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Pre-flight superstitions


Norman Merrett
Ken Adam Artist
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My greatest friend was an Australian, Norman Merrett, and he always used to volunteer for the most suicidal... jobs, you know. For instance, one time they said, we need one Typhoon to fly at ground level, because at 8000 or 9000 ft you can't really see, you know, so that he can be sort of like a pointer, and he volunteered for it. And I said, 'Norman , I mean, how long do you think you are going to last that way? You're crazy! I would be shit-scared'. He said, 'Well, I'm not shit-scared'.

And we were very close, and when Paris was liberated we both drove to Paris, and he met an ex-girlfriend of mine and he fell in love with her, and he was very scared of that relationship! But when we came back, he was, you know… and he did some of... he did some silly things as well, you know. He was, got very much decorated in no time at all, and came, from one of the battles was promoted to a... Wing Commander pilot, or something like that, I don't know, and... he was finally shot down. He was supposed to go on a weather recce so that the whole group… you know, always somebody had to go up and say what sort of weather it was, and he, with a No 2, went up. And I wasn't around – I heard about this – and he saw a train, a German train, and everybody had been warned that by this time the Germans had flak-trains. So he went down to attack, and it was a flak-train, he had quite a lot shot out of him, but he went down a second time. You know, climbed up... told the No 2 to stay there, and went down a second time. Also, so silly, because with rockets against, you know, a flak-train, you're not going to do very much. And the No 2 saw him make a forced landing and run away from the plane, and I found out that he was very badly injured, and when he was, arrived at one of those cages, prisoner of war cages, and died that same night… But he always said to me when he had his .38 sticking in the flying-boot, that they're never going to get me, Heine! Never get me! It was a joke, you see. And that's probably what happened, you know.

So there are a lot of those stories, too, you know. But you see, I got… I wasn't afraid to admit that at times I was very scared, but he said, 'No, I'm never scared'. He was scared of the girl, but he wasn't scared of the enemy.

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, Paris

Duration: 3 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2010 and January 2011

Date story went live: 15 August 2011