A television news item about the 65th anniversary of
the "Dam Busters" raid during the Second World War
showed Richard Todd laying a wreath on the
Derwent dam in England's Lake District, where in
1943 the Royal Air Force's 617 Squadron tested the
special bombs they were later to drop on the dams of
Germany's Ruhr Valley. Todd didn't take part in the
raid; he was actually an actor who played squadron
leader Guy Gibson in the 1955 film The Dam Busters.
Yet it seemed right. Todd had a distinguished war
record of his own, and he was one of those leading
men who stamped the idea of British pluck on the war
and adventure movies of the 1950s (he also played
Robin Hood and Rob Roy). Kenneth More was
another: sturdy chaps with hearty no-nonsense
attitudes, capable of felling you with a pat on the back.
Todd, I must say, still looks in good shape at 88. On
my ninth birthday, October 8, 1955, I was taken to see
The Dam Busters as a treat and for years thereafter,
growing up in small-town New Zealand, still deeply
under British cultural influence, I remained stirred by
the imagery of that film, and indeed other war films,
through which we early post-war baby-boomers
vicariously experienced the great conflict from which
our fathers had returned, not least for the purpose of
having us. We were the last offshoots of the British
Empire; the last generation to stand for "God Save the
Queen" in the cavernous picture-houses of the day.
Our colonial cultural fortifications, such as they were,
were bombarded mercilessly by the imperious Brits,
who kept dropping the Queen Mother and the Duke of
Edinburgh on us. It has taken years to fix the damage.