Summer of Rockets? How’s that for the title of a BBC drama series? I have to admit that I was expecting some rockets in Stephen Poliakoff’s BBC production, but there was none. Nevertheless, I soon realised the connections, having lived through the 1950s myself. I’m not sure the Cold War fear and paranoia was quite as manifest in the UK amongst the general population as it appeared in the series, but despite that, Poliakoff’s story was excellent, I enjoyed every minute. The main characters – and the actors – were superb. What other writer would have thought of casting a Russian-born Jewish manufacturer of hearing aids as the main protagonist? His family was fleshed out – like backstory – by material that I would usually have considered to be unnecessary padding. Padding it was not. It added depth to the lives of the characters, as did the story of the missing son (if you don’t know what I mean, then watch the series on iPlayer, it is worth searching for).
Stephen Poliacoff implies in the online version of the Radio Times that the Summer of Rockets is based on events and memories from his childhood. He has taken them, modified them, twisted and turned them to produce a gripping and unusual story.
NOTE: For those interested in such things, the rocket in the photo is a Bloodhound missile, introduced in 1958, around the time ‘Summer of Rockets’ is set. I photographed this missile at the Museum of Edinburgh’s National Museum of Flight at East Fortune. Far more interesting than this missile is the video I took during my visit, of my granddaughter (then aged 12) landing an airship. She did a far better job of it than I did. Check out my blog post of 2012: http://tiny.cc/2uad9y
Charlotte lands an airship at the Museum of Flight, East Fortune.
(Click on the link)
There is a wartime Willys Jeep at the Museum of Flight at East Fortune, tucked away behind a Spitfire fighter and some other, more recent and more scary-looking, warplanes. I told the 10-year-old that I used to have one (the jeep, not the Spitfire). I was expecting a turned-up nose, but instead I got ‘What? Really? One of those? Wow! Coooool!‘ ‘It wasn’t brown like that one,’ I said. ‘It was green, the colour of olives’. ‘Cool, really cool! Where is it? What did you do with it…?‘
I sold it, years ago, as you do with things that years later you wish you had kept. Shame in a way, both for me and for her. Not sure I would want to run it now though. On a good day I managed twenty miles to the gallon, despite having rebuilt the engine. On a bad day, in the lowest of low gears and driving cross-country, it did between five and ten. So… not the greenest of vehicles, despite its colour. I have found an old photo of it. The picture really is black and white (there is nothing wrong with your monitor).
If you want to know how these things got the name ‘Jeep’, they were designed for the US military as a ‘General Purpose Wagon’. My parts manual had MB/GPW on the cover. I’ve no idea what the MB stood for. But the GP bit stuck… jeep. Not a lot of people know that.
Today I made another trip to East Fortune. During the previous one I was the dutiful son-in-law. For this one, the dutiful grandfather. The contrast between the two visits was a real eye-opener for me. For the first there were reminiscences (father-in-law was in the Fleet Air Arm in the 1940s). For the second there was sheer wonderment – at biplanes, helicopters, Concorde (East Fortune has Concorde alpha-one), airships and rockets – all close-up and hands-on. And engines, of course (but those were for me, not for them).
The highlight, for a ten-year-old, was her flight-simulator-bloody-brilliant-landing of the R34 airship (here, then click numbers 2 and 3). She’s not in the photo, unfortunately. I was so gobsmacked by the way she controlled the thing that I forgot to take photos. I even found myself having to explain the differences between helium and hydrogen, and how it was stored in airships. The ten year old was taking it all in, as expected. But so was the three-year-old. As we drove out, a lot later, he asked ‘Papa, what’s a gasbag?’