Sunday, April 15, 2007

Squadron Leader Neville Duke

There was a tremendous obituary in yesterday's Guardian:
The test pilot Neville Duke, who has died aged 85, was an icon of the New Elizabethan Britain of the 1950s. At the dawn of the television era, when media personalities were born within black and white newsreels, picture weeklies and smudgy tabloids, the former Royal Air Force squadron leader had the celebrity of sportsmen such as Stanley Matthews, movie actors such as Dirk Bogarde, or the conquerors of Everest. It was a form of celebrity almost unimaginable now, built not only on Duke's performance as a test flier but on his record as a wartime fighter ace.
I suspect that Duke's career was at least in part the inspiration behind the 1952 film The Sound Barrier. This celebrated the brief period after the Second World War when Britain led the world in jet aviation, though the obituary suggests that period had already passed by the time the film was made. It also mentions a disaster at the 1952 Farnborough Air Show that seems to have disappeared from popular memory.

As ever, though, the best obituary was in the Daily Telegraph.

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