First Light

Yesterday morning I went to see a screening of First Light, the BBC’s new adaptation of Goeff Wellum’s classic memoir.  I have to admit that having been so close to the book ever since Geoff’s manuscript first landed on my doorstep over nine years ago, I was pretty apprehensive.  I needn’t have been.  It’s a really fantastic film, profoundly moving, and beautifully acted throughout.  The air sequences felt very real and there is a terrific sequence when the young eighteen year-old Geoff flies the Spitfire for the first time, while the opening scene,where his lone Spitfire is caught in a terrific rain storm, was my favourite episode in the book and is incredibly exciting on film.  Geoff was at the screening and made it quite clear that he thought this was the most authentic portrayal of what it was like to fly back then that he had ever seen.

The book has been trimmed and the cast cut down – Brian Kingcombe seems to be squadron commander of 92, when in reality he was only a flight commander, but with limited budgets and eighty minutes to play with cuts necessarily need to be made.  Don’t let this or the odd inconsistency with the Spitfires used put you off, however.  At it’s heart, this is compelling drama.  I had a lump in throat, and I defy anyone watching it not to feel the same.

It’s being shown next Tuesday, 14th September, on BBC 2, as part of the Beeb’s Battle of Britain season.

12 replies
  1. Muscateer380
    Muscateer380 says:

    I didn’t think much of “First Light” the TV film. The book is another case!

    I can’t remember a wartime airfield looking so bleak and barren. There would always

    lots of activity around about, oil drums, ammunition boxes, aircraft parked fairly close

    to each other, shelters and endless impedimenta connected with maintaining and

    launching a fighting aeroplane into the sky at short notice. I seem to remember too

    that parachutes were waiting in the aeroplane for the pilots to drop into them and

    the fitters to lift the shoulder harness so that time wasn’t wasted getting out to the

    aircraft on a scramble.

    I am sure that Mr. Wellum would not have remained on the squadron as a Pilot Officer

    after some nine months on operations. I would expect him to be a Flight Lieutenant

    when he finally left given the attrition rate amongst BoB pilots in 1940/41.

    The pure flying sequences were very good, not the dramatic presentations where he

    gets lost returning from a sortie in bad weather. I would have been quite happy to

    see Spitfires and Heinkels.

    Apart from the aircraft I found it very unconvincing.

    Rgds. Muscateers380

  2. Eric
    Eric says:

    I enjoyed it although the continuity errors in the various Spitfires (codes changing between take off and landing etc) were a bit annoying.

    I also thought the pace was a bit slow and the dialogue was delivered in a very sluggish manner. It made it look like the squadron were all on mogadon!

    On the whole though, I enjoyed it and it got across the basic premise of the book.

  3. jrobo
    jrobo says:

    hello James,
    I must say that i enjoyed first light, particularly the flying sequences which were pretty good considering the limited budget of the BBC, as I am in the process of writing a script for a flying action movie I found the flight sequences particularly useful.
    I am really looking forward to seeing your programme this week , although it would probably been better if more time had been allocated to the subject.

    warm regards

    John Robertson

  4. amanda robinson
    amanda robinson says:

    Hi James
    I enjoyed watching tonight’s programme. In light of your comments about Beaverbrook’s role, I wonder if you have ever explored the work of EJH Lemon who was a production engineer and AVM. Pre-war he worked for the LMS railway as vice president. In the railways he was “Lemon of Derby” as there was also “Lemon of Crewe” who was not involved. A book is currently in draft and the authors’ research casts a new light on UK aircraft production in the 1938-41 period.

    Amanda Robinson

  5. philbro
    philbro says:

    Dear James
    I enjoyed watching The Battle of Britain The Real Story on TV earliear this evening.One aspect of the Bof B which is never considered is the impact of the weather upon the Battle. We are accustomed to believing that the summer of 1940 was one of glorious , continuous summer sunshine with barely a cloud to be seen. Speaking as a professional airline pilot and former RAF Fighter Controller I know from experience that this is unlikely to be the case. There presumably were days when frontal systems were passing over the UK and all air operations were suspended, although I concede that particular summer may have been better than many. Is it known what percentage of days were lost to the weather; not just as regards the air batttle but presumably sea swell which would have prevented the invasion fleet from sailing.


    Phil Brooks

  6. RoyChoice
    RoyChoice says:

    Hi Phil

    Really enjoyed the show but found the constant mispronunciation of luftwaffe a little annoying and strange since you appear to speak german? There was a bit where you were translating from a german pilots diary.

    Anyway – great show.

    Kind Regards


  7. James Holland
    James Holland says:

    Sorry it annoyed you. There was some discussion about this but we opted for the English version in the end – after all, we say Paris with an ‘S’, not ‘Paree’, so why say Luftwaffe with a ‘v’?

  8. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    One of the parts I liked the most about the TV dramatisation was the attention to climbing into the cockpit and going through the starting procedures. This gave you a real sense of man and machine which tends to be left out of similar dramas.

    I did not care for the characterisation of Brian Kingcome who came across a touch nasty which I find difficult to believe. This trait is something that seems to come up in dramas like this where a pilot appears to be picked on. I dislike the trend to portray leering, sneering attitudes between pilots which I find difficult to accept was the general reality. I prefer to think of pilots the way they seem in “First of The Few” – since it was actually filmed at the time – but perhaps this is just me being rose tinted.

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