Newsreel and voiceover from the 50s series Time to Remember tell the story of the men and women who took to the skies in the first half of the 20th century.
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In the 1950s, the famous newsreel company Pathe produced a major
historical documentary series for British television.
Made by the award-winning producer Peter Baylis
and narrated by an illustrious line-up of celebrated actors,
Time To Remember chronicled the social, cultural,
and political forces that shaped the first half of the 20th century.
In a variety of episodes, the series covered the dramatic rise of the flying machine.
The triumphs and disasters experienced by the early fliers
offer a fascinating perspective on a pioneering time.
Things, faces, friends, places.
Years and moments hard forgotten.
Laughs, fears, songs, tears.
Memories are made of this.
The first half of the 20th century witnessed enormous progress
in one of humanity's greatest endeavours -
the conquest of the skies.
Previously, there had been successful experiments with balloons,
but with the dawn of the new century,
the pioneers of aviation design took great strides towards the development
of the world's first heavier-than-air flying machines.
But initially, the wondrous new machine-powered aircraft
co-existed with the old inflatable means of flight.
There were many still that put their faith in gas bags.
The silent, dignified, almost pompous, round balloons
still held the attention of thousands.
With them, a new sport -
What goes up must come down.
Or does it?
Yes, in every field there must be pioneers.
Something not done before and, frankly, I don't think ever since.
But in everything, there has to be a first time.
The Pioneer Era - that is how the time of experimentation
from 1900 to 1914 came to be known.
Tales of the wilder exploits of the early aviators were often met with disbelief
and reports of the first successful flight by a heavier-than-air machine
were greeted with scepticism.
At the time, the newspaper editors
just didn't believe the stories about what was going on at this place...
What's it called?
The Brothers Wright.
Heck, the guys claim to actually fly
in a machine heavier than air.
It stands to reason, without gas bags or something like that,
it just can't be done.
What do they think they are,
birds or something?
The boss sent a man down to Kitty Hawk.
You know, just for the laughs.
He saw Wilbur Wright take his seat
in a complicated arrangement
of wood and wire and bicycle chains.
"Sure, boss, sure, I want to keep my job.
"I'm telling you the guy actually flew. Yeah.
"Flew round and round and round just like a bird."
The trail that the Wrights had blazed is wide open to a host of pioneers.
Grahame White, a great name in British aviation.
Gustav Hamel, the German.
Yes, the list is long and distinguished.
Pegoud, the Frenchman,
the first man in the world to loop the loop.
Latham - mechanical failure robbed him
of being the first to fly the Channel and to make it a British achievement.
Cody, Bleriot, Brabazon.
Nothing can stop such air-crazy heroes.
For them, the sky was the limit.
At an air display in the United States,
the new sport comes in for high-level patronage.
As one of the Wrights demonstrates what he and his plane can do,
he arouses the interest of none other
than President Theodore Roosevelt himself.
A few more spectacular dives and swoops
and the President has made up his mind.
Heedless of those who express doubts, he takes his seat in the Wrights' plane.
If they can do it, so can he, at least as a passenger.
A short hop and history is made again by the Wrights.
Congratulations rain on the President,
the first head of any state to fly in an aeroplane.
"Well, done, sir! Great news."
But it was some time before the aeroplane was used as a weapon of war.
It was Germany's enormous dirigibles
that took part in the first-ever aerial bombing raids on Britain.
1916. I remember over Paris and London
the German airships, the Zeppelins.
When brought to earth, Zeppelins usually ended up as so much twisted scrap,
but once in a while, one came down more or less intact.
The super-Zeppelins, as they were called, were not much smaller than some Atlantic liners.
Displacing something like 50 tonnes of air, they held 2 million cubic feet of highly inflammable hydrogen.
Attached to this enormous gas bag were six engines of about 250 horsepower each.
They were fitted with silencers, yet you could hear 'em miles away.
But as the Great War continued, engineers on both sides
were determined to unlock the military potential of the new winged aircraft.
At first, aeroplanes were mainly used for reconnaissance,
but soon these still fragile machines would be transformed
into fully functioning offensive weapons of war.
In another field as yet taken seriously only by a few,
there is activity.
The Royal Flying Corps has been born,
forerunner of the Royal Air Force.
Wood, wire, string and intrepid hearts -
what a joke to the more conservative military minds.
But who in 1915 took air power all that seriously?
The wood and dope structures that popped into the air that spring
usually confined themselves to crude photography and artillery spotting.
Their only weapons, the pistols carried by pilots
in case of an encounter with the enemy.
War had set technical development a cracking pace.
Machines and equipment were changing week by week.
The innovation of the machine gun firing through the propeller
had set the pattern of fighter warfare for years to come.
Aim the plane to kill.
In '17, a cousin of mine was a cadet in the Royal Flying Corps.
He remembers Prince Albert, later to become King George VI,
watching their antics at an English south coast town.
There were hundreds of them sporting the white cap flashes
that marked trainee pilots and all flying-crazy.
The Royal Flying Corps,
parent of what was one day to become the Royal Air Force.
My cousin is always saying what a sausage machine the whole thing was.
It had to be if German superiority were to be challenged seriously.
After only a few weeks, but too few, you collected your helmet and gear
and declared yourself ready for anything.
"Anything" means flying day after day in contraptions that would make
many present day pilots catch their breath, let alone fly.
But day after day those contraptions were improving, becoming better armed and better powered.
The air development of only a few months of that war would have needed years in peace time.
After the war, the development of the aeroplane would continue apace,
enabling aviators to fly further and faster than ever before.
But to many, it was not the aeroplane that represented the future for mass passenger transit.
In 1929, we were looking up into the sky at shapes like this.
Airships. And a lot of people thought they had a big future.
After their lighter-than-air jobs of the war, the Germans continued to develop airships in the peace.
The Graf Zeppelin always seemed to be coming or going.
There was a lot in favour of airships, so the people who believed in them said.
For example, there was space in them.
The crew could even climb out and tackle an engine in flight.
All modern conveniences, hot and cold water and all the gas they could possibly need.
Only I suppose it was more than your life was worth to strike a match.
The air was limitless and so the air could promise anything.
But with the progress, dreadfully sobering failures.
An airship named the R101,
a ship carrying with her a nation's aeronautic future.
Beauvais, France, 1930.
The end of what was to have been an epic flight to India.
On board, the air minister and the best airship brains a nation possessed.
Only a few lucky enough to be in a gondola torn off by a tree escaped.
In the early hours of that historic Sunday morning,
the fate of the R101 was a story that few believed,
but there in a field at Beauvais was the dreadful proof.
The bodies they found, so badly burnt as to be unrecognisable,
they brought back to England
and there at Cardington, the airship's base,
they laid them to rest in a common grave.
For British airships, the end,
and for those who sailed with such high hopes, the end too.
But though they'd failed, they had not died in vain.
The lesson had been learned.
For whatever had happened to the R101,
the air was still full of the powerful roar of engines,
still full of limitless promise.
Over the twisted metal in a field of northern France,
the London-Paris airliners dipped their wings in salute
and then went on their safe, inevitable way.
While it was the end of Britain's love affair with the airship,
it would take another high-profile disaster to put the commercial airship industry
out of business for good.
This is a German airship, Hindenburg,
largest and most impressive of all lighter-than-air craft.
The United States had refused to sell Germany helium for their ship.
She had to make do with thousands of cubic feet of inflammable hydrogen.
The place is Lakehurst, New Jersey,
where the Hindenburg arrives after her Atlantic flight.
Over the field she cruises for three hours while making vain attempts
to bring her tail up to the level of her nose.
Ballast is dropped again and again, but in vain.
Then she drops her mooring ropes and...
Death of an airship and, in truth,
death for all airships,
because from this blazing moment they lost any hope of a future.
Though the dream of mass travel by airship died that day in 1937,
the skies were busier than ever.
After the aeroplane's rapid development during the war,
it was now all set to show the world just what making contact really meant.
Ross and Keith Smith made a record-breaking flight to Australia.
A young man named Hawker, forced down in the Atlantic,
had the luck to be picked up by a passing ship
and the world had the luck to keep a great aircraft designer.
A British Handley Page bomber
sits on its nose in a remote bog in Ireland
and no-one takes much notice.
That's the way when history is made.
For though the crash landing had been in Ireland,
the takeoff had been in distant Newfoundland.
For Alcock and Brown, the quiet, almost unsung, glory
of being the first ever to span the Atlantic in a machine heavier than air.
Later, a grateful nation cheered them when these two left Windsor Castle
after being knighted by George V for their great exploit.
For Alcock, alas, death in less than a year while on another flight.
But the trails of pioneers become the high roads of the common man.
Here's the first air service between London and Paris,
established in 1919.
It was chancy, irregular and the victim of every puff of wind that blew,
but it was the first, and since its inception, there's been no looking back.
The passengers on this occasion,
models bringing to Britain the very latest from Paris.
This could surely be called the height of fashion.
It's the way with all new marvels that they become the target and toys
of buffoons and stunt merchants.
Hang upside-down, walk the wings, mount the tail,
sit anywhere, in fact, except in the cockpit.
And when that palled, be the first to be shaved in mid-air.
Shaved or married or something.
Nothing was too difficult or too crazy to be attempted.
Pick up a hat from the ground without landing.
Personally, I've never been that pushed for head gear.
But any bridge or arch was a must, absolutely.
And the more famous the structure, the better.
Yes, the Arc de Triomphe.
With only a foot or so clearance
for the wing tips.
Nothing ventured, nothing won.
In this case, no regular service followed up.
Though still in its infancy, the aeroplane had swiftly established itself
as a commercially-viable transport option.
The dream of mass passenger travel by heavier-than-air machines had become a reality.
This was an airliner of the period,
lumbering to our eyes, but astonishingly efficient.
Already we had airports.
This was Croydon - a bright, gleaming, new field for London.
A tower, passenger reception, customs area, control, weather section.
Yes, the pattern was already there,
and it was all working as smoothly and safely as taking a bus.
Paris, Zurich, Amsterdam -
those great European cities were already well and truly linked with Croydon.
And in all its years of operation, Imperial Airways never killed a passenger,
and already they were reaching even further out
to the Middle East and Baghdad, India and Karachi. One day to Australia.
And then, it seemed a dream with all that water between, but how about New York?
And it was pioneering in more ways than one.
These people are boarding an airliner to be the first ever to view a motion picture in mid-air.
There's reel one, anyhow.
The first flying cinema. But where's the picture?
Perhaps someone has blundered and it wasn't reel one after all.
But the Atlantic, how about the Atlantic?
Well, this was one effort.
An Italian one, built to take 100 people off to New York with all the comfort and trimmings possible.
The only snag was that far from setting down in the waters of New York harbour,
to the best of our knowledge, it never got off the waters of Italy.
But you know how it is with the schemes of mice and men.
In the cold light of dawn in France, two French airmen,
Nungesser and Coli, leave on a flight on which they hope to make history,
for this was meant to be the first Atlantic flight from east to west.
Up they went into that dawn sky,
westward over the cliffs of Bologne and out over the wide Atlantic,
and that was the last anyone ever saw of them.
The Atlantic, still the master,
a waste of water not to be conquered easily.
Then other brave men, this time Americans,
Lieutenant Commander Noel Davis and Lieutenant Wooster
in their seven-tonne plane American Legion.
But they crashed on a practice flight.
Another attempt on the Atlantic ends in disaster.
Charles A Lindbergh,
a 25-year-old American in his tiny monoplane, the Spirit of St Louis.
There was a £5,000 prize for the first to cross over the Atlantic
in a single-engined plane without radio.
'Others, like Chamberlain and Acosta, were ready to go.'
To be first, there was no time to lose.
So one dawn, after a worried night without sleep waiting for the weather to improve,
Charles Lindbergh gassed up his plane to the brim and made ready.
A flask of coffee, some sandwiches,
a plane-load of petrol and faith - that's all he started with.
To those watching it was a terrifying take-off,
for it seemed as though the fuel-laden plane would never get off the waterlogged ground
and would end in flaming disaster against the trees.
But somehow it got off and those who watched
prayed that his luck would hold like that all the way.
That morning the world went about its business
as though Charles A Lindbergh had never been heard of.
Alone, the Spirit of St Louis flew out over the Eastern Seaboard of America
and as his native land receded, no doubt Charles Lindbergh wondered
if that was the last time he would ever see it.
Before him, thousands of miles of immensity.
A mighty wilderness of cloud and sea.
No place for a man to be alone in.
His life dependent on one tiny throbbing little motor.
In London, New York and Paris that afternoon, they didn't think much about Charles Lindbergh.
The evening papers brought the brief news of his last known whereabouts.
That was all.
And in those night theatre crowds,
few passed remark about that lonely chap out there over the Atlantic,
neither in London nor in New York,
nor in that city he had planned as his destination, Paris.
Yet when dawn came over the wilderness,
that little motor was still throbbing
and still the great castles of cloud held the lonely voyager.
Sky and sea, sea and sky.
Mist, rain, fog,
and fast-emptying fuel tanks.
The west coast of Ireland.
That evening in Paris they had news now and they knew he was coming.
At Le Bourget, his target,
the newsreels put up their lights and thousands began to gather to wait
for hours in excited anticipation,
to wait for the sound of one tiny little motor.
In the nearby city, Paris was her usual bright, sparkling self.
Theatres, clubs and night spots were as full as ever.
History or no history, Paris remains Paris.
But now in the darkness at Le Bourget,
the thousands have swelled to yet more thousands.
On the airfield, the crowd was uncontrollable.
Paris and the world has never seen anything like it.
"Is that an aeroplane engine? Is it?
Then lost in a wild, cheering, milling mob,
an airman tired beyond belief,
bewildered beyond belief at all that was happening as they brought him in.
After 33.5 hours of lonely flight,
the Spirit of St Louis had arrived.
Next morning in Paris, the word was,
"Lindbergh. Lindbergh. We must see Lindbergh!"
A young man in a borrowed suit
appeared on the balcony of the American embassy,
took bow after bow and made wave after wave, still bewildered.
A day or so later, he flew to London, to Croydon,
and here again he was overwhelmed at the way that he was received.
Although Alcock and Brown had conquered the Atlantic back in 1919,
no-one could deny that this was Lindbergh's moment -
the man who conquered loneliness as well as the Atlantic.
The time to consider just how far we'd gone and how far we were now going.
The same year, 1927, a new gleaming shape.
The Supermarine Schneider Trophy plane
in which designer Mitchell displayed the future as he saw it.
The same year, 1927,
Britain's first great aircraft carrier moves out to sea.
The future again.
The same year, 1927,
already airliners carrying passengers in comfort
many miles to their business,
but in everything, there always has to be a first time.
# Blackbird, blackbird
# Singing the blues all day
# Right outside of my door... #
Time To Remember chronicled the era when humanity achieved true mastery of the skies.
In the first half of the 20th century,
Pathe's cameras captured decisive moments in the development of technologies
that would transform our world.
Through a combination of ingenuity, resourcefulness and courage,
the flying pioneers provided moments of triumph and tragedy.
Whether for military, industrial or purely recreational purposes,
aviation changed the course of history.
# Pack up all my cares and woe
# Here I go, singing low
# Bye-bye, blackbird
# Where somebody waits for me
# Sugar sweet and so is she
# Bye-bye, blackbird
# No-one here can love and understand me
# Oh, what hard-luck stories they all hand me
# Make my bed and light the light... #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
In the 1950s, the newsreel company Pathe mined their archive to produce a series of programmes for television called Time to Remember. Made by the producer Peter Baylis, they chronicled the political, social and cultural changes that occurred during the first half of the 20th century.
Each episode was narrated by a prominent actor such as Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave, Anthony Quayle, Edith Evans, Basil Rathbone and Joyce Grenfell, all reading scripts recalling historic, evocative or significant moments from an intriguing past.
In 2010, the material from the original Time to Remember has been collected together thematically to create a new 12-part series under the same title that offers a rewarding perspective on the events, people and innovations from history that continue to shape and influence the world around us.
This episode tells the story of the groundbreaking men, women and machines who took to the skies in the first half of the 20th century and includes footage of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk; President Theodore Roosevelt becoming the first head of state to fly in an aeroplane; the German Zeppelins; the R101 disaster; Imperial Airways at Croydon Aerodrome; and Charles Lindbergh's first solo transatlantic flight in the Spirit of St Louis in 1927.