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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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BBC documentary celebrates 100 years of Filton's Fabulous Flying Machines

Presenter Saul David in front of a replica Bristol Boxkite on display in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery

From the Boxkite to the rise of supersonic aviation – a new BBC documentary will explore a century of local aircraft production in Filton's Fabulous Flying Machines, on BBC One Monday 26 July at 7.30pm in the West region.

This July marks 100 years since Filton's first aircraft, the Bristol Boxkite, made its maiden flight at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain. A century on and Britain's first aircraft factory, in a former tramway shed at Filton on the outskirts of Bristol, continues to put the region on the map as a centre of excellence in aircraft design, production and engineering.

In this landmark documentary, military historian Saul David chronicles the extraordinary history of aviation innovation at Filton – from the humble Boxkite through two world wars and on to the Concorde era of supersonic air travel.

Founded by Sir George White, the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company – later known as the Bristol Aeroplane Company (BAC) – quickly became famous around the world. During the First World War its Bristol Fighter won notoriety for its agility in the sky and its 'sting in the tail' – a second machine gun operated from the rear.

The Second World War saw the invention of the multipurpose Bristol Beaufighter used as a night fighter, ground attack aircraft and torpedo bomber. The Bristol Beaufighter's impact was such that the Japanese nicknamed the plane Whispering Death.

Former pilot Doug Gregory logged hundreds of hours flying the Beaufighter and won the Distinguished Flying Cross for his courage.

Doug says: "You have to master it until it does what it's told and then it's a very nice aeroplane. Put your foot down and make it do what you want it to do and it will be lovely."

The documentary includes footage of a recently discovered Beaufighter shot down in 1943 while attacking enemy shipping close to the Greek island of Naxos. Incredibly, both the crew survived the crash and were smuggled back to safety by resistance fighters.

Presenter Saul David also describes how the Filton Factory itself was targeted by German bombers and how, on one fateful night in September 1940, 149 people were killed. Arthur Backhurst was in one of the factory's air raid shelters at the time and recalls what happened.

Arthur says: "The bomb had gone into the soft earth by the side of the shelter and exploded underneath. The shelter went up and it burst open and I went up through the gap. I went about 30ft in the air and, while I was in the air, I actually laid down on my hands thinking this was the end – but it wasn't the end and I came down with a bump."

After surviving two world wars, the company concentrated on civil aviation, producing the Brabazon and the Britannia. But it was Concorde that really captured the public's imagination.

Former Bristol MP Tony Benn was Technology Minister at the time. In the documentary he reveals some of his home videos shot during Concorde's fourth test flight and describes how he sought to protect the investment in local jobs that the Concorde contract brought to Filton.

Tony Benn says: "Concorde was the most advance civil aircraft ever produced in the world. It gave people a perspective of global travel at high speed which had been inconceivable before.

"I worked out there were about a quarter of a million people employed on Concorde at the time in Britain and France. It would have been a very serious thing to have cancelled it at that stage and I decided that I would try and save it."

Filton's Fabulous Flying Machines has been made by local independent production company Serendipity Pictures. It can be seen on BBC One (West) on Monday 26 July at 7.30pm and will also be available on the BBC iPlayer for seven days after transmission.

Notes to Editors

A full DVD of Filton's Fabulous Flying Machines is available on request.

MC

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