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Norman Merrett

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'Order me a late tea'
Ken Adam Artist
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I remember a Canadian pilot, Buck, telling me – they used to call me Heine, because… and I can show you a picture of... in The Daily Sketch in which I am Heine of the RAF – you know, taken at the time, and Buck said to me, 'Heine, watch out! You know, when you try to get out after an attack, don't pull out too fast, you know, because you might go into a high-speed stall, and that's it'. The same day Buck was killed by pulling out too fast and going into a high-speed stall, you know. So all these things, you know… and then the courage of – I think it was even written about in the book – we had a... I don't think it was in my squadron, but one of the sister squadrons, a Canadian pilot called Piwi Williams, and I could never understand this unbelievable courage of some people. And when you noticed a thin trail like white coming out of the aircraft you knew that aircraft had been hit in the cooling system, and was a glycol leak, and I saw that Piwi… this thing came out of the aircraft, and he was heading straight for the enemy positions at a sort of reasonable descent. And I called him up and I said, 'I think you've got a rad leak, and, you know… he said, I know, but I'm paralysed. Order me a late tea. And that was it, you know.

[Q] A late tea?

A late tea, yes. And when we found him, eventually, he was able to work the toggle switch for the radio, you know, but he couldn't fly the aircraft, really, in the sort of… and he just flew straight into the ground. So he knew for several minutes that he was going to die, you know and then to say, 'Order me a late tea', you know? And those things, they were - you know, while I'm talking to you, obviously I come up with more, but... there were things which had... made an incredible impression on me.

Sir Kenneth Adam (1921-2016), OBE, born Klaus Hugo Adam, was a production designer famous for his set designs for the James Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s. Initially, he trained as an architect in London, but in October 1943, he became one of only two German-born fighter pilots to fly with the RAF in wartime. He joined 609 Squadron where he flew the Hawker Typhoon fighter bomber. After the war, he entered the film industry, initially as a draughtsman on This Was a Woman. His portfolio of work includes Barry Lyndon and The Madness of King George; he won an Oscar for both films. Having a close relationship with Stanley Kubrick, he also designed the set for the iconic war room in Dr Strangelove. Sir Ken Adam was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: World War II, Royal Air Force

Duration: 2 minutes, 54 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2010 and January 2011

Date story went live: 15 August 2011