineage, so she has more affinity with this subject than you might have suspected.

These programmes have been assembled from a mix of archive footage, who-do-you-think-you-are type sequences where descendants of Battle of Britain participants take us back to those torrid months in 1940, and some mocked-up flying scenes featuring surviving versions of Spitfires and the Germans’ notorious Messerschmitt 109, which give an impression of the dizzying speed and suddenness of an air battle even if they don’t look too much like the 1940 aeroplanes. Happily, the filmmakers haven’t padded it out with clips from Guy Hamilton’s 1969 movie Battle of Britain, an over-used tactic of documentary makers down the decades.

They’d dug up some strong human interest stories, too. The tale of Scottish flying ace Archie McKellar, the son of a Paisley plasterer with a precocious gift for flying, was all the more fascinating for being little-known (he was the first pilot to shoot down a German bomber over Britain, he shot down five German planes in 24 hours, and helped to demolish a German raid on Newcastle). The handwritten diary of 19-year-old WAAF Joan Fanshawe, who plotted aircraft movements at RAF HQ in Uxbridge, offered gossipy glimpses into the day-to-day feel of the times, while it was amusing to hear how Winston Churchill had tried out his “never in the field of human conflict” speech on a friend before using it in Parliament a few days later. Watch the first of these films, and you’ll ending up watching all three.

It transpires that Kate Humble has a couple of distinguished RAF flyers in her lineage

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters