Posts Tagged ‘Great’

D-Day ‘Great Escaper’ Bernard Jordan makes his final journey as he’s laid to rest with his wife

January 30th, 2015

Around 150 mourners gathered as Mr Jordan’s coffin, draped in the Union flag and topped with his medals and a wreath of poppies, arrived at church in front of his wife’s.

Assistant curate Father Mark Lyon, who led the service, said: “It’s a great privilege to give thanks for the lives of Bernie and Rene.

“Although Bernie made the headlines, it’s a testament to the depth of her that Rene would not allow him to make this final journey alone.

“In this we can take comfort, knowing that they make their journey into eternity together, hand in hand.”

Bernard Jordan and his wife Irene on their wedding day

Mr and Mrs Jordan, who did not have children, had been married for 59 years and celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 2005.

As a former mayor of Hove, the service was told Mr Jordan had been a long-serving community stalwart before his trip to last year’s D-Day commemorations.

Paying tribute, Mr Fitch said Mr Jordan “had a flare for being outrageous” and that Brighton and Hove had “lost two of its dearest souls”.

He said: “Bernie, in what were to be the last few months of his life, became a national and international figure due to his trip to France and his desire to participate in the Normandy Landings commemorations.

“What really captured the public’s imagination was not his own scheduled flit from the Pines (care home) but the character of the man – a person determined to honour and value his comrades despite his increasing age and less than perfect health.”

Mr Fitch also paid tribute to Mrs Jordan as “demure and quiet”, adding that “she was the perfect foil for her gregarious and big-hearted husband”.

Dennis Smith, the husband of one of the couple’s nieces, told the service that the Jordans were “different characters” who complemented each other.

Mr Smith said Mrs Jordan took a great interest in the Royal Family, particularly the younger generation.

And she acted as an “assertive” figure, often keeping her husband grounded during his “flights of fancy”.

He added that her death, just days after her husband, came as she “saw little prospect of a life without him”.

After the Last Post sounded, Royal British Legion standard bearers lowered their flags before mourners filed out of the church ahead of a private committal.

Mr Jordan’s disappearance to Normandy last June 5 sparked a police search that led to him being catapulted to international attention.

His whereabouts emerged only when a younger veteran phoned later that night to say he had met Mr Jordan and he was safe.

Royal Navy veteran Mr Jordan told reporters on his return that his aim was to remember his fallen “mates”.

Bernard Jordan

He had decided to join British veterans, most making their final pilgrimage to revisit the scene of their momentous invasion, to remember the heroes of the liberation of Europe.

Some 156,000 Allied troops landed on the five invasion beaches on June 6 1944, sparking an 80-day campaign to liberate Normandy involving three million troops and costing 250,000 lives.

Mr Jordan had hoped to return to Normandy this June. Brittany Ferries, which carried him across the Channel last summer, offered him free crossings to D-Day events for the rest of his life.

Following his death, the Royal British Legion said Mr Jordan’s decision to go to France highlighted “the spirit that epitomises the Second World War generation”.

On his 90th birthday, days after he returned from his escapade, he was inundated with more than 2,500 birthday cards from around the world.

Mr Jordan was later made an honorary alderman of Brighton and Hove in a special ceremony at Brighton Town Hall.

He joined an elite list to receive the honour, including Burmese democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, former Olympic champion Steve Ovett, and First World War hero Henry Allingham, who became the world’s oldest man before his death aged 113 in 2009.


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D-Day ‘Great Escaper’ Bernard Jordan’s wife dies days after him

January 10th, 2015

Brighton and Hove mayor Brian Fitch paid tribute to Mrs Jordan. He said: “They were a very close couple who will both be sadly missed.

“Irene went into the care home first after Bernie had looked after her at home, so it came as a bit of a shock that he died first.

“They had been married for more than 50 years and were a devoted couple. After he had gone, she probably gave up the will. They were religious people who are now reunited together.”

A ceremony celebrating Mr and Mrs Jordan’s lives will be held at All Saints Church in Hove on January 30 followed by a private funeral, Mr Fitch said.

A minute’s silence will be held at the next full meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council to remember the couple.

Mr Jordan’s disappearance sparked a police search last June 5 and his whereabouts emerged only when a younger veteran phoned later that night to say he had met Mr Jordan and he was safe.

Second World War veteran Mr Jordan, a former Royal Navy member and ex-mayor of Hove, told reporters on his return that his aim was to remember his fallen “mates”.

He had decided to join British veterans, most making their final pilgrimage to revisit the scene of their momentous invasion, to remember the heroes of the liberation of Europe.

Archive: June 2014

Some 156,000 Allied troops landed on the five invasion beaches on June 6 1944, sparking an 80-day campaign to liberate Normandy involving three million troops and costing 250,000 lives.

Mr Jordan had hoped to return to Normandy this June. Brittany Ferries, which carried him across the Channel last summer, offered him free crossings to D-Day events for the rest of his life after learning of his exploits.

Following his death, the Royal British Legion said Mr Jordan’s decision to go to France highlighted “the spirit that epitomises the Second World War generation”.

On his 90th birthday, days after he returned from his escapade, he was inundated with more than 2,500 birthday cards from around the world.

Mr Jordan was later made an honorary alderman of Brighton and Hove in a special ceremony at Brighton Town Hall.

He joined an elite list to receive the honour, including Burmese democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, former Olympic champion Steve Ovett, and First World War hero Henry Allingham, who became the world’s oldest man before his death aged 113 in 2009.


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The Great Escape: 50th anniversary

December 25th, 2014

Given how much the film is loved now, it is surprising to learn that Sturges had some initial difficulties finding a studio that would back the project. A possible reason is that for the previous few years cinema screens had been blocked solid with war films – a genre that the British understandably took to with relish, but of which the big studios were growing weary. Another possible reason is that the film’s narrative featured no women, no love interest. The lack of a glamorous actress in the cast may have made it seem very much less bankable.


McQueen wasjealous of James Garner’s white sweater (REX FEATURES)

Nevertheless, the Mirisch Company and United Artists rode in. As with The Magnificent Seven, this was to be an ensemble piece, and would even feature three of the Seven: James Coburn, Charles Bronson and the rapidly rising star Steve McQueen. The other big American name was James Garner, who was famous for playing the card-sharp anti-hero of the hit television series Maverick.

From the British side, the main role of ‘Big X’ – Sqd Ldr Roger Bartlett – went to a commanding Richard Attenborough (the original Bartlett, Richard Harris, had dropped out, having apparently objected to the part being diminished in a script re-draft). Donald Pleasence was ‘The Forger’, Colin Blythe, crippled by failing eyesight; Gordon Jackson was the RAF intelligence officer Andy ‘Mac’ Macdonald. Today part of the pleasure of watching the film is wondering how on earth they managed to force together so many vertiginous egos and actually keep the cameras rolling. The truth was that they didn’t always manage to do so.

The three-month shoot took place near Munich, starting in June 1962. The budget, at about $ 4 million, would have seemed big to the British actors, but perhaps rather more modest to their Hollywood counterparts. Certainly Sturges felt that he had to keep the whole operation very tight and was keenly aware that time and money could not be squandered.

The initial idea had been to make the film in California, largely for logistical reasons. But Sturges and his crew couldn’t find anywhere in America that resembled a Bavarian forest. Before long they fixed on coming to Europe because, as Sturges pointed out, ‘Germany looks like Germany.’

The crew found an area of forest in which to build the main set – the vast Stalag Luft camp. To do so they stripped away hundreds of trees, with the promise that they would replant two for every one that came down.

The set construction was, according to the actor David McCallum, who played Flt Lt Eric Ashley-Pitt, in charge of ‘dispersal’, sometimes a communal affair. ‘Every time we had a break,’ he recalled a few years ago, ‘we were asked to sit there and knit together these pieces of rubber tubing, which went on to be the barbed wire that ran around the camp.’

Off-set, life was much more lively. McCallum said, ‘Everyone drove like a maniac, including Donald Pleasence, who’d brought his Jag over. But Steve [McQueen] was the guy – mirroring the film, almost – who took the most risks and had the traffic police in awe of him. When he was pulled over they’d say, “Herr McQueen, good morning, we’re delighted that once again you’ve won the special prize,” and cart him off to the jail. Once I asked him what he did in a crash. He told me you should aim for the smallest trees.’

Tom Adams, 23 at the time, had just come from doing Shakespeare in London theatres for comically modest wages. By contrast, the money he received for playing RAF officer Dai Nimmo, in charge of ‘diversions’, would enable him to buy his first car. And the expenses he received while living in Munich gave him – and all the actors – the run of the best restaurants and bars.


McQueen has his make-up touched up in one of the tunnels (REX FEATURES)

‘It was a lovely summer. I had a hell of a time,’ he says now. ‘Steve McQueen was as mad as a hatter. He wrote off six or seven cars out there.’ Adams knew instantly that he was in the presence of someone special. ‘Whatever it was about Steve McQueen… I couldn’t put my finger on it,’ Adams, 74, says. ‘There he was, about five foot seven, skinny… But on nights out in Munich, if he walked into the bar, the women – whoomph – would be around him. What did he have?’

One thing McQueen certainly had was chutzpah. Though not yet a bona fide film legend (Bullitt, Le Mans and The Thomas Crown Affair would come much later), he was already exhibiting the behaviour of a great Hollywood diva.

A few days into shooting he was invited to view rushes of the footage that had been shot so far, and it was immediately apparent to him that his character, the insolent, fiercely independent Capt Virgil Hilts, veteran of 17 escape attempts, seemed to be spending much of his screen time in the isolation cell, the ‘cooler’. By contrast, his acting rival James Garner, playing Hendley the ingenious ‘Scrounger’ who could procure everything from chocolates to cameras, was getting rather meatier material. McQueen – according to many of his co-stars and crew members – furiously declined to film any more of his scenes until the script was reworked to give him more to do; hence the brilliant, though wholly fictional, motorbike chase, which had not figured in the original script.

‘On another occasion,’ Adams remembers, ‘I overheard McQueen and the director in a corner. The director was saying, “For God’s sake, Steve, you have to say the lines!” McQueen didn’t want to deliver the lines, he wanted the scene to be all reaction shots. He wasn’t a big star then – but he knew this was his chance to become a big star.’

Such were the crises that McQueen’s agent had to fly over to Germany to smooth things over. ‘McQueen had power for the first time in his life,’ Adams says. ‘He was jealous of James Garner, who was very handsome in character with his white sweater. McQueen was upset about that sweater.’ So upset, that he demanded a costume swap, according to Adams. ‘The production people said, “We’ll get Garner to change into a sweatshirt and you can wear the jumper.”’ Eventually, McQueen calmed down and the swap never took place.

For his part, James Garner was amused by McQueen’s attempts to manoeuvre himself to the apex of the ensemble cast. Rather than feeling threatened, he had a part in trying to talk the actor round when he threw a tantrum.

‘He [Steve] wanted to re-shoot everything that we’d done,’ Garner said in an interview some 40 years later, ‘and hell, we were hurting for money and time and everything. So a couple of days later, John Sturges came to me and said, “Jim, you’re the star of the picture. Steve is out.”’ Rather than grabbing for glory, Garner decided to open up diplomatic channels to bring McQueen back.

‘I took Steve and Coburn,’ Garner recalled, ‘and we went over to my house in Munich and we went through the script. I said, “Well, what’s your problem, Steve?” “Well, I don’t like this. I don’t like that.” We went through a lot of scenes. I said, “This is silly. You don’t like anything, Steve.”’ Part of the problem, it seemed, was McQueen’s determination that his character remain cool and inscrutable. ‘We finally figured out,’ Garner said, ‘“Steve, you want to be the hero, but you don’t want to do anything heroic.”’


Donald Pleasence as Colin Blythe, the ‘Forger’ (REX FEATURES)

There was also tension between McQueen and Richard Attenborough, who, as escape mastermind Bartlett, had a big chunk of screen time, which rattled McQueen. Attenborough asked why the American was so hostile towards him. James Coburn told him that it was ‘paranoia’.

McQueen wasn’t the only cast member who wanted to exert his influence on the script. Donald Pleasence was keen to offer advice about the reality of life in the PoW camps to Sturges, but was impatiently shooed away for his impertinence. Pleasence had not let on to Sturges that while serving with the RAF during the war he had spent time as a PoW after his Lancaster bomber was shot down over Nazi territory – he knew his stuff rather better than the director. (When Sturges found out the truth he went to some pains to consult Pleasence properly.)

Many of the cast were delighted just to be there. Among the younger actors was the pop star John Leyton (who had recorded the number-one hit Johnny Remember Me for the producer Joe Meek in 1961). In the film he portrayed Willie the ‘Tunnel King’, right-hand man to Charles Bronson’s hot-headed Danny.

Leyton, now 78, remembers fondly not only how the production opened other Hollywood doors for him, but also how it got him out of an awkward spot in England. A trained actor, he was a reluctant heart-throb to the nation’s teenage girls. ‘I welcomed the film being shot in Germany because I’d just recorded another couple of singles and in England I was being followed down the street by screaming fans,’ he recalls. ‘They were becoming quite a problem. I couldn’t go out on my own, it was getting that bad.’

Charles Bronson was a brooding presence on set, and although Leyton recalls his screen buddy with some fondness, he acknowledges that others were not so enamoured. ‘Charlie Bronson didn’t get on too well with James Garner,’ he says. ‘Charlie could be quite abrupt. He could come out with some outrageous remarks. He was introduced one night to a German woman and instantly said to her, “Why don’t you shave under your goddam arms?”’

Leyton recalls one eventful evening at the house Garner was renting in Munich. ‘We started playing cards,’ he says. ‘And I was winning. But then Garner accused Bronson of not playing his hand properly. Bronson said, “You accusing me?” And suddenly they were squaring off. It was handbags at dawn.’

There was also the delicate matter off-set of Bronson making eyes at David McCallum’s wife, the actress Jill Ireland – and Ireland reciprocating. Tom Adams recalls the excruciating awkwardness of nights out in Munich when Bronson and Ireland would be spotted together in restaurants. ‘Charlie Bronson was a monster,’ Adams says, with some feeling. ‘He should have been in horror films.’ Jill Ireland clearly didn’t think so – four years later she divorced McCallum and married Bronson (the two men somehow remained friends).

Possibly the film’s most totemic moment, and its biggest diversion from the real-life escape – Steve McQueen’s doomed motorcycle leap over the Swiss border fences – was carried out by the stuntman Bud Ekins. Which is not to say that McQueen couldn’t have pulled it off. He was an accomplished biker, just as able as many of the stunt riders working on the film.


The stuntman Bud Ekins performs the jump over the wires (REX FEATURES)

While Ekins played McQueen’s character, Hilts, McQueen appeared in the same sequence, playing a German rider giving chase. Keen to show off his prowess, he also played a German soldier who is knocked off his bike after Hilts strings wire across the road. The film’s insurers, however, refused to allow McQueen to tackle the final leap.

But when the cameras stopped rolling, it was a very different story, John Leyton recalls. ‘The stupid thing,’ he says, ‘was that Steve and me and James Coburn and Charlie Bronson all did the jump when the crew went home after shooting. We took the bikes out, rode them round and did the jump. And,’ he adds, laughing, ‘it was actually quite easy. Well – Coburn nearly came off. But obviously it was not proper barbed wire, it was simply rubber. Also, when you rode into that dip behind the hillock, there was a hidden ramp. So you automatically went into the air. And Bud Ekins was there to show us how to do it.’

When the shoot ended, there were wrap parties and everyone went their own ways – Leyton heard little more about the film until its release the following summer, when he went to the London premiere. Aside from some newspaper advertising, there was little of the intense hype that we take for granted with today’s blockbusters, although the premiere attracted the A-list of the day. Leyton recalls, ‘Terence Stamp came up to me in the interval and congratulated me on my screen relationship with Charles Bronson.’

Not everyone was impressed. Penelope Gilliatt, one of the foremost film critics of the time, wrote, ‘The cocky music doesn’t help… nor does the fact that the German who runs the camp is 10 times more sympathetic than his charges, like a weary schoolmaster in charge of a maddening class.’ She concluded that the film had ‘a script ready made for the Goons’.

Time magazine also had concerns, partly about the use of colour in what it felt ought to have been a stark, monochrome film, but it at least observed that The Great Escape was ‘the greatest escapism’. Audiences agreed with gusto – in its first year the film pulled in about $ 12 million, making it one of the biggest financial successes of 1963. Its reputation thereafter grew and grew. Millions of people introduced to the film via television would probably argue that Christmas and Bank Holidays are not quite complete without it.

Importantly, the film was also appreciated by the men who had actually been in the PoW camps. Steve McQueen’s jump may have been pure Hollywood (to appeal to US audiences, American involvement in the filmed escape was exaggerated), but John Leyton and Tom Adams fondly recall how the film afforded them the chance to meet real veterans, both on the shoot and then years later at military reunions. There was one at the Imperial War Museum in 2003 at which, Adams remembers with a rueful laugh, ‘there were more real veterans than there were surviving actors from the film. Real live wires. And when you think about it now – what a story, and all true. The tunnel bellows, the dyeing of the uniforms, and above all, the courage.’

The film is now enthralling a new generation. ‘Little boys come up to me saying it’s their favourite film,’ Leyton says. ‘It’s pure Boy’s Own. But the real PoW veterans were very happy. They were impressed at how the film caught the reality of it all.’

The Great Escape is broadcast on December 25 at 2.50pm (5USA)


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Great battlefields: which do you recognise?

November 6th, 2014

Ahead of Remembrance Sunday, we’ve devised the following quiz on famous battlefields. Which can you recognise with the help of our clues?

Reading this on our app? Take the quiz by tapping here.


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World War 2: Great Britain at war

September 5th, 2014

Premier sees the King

At 6 o’clock in the evening the King broadcast a rallying call to the Empire. An hour later Mr. Chamberlain had an audience of his Majesty. It was later announced that the Prime Minister has established a War Cabinet, consisting of eight members in addition to himself. It includes Mr. Winston Churchill, who has joined the Government as First Lord of the Admiralty, the post he held at the outbreak of war in 1914. Mr. Eden returns to the Government as Dominions Secretary, without a seat in the War Cabinet, to which he will have special access.

New chief of staff

It was also announced that the King has appointed:

Gen. Viscount Gort, V.C., Chief of the Imperial General Staff, to be Commander-in-Chief of British Field Forces;

Gen. Sir Edmund Ironside to succeed as Chief of the Imperial General Staff; and

Gen. Sir Walter Kirke to be Commander-in-Chief of Home Forces.

False raid alarm

Half an hour after Britain entered the war there was an air raid warning. It proved to be a false alarm, but it provided a test for the machinery.

An Order in Council makes to-day a banking holiday and no savings bank business will be transacted.

New regulations for motorists provide that the running boards and bumpers of cars must be painted white. Petrol is to be rationed from Sept. 16.

The Admiralty announced that all British merchant ships are liable to be examined for contraband. The Navy is at the war stations in full strength, supplemented by armed merchant ships as auxiliary cruisers. The naval convoy system has already been reintroduced.

Hitler is to take over supreme command of the German forces on the Eastern front. In a proclamation to the German people he found it necessary to state that whoever offended against national unity “need expect nothing other than annihilation as an enemy of the nation.”


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