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Saturday, 20 July 2013

Nadezhda Popova (1921-2013)

While scouting the weeks Obits in The Independent I was struck by Tuesdays column which lists Nadezhda Popova - Garth Ennis recent Battelfields series featured the exploits of the 588th Bomber Regiment albeit in a fictionalised form. Anna Kharkovas falling foul of the political bureaucracy of the then Soviet Union certainly dont seem to have been mirrored by the life of Nadezhda Popovas who retired with rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and having been awarded The hero of the Soviet Union, The Order of Lenin and 3 Orders of the Red Star. She eurvived multiple forced landings and survived 852 missions from mid 1942 to 1945. Initially her all female squadron was given antiquated Po-2 bombers - biplanes fit for the scrapheap. The pilots used to cut their engines and drift in silently to bomb the German forces who nick named them Die Nachthexen (The night witches). They were so successful that three further squadrons were formed. They were however looked down on by their male counterparts and were subject to sexual harrassment and their living conditions were primitive in the extreme - this on top of the dangers of combat. Interesting to note that the (in my experience) extremely chauvinistic Russians embraced females working not only in the military but also in combat - a sign of the kind of desperation that the Great Patriotic War inspired.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Carol Reed (1906-1976)

213 Kings Road is adorned with the blue plaque to the director Carol Reed. He was the illegitimate son of Herbert Beerbohm-Tree, whose blue plaque was also recently spotted close by at the excellently named Rosary Gardens. He was also the the uncle of Oliver Reed (who'd a thought it!) He went to school at Kings Canterbury of which Pat Leigh-Fermor was also an alumnus. He is I guess best known for his work in the late 1940s - My fave being the Third Man most recently seen at the Burg Kino in Vienna. Its post-war amorality - the companion piece to the American Noirs reflects the shattered state of Europe at the time and his broken Vienna and its faded glories show a jaundiced eye. Thats not to say that theres not moments of humour there - the ridiculous joint administration of post-war Vienna giving him a rich vein of comedy. We in addition to the Burg Kino also took the obligatory ride of the Riesenrad that Harry and Holly view the antlike citizens - sadly the Vienna sewer tour was timed such that we couldnt partake which M I suspect wasnt too upset about. There are very few identifiable exteriors in the film - we visitied the Central cemetery and there are also a few fleeting glimpses of church towers but the nightmare shadowed streets are ubiquitous (and I suspect deliberately so - becoming every European city - harry every spiv selling whatever they could get there hands on and nary a thought for the consequences. So another inhabitant of the heart of swinging London - The Kings Road.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Joseph Losey (1909-1984)

The last of our trio of American refugees is Joseph Losey - commemorated in Royal Avenue one of the unfinished Wren works originally meant to lead the eye to the Chelsea hospital. Losey was one of all too many leftists caught up in the HUAC witchhunt in the 50s. He had joined the Communist party in 1946 feeling that being useless in Hollywood, that he had "been cut off from New York activity and I felt that my existence was unjustified. It was a kind of Hollywood guilt that led me into that kind of commitment. And I think that the work that I did on a much freer, more personal and independent basis for the political left in New York, before going to Hollywood, was much more valuable socially." After Howard Hughes took over RKO had instigated a purge of leftists. He left the States unable to work and made a home in London where he made some strangely English films - notably The Servant (1963) and The Go-Between (1971) both collaborations with Harold Pinter and both nuanced, subtle pieces redolent with the hidden, the unobvious. This psychological darkness maybe reflects Losey's exile.It must be quite horrific to be barred from your home country - even voluntarily. His Royal Avenue home is situated just off of the Kings Road - a centre of 60s swinging London - a location that may well have to be revisited in this years Open House London in September. The walk also took in Brompton cemetery - another one of the magnificent seven municipal cemeteries that the Victorians initiated - sadly there was little time to investigate - I did spot Richard Tauber and some truly OTT monumenst to Britains imperial past - sadly however I didnt see Peter Rabbett - or any other of Beatrix Potters inspirations - she herself is memorialised just around the corner - yet another reason to return as I missed the rather picaresque plaque dedicated to her