On this day in history : 6th September 1952 – A de Havilland jet fighter disintegrates at the Farnborough Air Show – 31 people, including the pilot and the onboard flight test observer, are killed….
Pilot John Derry and flight observer Anthony Richards had collected the DH.110 prototype aircraft from de Havilland’s factory at Hatfield, Hertfordshire and had flown it to Farnborough, arriving just in time for their slot in the airshow’s schedule…. The plan had been to fly another prototype which had been used for the airshow the previous day – but it had developed technical faults…. The September 6th de Havilland display had nearly been cancelled….
Derry had been the first pilot in Britain to exceed the speed of sound, when flying a DH108 research aircraft in 1948…. During the performance at Farnborough he flew the DH110 in a supersonic dive, creating a sonic ‘boom’ and continued on a fly past at 40,000 feet…. He then completed a left bank, travelling at around 520mph and flew towards the 120,000 spectators at the airshow…. Next he pulled the jet into a climb – but within a second the aircraft had disintegrated – the outer wing sections, both engines and the cockpit separating from the airframe…. The cockpit landed, with both men still inside, in front of the crowd near to the runway – several spectators were injured….
One engine crashed harmlessly…. The other carried on and ploughed into the crowd that had gathered on ‘Observation Hill’ – a vantage point outside of the airfield used by many locals to watch the display…. It was here that most of the fatalities occurred….
The emergency services were on the scene within minutes and after only a short break the air display continued! In total 31 people lost their lives, with many more injured….
On this day in history : 31st July 1947 – The birth of English actor Richard Griffiths – perhaps best known for his role as Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter series of films….
Richard was born in Thornaby-on-Tees, in the North Riding of Yorkshire…. His father was a steel worker who also took part in paid fights in pubs…. He and Richard’s mother had three other children, a daughter and two sons but all had died before Richard came along…. Richard’s parents were both deaf and mute, he grew up adept in sign language…. There was no TV or radio in the house – his was a very quiet childhood….
Richard left school at 15 – but returned to education to study drama at Stockton and Billingham College…. He then went on to the Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama…. Initially he kept all this a secret from his father – who was furious when he did eventually find out….
Following his graduation Richard landed a contract with the BBC for their Radio Drama Company…. He was then to join the Royal Shakespeare Company and was a natural in the comic roles, such as Falstaff…. He came to the attention of Trevor Nunn, the then RSC artistic director….
Richard’s early TV career saw him with small roles in ‘Minder’, ‘The Sweeney’, ‘Bergerac’ – amongst others…. He also had small parts in films such as ‘Chariots of Fire’, ‘Superman II’ and ‘Gandhi’…. His breakthrough came as Uncle Monty in 1987’s ‘Withnail and I’….Another of his best known characters was that of the disillusioned Inspector Henry Crabbe, a role made especially for him…. ‘Pie in the Sky’ ran between 1994-1997 and was about a policeman who was rather discontent with his work and between getting into scrapes and solving cases had a sideline of being the most amazing pie chef in his wife’s restaurant….
A role as a ‘foodie’ suited Richard – as he was known for his rotund girth…. But he had actually started out skinny and underweight…. At the age of 8 he had been given treatment for his pituitary gland – and within a year had gained 60% more body weight…. He was picked on by his school mates but was more than capable of standing up for himself….
Richard met Irish actress Heather Gibson in a production of ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ – and they were married in 1980…. They were to have no children – but Richard was Godfather to comedian Jack Whitehall….
Many will associate Richard with the Harry Potter films…. He played the part of Uncle Vernon, married to Harry’s aunt Petunia and having grudgingly raised Harry from an early age was certainly not very nice to him…. He never explained to the boy how his parents had died or told him about the magical world….
When performing on stage Richard was not adverse to showing his displeasure towards the audience if his performance was disturbed – especially by a mobile phone…. In 2005 he ordered a man out of London’s National Theatre after his phone rang for a sixth time during a performance of Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’ (a role for which Richard was awarded with a Tony Award in 2006)…. In November 2005, whilst he was on stage in London’s Wyndham Theatre, a woman’s phone kept ringing – after the third time Richard stopped and had her ejected, to a loud applause from the audience…. Again, during a performance of History Boys, this time in New York’s Broadhurst Theatre he thundered at a member of the audience after their phone rang for a third time….
Richard was awarded an OBE in 2008…. He died on the 28th of March 2013 at University Hospital, Coventry after complications following heart surgery….
On this day in history : 2nd March 1999 – The death of singer and record producer Dusty Springfield – who’s career spanned five decades – from the 1950s through to the 90s….
Dusty was born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien on the 16th of April 1939 in West Hampstead, London – into an Irish Catholic family…. She spent the early part of her childhood in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire before later moving to West London….
She began to sing with her brother Dion, performing in folk clubs – and in 1957 the pair worked in Butlin’s holiday camps…. She then joined the Lana Sisters in 1958, performed on television and played live shows both at home in the UK and at US Air Force bases in Europe….
In 1960 she was back working with her brother and together with Tim Field they formed ‘The Springfields’ – a folk-pop trio, who went on to have chart success both here and in the US…. It was at this time that she and Dion changed their names…. The story goes the band got their name by taking Tim’s surname and as it was a beautiful day added ‘Spring’ to it, giving the name ‘Springfield’…. She changed her name to ‘Dusty Springfield’ and Dion changed his to ‘Tom Springfield’….
Dusty’s solo career began in 1963 with I Only Want To Be With You, which charted at No.4…. It was followed by a succession of other hits, such as Wishin’ and Hopin’ (1964), I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (1964), You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me (1966) and Son Of A Preacher Man (1968)…. It was also in the late 1960s that she was given her own variety show on the BBC, with guest appearances from the likes of Tina Turner and Jimi Hendrix….
The blonde beehive hair-do and darkly made up eyes gave Dusty the iconic 60’s look…. She could also be a high-spirited lass in nature….and liked nothing more than a good old food fight! Once making the newspaper headlines when she aimed a cake at a waiter at the Melody Maker Polls Awards….
Dusty relocated to the States in 1970….the strain was beginning to show…. She had been living with American songwriter Norma Tanega since late 1966 but cracks were beginning to appear in the relationship…. Dusty didn’t like the media intrusion into her private life nor the speculation about her sexual orientation…. By now her health was beginning to deteriorate and she was suffering from bouts of depression…. She settled in Los Angeles and became involved in campaigning for animal rights…. By the mid 1970s she had slipped into relative obscurity and had begun to drink heavily….
But in 1987 there was to be a massive turnabout…. She was asked by The Pet Shop Boys to record What Have I Done To Deserve This? with them….which went on to reach No.2 on both sides of the Atlantic…. She then recorded the theme tune to the 1989 film Scandal, a version of The Pet Shop Boys’ Nothing Has Been Proved…. It was at this point that she came back to England to live…. A BBC biography, ‘Dusty’, was televised in May 1994 – and she released a new album A Very Fine Love in 1995….
It was whilst recording this album in Nashville during January 1994 that Dusty became unwell…. Her doctors in England diagnosed breast cancer and she underwent intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatment – putting her cancer into remission…. However, by mid 1996 it was back…. Dusty died in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire on the 2nd of March 1999….
On this day in history : 1st March 1910 – The birth of English actor and writer David Niven – who’s many films include Casino Royale, Around the World in 80 Days and The Guns of Navarone….
James David Graham Niven was born in Belgrave Mansions, London, into a military family – he was the youngest of four children and he was named for the day on which he was born – St. David’s Day…. He studied at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire before taking his place at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst – where he gained a Commission as Second Lieutenant in the Highland Light Infantry….
Niven was keen to try his hand at acting – so he left his post in the army and travelled to Hollywood, where he managed to secure several minor roles…. He then appeared as an extra in British film There Goes the Bride in 1932 which subsequently got him more small parts….
At the outbreak of World War 2 he rejoined the army, being recommissioned as a lieutenant…. During this time he made a couple of war propaganda, morale boosting films:- The First of the Few, about the Spitfire aircraft, which greatly pleased Winston Churchill and The Way Ahead in which he starred with Peter Ustinov….
After the War Niven resumed his acting career making A Matter of Life and Death in 1946 before returning to Hollywood to star in the 1947 film The Bishop’s Wife alongside Cary Grant…. Niven had only been back in Hollywood six weeks when tragedy was to strike…. During a party at the Beverley Hills house of American actor Tyrone Power, a game of hide and seek had been taking place…. Niven’s wife, Primula, had opened the door to what she thought was a cupboard – only it was in fact a stone staircase leading to the basement…. She fell and sustained a fractured skull, dying from her injuries…. She was 28-years-old – the couple had two young sons….
In 1948 Niven met Swedish fashion model Hjordis Pauline Tersmeden – he was instantly smitten…. The pair married and had two children – but it was to be a stormy marriage, with her violent temper and his numerous affairs, including a rumoured one with Princess Margaret….
During the late 1940s and early 50s Niven’s career declined for a while…. However, in 1951 he made Happy Go Lovely, a musical with Vera-Ellen which was a big hit at the British Box Office…. He then went on to do a stint on Broadway which landed him a part in the film version of the stage play The Moon is Blue in 1953 – for which he won a Golden Globe….
With his career now well and truly back on track a string of successful films were to come…. One of his biggest roles was as Phileas Fogg in the 1956 hit Around the Word in 80 Days…. With his dry British wit Niven had never been more in demand…. He also did work for television with several TV dramas to his name, even hosting his own drama series The David Niven Show in 1959….
He still continued with light hearted movies such as the 1960 film Please Don’t Eat the Daisies with Doris Day, which was highly successful – but he was soon to show his versatility…. In 1961 he starred in the massive film The Guns of Navarone….which was then to see him cast in a run of war movies….
He returned to comedy in 1963 with The Pink Panther…. 1966 saw him in the horror film Eye of the Devil and then in 1967 he played the part of James Bond 007 in Ian Flemming’s Casino Royale….
He carried on working on various films during the 1970s – but by 1980 ill health was beginning to show…. During a couple of TV interviews his slurred speech left audiences wondering if he had been drinking – but it was actually a symptom of his illness, motor neurone disease…. He died at his chalet in Switzerland in July 1983….
As well as being such an accomplished actor Niven also wrote four books…. His autobiography The Moon’s a Balloon in 1971, which was very well received….and in 1975 a collection of humorous reminiscences of Hollywood…. He also wrote two novels and was working on a third at the time of his death….
On this day in history : 29th February 1964 – The Queen’s cousin, Princess Alexandra, gives birth to a son – believed to be the first ever royal baby to be born on February the 29th….
Princess Alexandra gave birth at home in Richmond, Surrey; her husband, Angus Ogilvy, was with her and her mother, Princess Marina, was also at the house…. The 9lb 6oz baby boy was born at 12.15am and was a week overdue…. He was named James Robert Bruce and later christened in the chapel at Buckingham Palace…. Two years later he was to be joined by a sister, Marina….
Princess Alexandra’s baby was the first of four royal babies to be born within a matter of weeks of each other…. The Queen’s fourth child, Prince Edward, was born on the 10th of March….and her sister, Princess Margaret, had a daughter, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, on the 1st of May…. Finally the Duchess of Kent had her second baby, Lady Helen Windsor, on the 28th of April….