AI – A?

Fifty years ago on the 15th September, 1969, the ‘Battle of Britain’ film was released. A painstaking effort at telling the story of the 1940 Battle, as well as an all-star cast, a huge fleet of aircraft was assembled for the real aerial cinematography.


Though the film was not a success at the box office, it has had a tremendous effect of war films, aviation films and on the ‘look’ of most subsequent Battle of Britain period films and TV programmes, on several different levels.


Firstly the real aircraft were ‘weathered’ – made to look worn and used – an idea copied in fact from the uncredited model aircraft team, with the set dressers able to adopt the choice of look for the real aircraft.


Secondly, the film makers chose to adopted squadron codes and serial numbers that were never used by real squadrons in the battle – one of which was the ‘AI’ of our title. Because of the quality of the footage, and also in part availability, several following films and TV shows not only adopted the ‘look’ of the worn schemes, but the actual mythical squadron codes, to be able to tie in to the existing footage. Below we see a full scale model Spitfire being blown up in the early 2000s film ‘Dark Blue World’, and the TV film ‘First Light’.

Of course there were toy and other tie-ins as well, as above.

Thanks to the work my good friend the late Robert Rudhall undertook, notably with Spitfire ‘Pope’ Peter Arnold, and Gary Brown, Robert was able to list all the codes and aircraft correctly, even though code sets like ‘AI-A’ were used by several aircraft. (A list of ‘Battle of Britain’ film book here.) We know that this AI-A is MH434, G-ASJV, the most famous Spitfire in the world (having been seen in more footage than any other).


Film distorts memory. The codes were made from a removable material that was essentially white (rather than an off white colour) and shiny, with the result in certain contexts one can fall into the trap of thinking this ‘look’ (as in ‘Skipper’s squadron, as played by Robert Shaw, below) is more authentic than the real thing, as it’s our main colour insight to the Battle of Britain. The effects of design can be very unexpected, and have a 50 year resonance.


James Kightly, Vintage Aero Writer.

Images from various sources.

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