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First Light: Dramatising the real Battle of Britain

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Matthew Whiteman Matthew Whiteman | 10:06 UK time, Tuesday, 14 September 2010

In a way this was a dream come true - getting the chance to dramatise for BBC Two Geoffrey Wellum's stunning First Light on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

The book is his memoir of what it was like to be an 18-year-old Spitfire pilot thrust into the gut-wrenching, ear-deafening, life and death struggle of the most violent aerial combat ever.

And it deals with his mental disintegration in 18 relentless months on the frontline.

Sam Heughan as Geoffrey Wellum climbs onto a Spitfire

It was always going to be challenging.

This was one film where we had to get not just the emotional thrust right, but also the historical detail. There are a lot of people out there for whom this really matters - and I am one of them.

The conversations started early about getting Spitfires airborne. But what is it they say? Never work with animals, children... or vintage aircraft!

We were discussing a scene in which 'Boy Wellum', the hero of our story, makes his first flight in a Spitfire and our actor, Sam Heughan, couldn't wait to get into the air.

The problem was how to convince the audience he was actually at the controls of a Spitfire rocketing through the clouds. The big snag was that there was no way we could get Sam airborne in a real Spitfire.

This scene was crucial to the story, appearing little more than 10 minutes after the opening of the film. We had to produce a sequence breath-taking enough to make the audience believe that flying the Spitfire was love at first sight for Boy.

We had access to a real Spitfire - and the budget for maybe 45 minutes flying time - but the Spit is a single-seater and there was no question of anybody but a very experienced pilot taking the controls of several million pounds' worth of vintage aeroplane.

We had access to a replica Spitfire, which could be shoved about on the ground but had no proper cockpit interior.

We soon decided that rather than shooting costly air to air footage, we would use outtakes from the Battle of Britain movie - and enhance it with CGI.

This was a huge task in itself, going through around 50 hours worth of unused and unseen material, but it was great that we could give some of this footage the light of day at last!

'Boy' Geoffrey Wellum (Sam Heughan) in the cockpit of a Supermarine Spitfire

It is lovely stuff but the registration numbers on the side of Spit in the movie footage didn't begin to match our real or replica planes.

One plane was brown and green, the other brown and grey. And the real one was based at Wycombe air park and our replica was 80 miles away on the drama set outside Dunstable.

Bringing the replica down would nuke what little was left of the budget, but if we didn't, Sam could be walking in the rain to the replica on one location and then climbing into the cockpit in bright sunshine on the other.

It was quite a headache!

Somehow we wangled it in the end. The owner of the replica was persuaded to bring his baby to stand side-by-side with the real McCoy.

Then we found a friendly pilot, prepared to have the back cockpit of his two-seater Russian YAK trainer converted to look like a Spitfire cockpit interior.

Sam leapt in, surrounded by high defintion (HD) mini-cams and took to the sky with his script taped to the instrument panel.

Meantime, our real Spit took off with the pilot delivering Boy Wellum's point of view (by way of a specially designed camera mounting on his flying helmet).

When we got into the edit, the whole story came together. Combining Sam walking to the replica Spitfire, the real thing taxiing, then Sam in close-up in the back seat of the YAK. Then cutting to his point of view shot in the real Spit, we get the hair-raising images of take-off.

And once he's airborne, we start to inter-cut Sam in the cockpit with the footage from the Battle of Britain movie.

That was the easiest of the flying sequences in the film!

Then we had to work out how to create a full-blooded dogfight, and a nightmare flight in torrential rain over the channel - during which Boy shoots down a German bomber. These scenes were whole other cans of worms...

Looking back on it all now, I can't believe we shot the whole drama, including the flying, in just nine days. We couldn't have done it without the orchestration of the first assistant director Chris Carreras, whose experience spans the Bourne movies and United 93.

Brian Kingcome (Ben Aldridge) and 'Boy' Geoffrey Wellum (Sam Heughan)

He was dead right when he took one last long look at the schedule just before we began the shoot and, having considered the weather and all the other infinitely frightening variables, commented dryly: "We're going to have to be 100% lucky on this one!".

Geoffrey Wellum didn't have time to visit us on set - but before the shoot, as I was scripting, we spent a huge amount of time together. And afterwards, during post-production, Geoff worked very closely with the CGI artists to make sure we got the tracer fire absolutely correct in the air battles.

Working so closely with Geoffrey has made First Light a unique experience both for me as a director and I think, for the audience.

The combination of Geoff's expert eye-witness guidance and actually getting Sam up in the air - instead of in some faked up studio cockpit - has made the film an incredibly rich experience for everybody.

And, I guess, is just about as close as any of us would want to get to the nerve-jangling terrors of air combat, Battle of Britain style.

For me, creating the tension on the ground was just as important as in the air. I love the waiting scene in dispersal before Geoff's first combat - the tinkling of teaspoons in cups, the rustle of a magazine, Kingcome chewing on his match... and then the sudden shrill ringing of the phone - scramble!

Geoff watched these scenes with great interest and said that he felt the film perfectly caught the mood and emotions he felt at the time, both on the ground and in the air.

The war literally tore Geoff's emotions apart. If he had not been rested from flying before going back for a second tour of combat, I think he would be the first to say he would no longer be with us now.

Geoffrey Wellum

But at that time, I'm sure, as he reflects in the film, he was desperate to fight on until the bitter end.

This was the truth for many soldiers - the feeling that they had been taken off the line before the 'job was done' and now were to be left to watch others die whom they could no longer help or protect.

Geoff still carries a sense of guilt that he survived when so many he knew died.

Geoff hates to be called a hero but his effort and that of those all around him 70 years ago, saved us from the terrors of Nazi occupation. I believe that his war - the Battle of Britain - was the key turning point of World War Two.

If England had fallen to Germany, the country could not have been used as the launching point for the D-Day landings and the liberation of Europe.

I salute you, Geoff - however reluctant you are to be called a hero. I salute you and all those that fought alongside you. And I'm sure the audience will, too.

First Light is on BBC Two at 9pm and BBC HD at 10.30pm on Tuesday, 14 September.

First Light is part of the BBC Battle of Britain season.


  • Comment number 1.

    By chance I happen to be reading Geoffrey Wellum’s book First Light and found out the BBC were to broadcast this programme. If it is half as good as the book it will be something not to miss.
    Somehow, although published many years after the events took place, Geoffrey Wellum is able to describe what happens through the eyes of an 18 year old – fresh, enthusiastic, hopeful etc. That in itself is a remarkable ability. His descriptions are vivid, for example, of gut-wrenching dogfights and, in particular, the tension of his flight in appalling weather trying to get back to his home airfield after a patrol. It is as if one is in the cockpit alongside him.
    I will watch the programme and hope it can live up to the author's high standards, and also that it strikes the right tone and marks the achievements of a generation of British service personnel who were ‘ordinary’ people doing extraordinary things.

  • Comment number 2.

    That was, by far, one of the best programs I have seen on BBC 2. The book was riveting, and the film perfectly captured the range of emotions that Geoffrey must have experienced, as detailed in his memoirs. What I would give to have an afternoon with Geoffrey, to buy him a beer, and listen to his tales first-hand. Outstanding...and the blog above added even more dimension to the programme, knowing how much effort went in to getting the details right. Thanks !!

  • Comment number 3.

    This was an exceptionally strong and moving piece of Television - this is the reason I pay my licence fee!
    I will certainly be reading the book, and I'm happy that for once I haven't done so before watching the adaptation. I think this stood proud all on its own.
    If the word hero is not used to define men like this then I'm not quite sure of its meaning.

  • Comment number 4.

    i have just watched this amazing programme, i was taken on an emotional journey through the toughest of times for many brave people, i just want to say thankyou to them all, and assure them all we will never forget.

  • Comment number 5.

    The BBC should be immensely proud of this production - it captures the mood very well and has a hugely authentic feel about it. I have not yet had the pleasure of reading Geoffrey Wellum's book - but you can be absolutely certain I shall now.

    On a technical note. I noticed the extraordinary effort made to get the realism of the aircraft, the settings, the fighting itself (I guessed material from the Battle of Britain film had somehow been used). Very, very impressive and also immensely moving. It was absolutely tone-perfect, from start to finish. An extraordinary achievement. Well done! And thank you ...

  • Comment number 6.

    Matthew - you and your team should be very proud of this production..from what you describe above it was done to tight budgets and tight timescales and yet you have produced a moving and engrossing programme. As a father of 21 and 19 year old boys I particularly found the scene of Geoffrey talking with his father brought a tightness to my throat..the Few were so young!
    To Geoffrey and his peers, those still here and those no longer with us, Thank you, and be sure that those of us too young to remember these events will however never forget.

  • Comment number 7.

    Being a historian i'm often at odds with the BBC as they usually show very poorly researched documentaries and drama's (Battlefield Britain, The Normans for example).

    I've always believed that if people make mistakes the only way they will learn is by having those mistakes pointed out, by that token i've also always believed that credit should be given where it is due. Therefore it pleases me to write that First Light was sensational, the best historical peice I have seen this year.

    I hope more of the "Battle of Britain" season is to be kept to this same standard.

    Well done to all involved, keep this good stuff coming BBC.

    CJ Linton.

  • Comment number 8.

    I too whatched 'First Flight' and felt like a child again who had a fascination with Spitfires'. The drama was so powerfull that I found myself, a 42 year old man on the virge of crying when the pilots came back after their sorties whiping names off the board of their fallen comrades.

    Well done BBC2 for once again bringing such wonderfull drama to our screens.

    I read somewhere on the internet that this drama is to be released on DVD. If so, can someone tell me when and where it can be baught. This is one thing I want my children to watch so that they understand more about the war and what our brave men and women had to endure during such a hard time.

  • Comment number 9.

    On the verge of crying??? I was weeping my heart out for them all!!

  • Comment number 10.

    I was too "drained" to comment on "First Light" last night, but feel compelled to do so now. I have watched many programmes about the Battle of Britain, both documentary and cinematic, but none has moved me so much. Every aspect of the production was, in my eyes at least, superb, and seemed to encapsulate all the intensity of the time.
    Well before the credits rolled I was "wrung out", prey to so many different emotions. My admiration for Geoffrey and his peers is boundless and we must never stop thanking them for their sacrifice and courage.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think the production company did a good job of making the Yak cockpit look like a spitfire. But the cobbled together movie footage spoiled the whole look of the program. There are so many more good aircraft around than there were in 1969. For example there are now genuine Bf 109Es that could have been used - it was easy to spot the 1969 footage with its Spanish late mark Heinkels and 109s with the wrong shaped engines and the round wing tips on the 109s. The continuity was also very disappointing with the flying being almost exclusively in a Mark IX with 1942 roundels and the majority of the ground scenes showing (more correct) early marks with 1940 roundels. At one point it looked like Wellum took of in one plane and landed in a different one - quite an achievement.

  • Comment number 12.

    Excellent programme,however as has been mentioned elsewhere, some of the dialogue was pretty hard to follow as it appeared mumbled.

    The grocer's apostrophe makes yet another appearance in Matthew's blog -'getting Spitfire's airborne.' Plural = Spitfires.

  • Comment number 13.

    Whilst, overall, I thought this was a god effort (it was great to have a drama programme on a mainstream channel depicting these important events), I was appalled that Brian Kingcombe's name was mis-spelt throughout the episode. It appeared in one of the pub scenes, and frequently on the crew room tote board, as Kingcome [sic]: a real oversight! Simple reference to Mr Wellum's excellent autobiography would have provided the correct spelling. The least we should do to honour the contributions of these brave men is to spell their names accurately.

  • Comment number 14.

    Fascinating piece on the making of 'First Light', and I enjoyed the programme having read the book a few years ago.
    My grandfather flew in 92 squadron with Geoffrey Wellum - (he joined the squadron in 1941) - sadly he died a couple of years ago but he would have loved to have seen this film, although he would have pointed out that 92 squadron was 'QJ' not 'AI' and they didn't have Spitfire VB/VIs in 1940!

  • Comment number 15.

    Excellent programme, spoilt only at the end by the voice over the shrunken credits.

    How are we expected to read these?

    Postpone the trailer for the next programme, and instead PLEASE give us a minute's silence to meditate on what we've just seen. Otherwise, you give the impression this is just one more disposable programme.

  • Comment number 16.

    Sadly, due to the script that the actors had to work with, I gave up on this. The script lacked any reality about it, tending to preach rather than present ordinary conversation.

  • Comment number 17.

    Having read and thoroughly enjoyed the book I wasn't going to bother with this, not expecting it to live up to the formers brilliant evocation of the subject. I was wrong. Well done to all concerned.

  • Comment number 18.

    We can be pedantic about this programme but it was brilliant. Just shows what the BBC can do if they want, instead of crappy reality programmes. Well done BBC. As for Geoffrey Wellum, he is a hero, as were all his fellow pilots, thank you sir to you and your fellow RAF guys.

  • Comment number 19.

    Yep, on the whole a good drama and I was interested to read how you created the aircraft sequences which was clearly a challenge. Given you had plenty of expert advice I was surprised that the Spitfire shown as being flown by PO Wellum when he first joined the squadron was a Griffon-engined version with a four blade prop, which would make it a Mk XII and thus 1943 at the earliest. By the by, did you know that on Griffon-engined versions, the prop rotates in the opposite direction to that on the earlier Merlin-engined version. Us Airfix kit assemblers of the late 1950s/earlier 60s are tedious pedants, aren't we!

  • Comment number 20.

    This was the best thing I have seen on any channel in 2010.
    The casting was perfect.
    I am a bit of a ww2 anorak and I watch all of the Battle of Britain documentries.
    I feared this was going to be one of those shallow 'thin story line' attempts at recreating 1940/1 where it is 90% shot in a studio but I need not have worried theis was fantastic, brillient etc etc.
    Well done the beeb

  • Comment number 21.

    Having watched First Light last night, I'd just like to say what a fantastic job you made of it. I haven't enjoyed a programme so much for a very long time. Well done to everyone concerned, an absolutely brilliant effort. This was the BBC at its very best. I now can't wait to read the book.
    Keep up the good work BBC & thanks to Mr Wellum for putting his experiences into words. Unforgettable!

  • Comment number 22.

    Unfortunately necessarily beautifully caught ... felt my heart was in the planes with them.

    My Grandfather was one of The Few, first a P/O then Ft/Lt, flying Hurricanes. Shot down and had to bale out with a bullet in his hip. Went on to become an instructor.

    Hugely emotional drama/documentary for my family. Showing the deterioration of spirit of these young men.

    Every young person should read Geoffrey Wellum's book as part of the curriculum book list. When are we going to be able to purchase a DVD, and will the money be going to the RAF Benevolent Fund?

  • Comment number 23.

    Hello all, I'm the editor of the TV blog. Thanks so much for your considered comments here, it's a pleasure to read through them.

    Chief Inspector Cluedo (#12) - argh and thank you for pointing out that apostrophe. I have now removed it.


  • Comment number 24.

    I have for sometime now been researching the short combat life of Sgt pilot C G Todd who flew with 92 Sqn in a Spitfire named "The King Rufus" and who was lost over Belgium in July 1941.
    I'm sure Geoffrey Wellum has a sea of faces in his memory banks, but I would love to know if he recalls Gordon Todd, who regrettably, like many other young pilots did not fly with them for very long.

  • Comment number 25.

    Like many of you I watched this programme last night on BBC 2. As a 40 year old man born in 1970 who was not living at the time of the Battle of Britain I was immensely humbled by this factual story. It reminded me that I am alive and living today in a free society only because of the extraordinarily brave and valiant efforts of HEROES like Geoffrey Wellum. As a nation we owe a debt of gratitude (that we will never be able to repay) to Geoff and all the pilots of the Royal Air Force who defended our small island against the advancing tyrannical Nazi machine with unremitting courage and gallantry.

    This programme left a lump in my throat and brought me to tears at the end.

    Thanks again Geoffrey for what you did in the 1940's and for bringing this story to the general public.

    And for the BBC - THIS is what we pay our TV License for, not the rechurned reality and cookery drivel that fills our screens daily.

  • Comment number 26.

    One of the best programmes on the box of late. Like other commentators I was disappointed to see the incorrect code quoted on the aircraft and as mentioned the wrong mark of Spitfire. (was it me, or were 3 different aircraft used for the first flight shots?) However, reading the programmers notes I think we shall pass on this. What was a notable piece of Attention to Detail was the split white/black undersides evidenced on some of the ground shots - WELL DONE. The programme seemed to capture admirably the rookie's nerves, elation, fear at just the right levels and gave us a little idea of what it must have all been like.
    Can somebody, please answer a simple question? Were the ground scenes shot at Twinwood Farm? Some of the potholes on the road looked very familiar?

  • Comment number 27.

    I thought it was a good effort, the Battle of Britain film scenes were obvious. Though the mood and everything else within the film was great. Though a little more attention to detail would have been nice. Other than that 8/10.

    BBC you have proved you can still do good quality programming, this what we pay our license fee for. Not constantly repeated reality tv cookery auctions at the queen vic.

    Well done for an exellent piece of work. Lets keep the standard!

  • Comment number 28.

    How brave of the BBC to make this programme! On the one hand getting the technical details right is evidently totally impossible, on the other avoiding over-romanticising the story is difficult... Also, however much men dream of climbing into a Spitfire and shooting down some Nazis (or even Germans) repeated sequences of make-believe air-combat quickly become, well, yes, repetitive, especially as we know that we won in the end. So it's got to be about human experience. Doing that without being overly nostalgic and without romanticising the characters and the story can be difficult... Anyway, First Light probably failed somewhat on all counts - technical detail, nostalgia, romanticisation, insufficient depth, but it was nonetheless bloody good! Thank you, the BBC.

  • Comment number 29.

    Well done Auntie! Really good effort at portraying a fantastic book not to mention the emotions of GW himself. Don't listen to any of the spotters about 4 bladed spits etc, none of this took away the impact of the programme. If we ever needed justification for Mr Ross and his P45 then more productions in this vein must be top of the list in my opinion.

    Very grateful for the dedication of the production team.

  • Comment number 30.

    An outstanding piece of TV. For the many of us who can not even comprehend the courage and bravery of "the few", 'First Light' beautifully told their story through the eyes of this young teenager. The production qualities were of the highest standard with a stunning desaturated look. Thank you to the BBC for another excellent programme. More of this please.

  • Comment number 31.

    Thoroughly agree with Timmo, the anoraks should read the first post by Matthew Whiteman to appreciate the difficulties that the production crew had to overcome on a BBC rather than a Hollywood budget. Any technical "faux pas" in no way detracted from the emotion and sheer drama of this production. It came as close as one could possibly imagine to letting the viewer experience what Geoffrey and his colleagues went through.

    I found myself trying to imagine how I would have reacted in the circumstances in which those young men found themselves. Maybe it was just getting on with the job in hand but my admiration for what they did knows no bounds.

    This is absolutely what I pay my license fee for and restores some of my faith in the BBC - congratulations to all concerned.

    Can anyone confirm if it will be issued on DVD?

  • Comment number 32.

    Just to add my thanks and admiration to the production team and to Geoffrey Wellums for a wonderful film. It touched many feelings and expanded experiences rarely felt or shown in war films. The physical and emotional effort, fatigue of battle and the slow but almost enevitable onset of combat stress were vividly demonstrated. My father and his generation always remembered the many older boys who left the sixth form to become pilots but who never returned. The film has allowed a wide audience to remember the Few, their losses, their great successes and the cost they paid. We are grateful. Many thanks again.

  • Comment number 33.

    I was wondering how they did the combat scenes, so thanks for explaining this. I hope the DVD will include some 'extras' on the subject.
    I have another question though this time about events depicted on the ground. Many of these (eg the cricket match) are not in the book, so were they pure inventions? Or were they based on real events that Wellum experienced but didn't include in his book?
    All credit to the film makers but I do hope that anyone who hasn't read the book will do so now, as in my opinion it's much better (Did you realise for example that when Wellum was chased by the 109 he had no ammunition left? I don't think the film made that clear at all)

  • Comment number 34.

    Not only one of the best programmes watched on the Beeb for a long while but one of the most useful blog posts I've seen on bbc.co.uk, followed by a fascinating discussion.

    I'm actually grateful for the pedants who have posted detailed criticisms. But in the end I agree with Timmo and many others - most of us overlook such minutiae and, given the limited budget, this was a fabulous effort at dealing with the bigger issues.

    Highlights for me: Geoffrey Wellum's voice-over when he describes his first combat flight, not wanting to let his colleagues and country down and his attitude to the aggressor, seeking to bomb and invade his land. No actor could have had the authenticity - a masterstroke to use the man himself in this way. The interaction between father and son when he's given two days leave, beautifully understated. The lovely and sensitive depiction of his fiancee Grace. The relationship with his acting CO Kingcombe, particularly when he's taken off combat - "You've done bloody well." Again rightly understated, but great depiction of great leadership, the stuff that genuinely made the difference in the most successful squadron of them all in a life-or-death battle for our freedom.

    Well done for such an excellent result.

  • Comment number 35.

    After having read this book a number of times and adoring it, i was disappointed with the BBC adaptation. The acting was unrealistic and the script was rather "preachy". As others have said, i also found it hard to hear all of what was said due to mumbling speech, however this did not detract from the brilliant flying scenes.

    On the other hand, i am so happy the BBC have finally made a mini-film about something worthwhile, and are recognising this landmark anniversary.

  • Comment number 36.

    While not exactly high production war drama I thought it was fairly well made. Unlike many WW2 films that have bombarded our screens the uniforms do actually look authentic and I bet at least some are real wartime vintage and I hope the production crew took good care of them during filming.

  • Comment number 37.

    I had dreaded this, a TV adaptation of the best ever book on fighting in the air but it was a triumph.
    I put my anorak away, I don't care if it was the wrong mark of Spitfire, it was a great story.
    Full marks to whoever decided to have Geoffrey Welham's voiceover which transformed it from a normal TV drama.
    Well done BBC

  • Comment number 38.

    I know this is a trivial question,but can anyone tell me the name of the piece of music used for the season trailer its bugging the heck out of me.
    I recognise it but just cant remember what its called. Please can someone put me out of my misery

  • Comment number 39.

    What can I say - incredible book and despite the budgetary and logistical limitations this film did it justice. If Geoff himself is happy with it then who are we to argue? Agree with everyone - using Geoff's own voice was a masterstroke. It served as a reminder that this was no fiction we were watching but a man's real life experience.

  • Comment number 40.

    A very compelling and powerful drama-documentary. Full marks to the BBC for showing it. It seems to have interpreted very well Geoffrey Wellum's story, which is one that ought to be told and made widely accessible. I thought the air combat scenes were very well done, quite terrifying, especially the sortie over the channel in bad weather. The solo flight sequences were beautiful - I notice that the same music was used in Terrence Malick's film "The Thin Red Line", but used here to equally good effect. Can anyone tell me the name of the piece, and the composer? Also, the author of the moving poem at the end - is it by Geoffrey?

  • Comment number 41.

    While agreeing with all the above positive comments, I do feel that at times the film was let down by its script - in 1940 people simply didn't use phrases like "remind me what that is again?" or "what part of that don't you understand?" - and on more than one occasion the unnecessary and annoying music was completely inappropriate for the events being depicted, no more so than when the squadron scrambled to what sounded like the incidental music to an episode of Miss Marple. As for the mispronunciation of Brasted by the actress playing Grace, well, there can be simply no excuse for such a basic error. These minor criticisms aside, it was a brilliant piece of work by the BBC and is indeed what we pay our licence fee for.
    PS In response to Old Red Car above, Brian kingcome's name was spelt correctly throughout, there is no "b" in it... check it for yourself on the blackboard in the White Hart at Brasted (pronounced bray-sted!)

  • Comment number 42.

    As a post-WW2 pre-teenager (born 1947) I used to sigh when my parents and extended family would talk about the War "again!" However, as I grew older I started to realise what they'd gone through in their various ways and how close we in the UK had come to being a satellite of Nazi Germany. We will never be able to thank people like Geoffrey Wellum enough for what they did for us. I read his spellbinding book when it was first published and just couldn't put it down. It just takes you into his experiences so thoroughly that it's difficult to adjust to the current world after finishing reading it. I am full of admiration for him, and yes I’d say that “hero” is a master of understatement where he and his fellows are concerned. I was therefore in two minds whether to watch the BBC film and risk disillusionment as I couldn't imagine the Beeb in these straitened times bothering to make the film authentic enough to match the spirit of the book. When I read that it would include contributions from Geoffrey himself I decided that it must be worth watching. How glad I am that I did. Yes, the anoraks above have their points, but it's the spirit of the whole production that I found to be so moving. I lived for 28 years at Biggin Hill (with its annual air show including the unforgettable Battle of Britain Memorial Flight) and thought of The Few and all the support crews every time I passed the Spitfire and Hurricane on permanent display at the edge of the airport. Who couldn’t! I think Geoffrey’s book should be on the schools curriculum and definitely in every school library.
    I agree with Iron Man’s comments on the phraseology used at times in the script, which I too found jarring. Also, the mispronunciation of Brasted with the flat “a” was rather diverting to say the least.
    Can we have some information about a possible DVD, please? My sister lives in France (with only French TV by choice) and would love to see this superb production. Thank you Matthew Whiteman for your remarkable achievement and for giving us the chance to see Geoffrey Wellum, still with us in amazing form, bringing it all alive for us.
    One more thing: could it be repeated on BBC1 in a prime-time slot; say Sunday evening, so that more people might bump into it and be enlightened?

  • Comment number 43.

    Dear all, I am so thrilled that First Light has generated so much spirited comment - and most of it thankfully positive! This was the hardest film I have ever undertaken - logistically and certainly budget-wise! And I am my own worst critic - so for all you so-called 'anoraks' let me say I am at one with you all!

    I do wish I could have only used Battle of Britain Spitfires; I am quite obsessive about this kind of detail - just as I am about the emotional authenticity of a story - but early Spits are in very short supply and we simply could not get our hands on anything that was affordable or available. We tried to make up for this by having our replica look as accurate as possible for the sequences on the ground - but again, it was frustrating not to be able to paint up this machine with the correct markings for Geoff's 'plane... But we had to make sure we matched the aerial footage from the Battle of Britain aerial unit.

    I was certainly a bit nervous when I showed the film to Geoff but he - as always - was deeply understanding of the enormous challenges we faced on what must have been less than a hundredth of the budget Hollywood would give to a film like this... Except that these days Hollywood would never make a film about the Battle of Britain, would they? We did try so very hard to make the film as authentic as possible - the mask, goggles and helmet that 'Boy' wore, were all made for the film (and Geoff was really delighted with this great effort) the uniforms were all original and the sets were built with a great deal of attention to detail. Geoff loved the interior and exterior of dispersal and felt the same about the pub and the billet - he thought these were all 'dead-on'. And so, I think you must forgive the odd four-bladed prop! After all, the Spitfires were not the whole story. There was far more to the world of 1940 that we had to get right.

    Gabriel Gurrington was the composer of all the music in the film - and I think it was his music that the Beeb used for the season teaser. I don't know when a dvd might be released - sometime, soon, I hope.

    We shot at Wycombe Air Park for all the flying sequences and Twinwood (an old RAF base near Bedford)for all the air base drama. The pub and surrounding countryside were found in the Chilterns.

    The cricket match does not appear in the book and nor do Boy's moments with Grace - but wherever I had to stray form Geoff's book in order to make the film work as an adaptation, Geoff was always there to validate/authenticate my words. The pilots often played cricket and Geoff loved this scene in the film - - as much as he hated the convoy patrol sequences; not because these were bad but because he felt he didn't need reminding about what bloody awful weather he had flown in that day!

    As noted elsewhere, Brian Kingcome has no b in his surname - so I am glad to say that this was one little detail we got right! I am sorry that a few people have felt the script a 'bit preachy' - this was the last thing I wanted. I strove with Geoff and then with the actors to make the film as naturalistic as possible. I deliberately chose to use some modern phrases in order to hold the attention of the younger audience. Anybody around my age needs no reminding of how significant the battle was to our very existence but I really wanted young people to be affected by the film, too - and I needed to drive home the message that without people like Geoff we would be living in a very different world right now. If I had stuck rigidly to RAF speak from the 1940s, I think I would have struggled to stop the film feeling cliched. The true language of the period has been cruelly parodied by generations of comics - and the last thing I wanted was to alienate a modern audience. Forensic detail is one thing but losing a large part of your audience is quite another! When you think about it, language is one of those classic dilemmas for any filmmaker. 'Gladiator' hardly sounded like it was coming straight out of the mouths of ancient Rome - but the story was wonderfully compelling all the same!

    The 'poem' at the end of the film is actually a quote from 'Sagittarius Rising' by Cecil Lewis. This book is a kind of World War One version of Geoff's memoir. I thoroughly recommend this book to everybody - and I know Geoff loved it as a boy before the war.

    Anyways, again let me thank you all for taking the time to write. Matthew Whiteman, writer, producer & director, First Light.

  • Comment number 44.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 45.

    Hello all - just to explain Matthew's comment at #43 came through twice, so the moderators have removed the duplicate copy at #44.
    Thanks for all your comments on the programme.

    Fiona, TV blog editor

  • Comment number 46.

    There's talk of releasing the programme on dvd, which will be good as it was excellent. The book is also one of the finest BofB memoirs out there. I met Geoffrey Wellum at a book signing at Duxford, he's every bit as impressive in 'real life' as he was in that programme.
    I watched it and got so engrossed that I was shocked and saddened when the enigmatic CO, Brian Kingcome, goes missing. I nearly cheered when he turned up alive at the end of the day's fighting.... I knew he survived the war because I've read the book, that's how compelling the drama was!
    One of the most poignant scenes was the blackboard in the 'White Hart' and Geoff's pal telling him, once on your name's on it... it's never rubbed off.

  • Comment number 47.

    I missed this film and just reading these postings only rubs salt in the wounds. Are you planning to show it again? or is the DVD going to actually happen?

  • Comment number 48.

    What a breath of fresh air ! A wonderful doc - drama. In a world of diminishing values a truly and moving inspirational piece of work. I have now purchased the book "First Light" along with "A willingness to die" by Brian Kingcome. It's so refreshing to stumble across and find out about these characters as opposed to the usual commonplace historical figures.


  • Comment number 49.

    Hello again,
    Olek #8, KJHedges #22 and everyone else interested in a DVD release - I've asked this end and it's not confirmed yet. The programme was made for the BBC by Lion Television (part of All3Media) so their discussions are ongoing. Lion have been sent the link to this blog post though - so they will have read your comments!

    Fiona, TV blog editor

  • Comment number 50.

    Please can we have "First light" on DVD format. I belong to a large flying community who have a special interest in WWII aviation and specifically the BOB.

    Thank you Fiona for asking Lion Telivision. I canot seem to find an email address for them to get in contact in person...Can you help?



  • Comment number 51.

    Fiona - please keep up the pressure for a DVD of this programme. It is an excellent way in to those times for both very old and young alike. Many of my friends are annoyed there isn't a DVD of it. I hope this is not down to petty squabbling about the money...

  • Comment number 52.

    Hello Alexanderthegrate #51 - good news. I've just done a web search and on the major retailers' sites, First Light seems to be available to pre-order for 6 June.
    Hope that cheers your friends up! Thanks.


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