The Spitfire Fund: An early take on Crowd Funding – Behind the Episode

Continuing our series of blogs called ‘Behind the Episode’. Our resident aviation expert, Kirsty, will be looking further into the real history threaded throughout our audio drama, particularly the aircraft featured in each episode.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the idea of crowd funding is a relatively recent phenomenon. In fact, it is a concept that has been successfully employed for many centuries to raise money for projects that might otherwise not have seen the light of day. Amongst other things, crowd funding has been used to aid the publication of books, to fund music and the arts, to pay for worthy civic projects such as the plinth for the Statue of Liberty and by the use of War Bonds, even to finance military conflict. And it was an idea that was to be used to great effect when, in May 1940, Lord Beaverbrook was appointed Minister for Aircraft Production.

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Photography by Tom Barker

Still reeling from the aftereffects of the First World War and the Great Depression, Britain was in a poor financial state as, for the second time in a generation, it embarked upon war with Germany. Fiscal constraints had left its armed forces ill prepared and ill equipped to take on the massive demands now being placed upon them. The Royal Air Force had been particularly hard hit, a lack of funds for new equipment forcing it to retain many obsolete aircraft in frontline service. The Luftwaffe, on the other hand, had enjoyed massive investment and had been able to gain invaluable combat experience by its involvement in the Spanish Civil War.

The no-nonsense, bombastic management style of Canadian media tycoon Lord Beaverbrook was exactly what was needed to ramp up aircraft production. Immediately upon his appointment he set about cutting through red-tape and streamlining working practices in order to derive the maximum efficiency from the factories. Many existing managers were dismissed and replaced by foreman and engineers recruited directly from the shop floor. At the end of his first week in office he broadcast an appeal to all aircraft factory workers to accept new rotas which called on them to work both day and night shifts on a seven-day week. He also appealed for redundant garage workers to come forward and join the cause. These actions had the desired effect and within several months monthly production had increased by 200 aircraft. Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding, head of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, would later comment that these extra fighters were the difference between victory and defeat.

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Photography by Tom Barker

The British public had taken the Spitfire to their hearts from the outset and as war ramped up there were numerous unsolicited enquiries as to how additional aircraft might be financed. Lord Beaverbrook was not slow to recognise that a Government endorsed fund-raising scheme would be a great way to both raise morale and unite the public in a common cause. Thus, the rallying cry went out and the Spitfire Fund was born.

Government Propaganda set the tone; posters adorned with slogans such as “A Spitfire a day keeps the Nazis away”. It also became the custom to inscribe the engine cowlings of aircraft so financed with names chosen by the benefactors, the inscriptions being in 4″ yellow lettering. Whilst most names would reference the village or town who had raised the funds, various sponsoring companies or organisations gave rise to some ingenious names. Woolworths, with their policy of nothing in store costing more than 6d (2 ½ p in today’s money), raised funds for two Spitfires; “Nix Six Primus” and “Nix Six Secundus” whilst the Kennel Club had “The Dog Fighter” (Mrs Holt would be pleased!)

Anxious not to price the aircraft beyond the reach of most respective fund-raisers, Beaverbrook listed the cost of a Spitfire as being £5,000. In reality, the actual cost was closer to £12,000. It is a problem that Katherine Winters touches upon in a conversation with her sister Ruby:
“Cost of fuselage, two thousand five hundred pounds; cost of engine, two thousand pounds; wings, one thousand eight hundred; undercarriage, eight hundred; guns, eight hundred; tail, five hundred – Propeller, three hundred and fifty; petrol tank (top), forty pounds; petrol tank (bottom), twenty five pounds; oil tank, twenty five pounds; compass, five pounds; clock, two pounds, ten shillings; thermometer, one pound, one shilling; sparking plug, eight shillings – So even if we raise the grand total of, what was it – one hundred pounds? We can donate just under one third of a propeller”.
Fortunately, most fund-raisers did not break it down in these terms and were quite unfazed by the challenge.

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Photography by Tom Barker

The call had gone out to individuals, towns and businesses alike and many came up with ingenious ways to fund their own Spitfire. In the Wiltshire village of Market Lavington a life size silhouette of a Spitfire was painted in the square and residents were challenged to fill it with coins, a task that was completed in a matter of days. Numerous raffles and sponsored events were held throughout the country with local communities outbidding each other in their attempts to raise the most. Many campaigns were backed by the local newspaper, a fund launched by the Midland Daily Telegraph on 5th July 1940 raising £18,000 in just three weeks, enough to pay for three Spitfire Mk. IIa aircraft. The first of these, christened “City of Coventry I” would serve throughout the war before succumbing to the scrap man in 1946. The other two, “City of Coventry II” and “City of Coventry III” would be less fortunate and would be written off when they collided with each other over Edenbridge on 28th November 1940, sadly claiming the life of one of the pilots.

As to the success of the scheme, depending on whose figures you believe, enough money was generated to pay for approximately 2,600 aircraft, although all donations would have gone into a common government pot rather than paying for a specific Spitfire. It is questionable whether it made any difference to the outcome of the war but it undoubtedly did much to unite the nation in their hour of greatest need.

Letters from the Home Front -Edinburgh Diary Day 9

Thursday 9th August 2018

We had a busy schedule planned with lots of shows to see. The day started with us hot-footing it down to theSpace on the Mile to try and grab some last minute tickets for Noel Coward’s Still Life. However, it was all sold out! It wasn’t a wasted trip into town though, as we decided to head into the heaving crowds up on and around the mile and hand some flyers out before our next show of the day.

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Next up was Dulce Et Decorum Est: The Unknown Soldiers at theSpace at Triplex. It transpires that the company are staying right next door to us so we thought it jolly good form to go catch our neighbours’ show, especially as it’s also set in World War II! There were some lovely parallels between The Unknown Soldiers and Greyhounds, right down to the vintage tea-chest that sits proudly in the set of both shows.

Coming out of the show, Fiona’s grumbling stomach reminded us that we’d been so enthralled in the day’s activities that we’d forgotten to factor in time for lunch. Laura and Tim dashed off to grab some pasta whilst Fiona, Jacob and I rushed to theSpace on Niddry Street for Dear Lucy. We enjoyed the WWI show but I do hope the performers weren’t put off by our vocal tummies desperate to make themselves known. When back out on the street, Jacob, Fiona and I were on the prowl for some fast and filling food. The golden arches were looming. We accepted our fate and joined Ronald in a triumphant feast of burgers and fries. Meanwhile, Laura and Tim found director Jac and techie Paul and went to a performance of Dick Barton: The Tango of Terror by the Television Workshop Salford. Always great to support a fellow Greater Manchester production!

We reconvened on the Royal Mile, where Laura whipped out her ukulele and we did some impromptu close harmony singing for those passing by. Pretending to be The Andrews Sisters is definitely one of my favourite pass-times. It’s a shame we’ve only got four songs down at the moment!

Then it was time for another performance of Greyhounds. We seem to be racing through this run of shows at an alarming rate, it seems only yesterday we had those first night jitters. Another appreciative audience greeted us which was so lovely. We’re ever so grateful for the reception we’re receiving at the Fringe!

One of the great things about the Fringe is being able to go see a plethora of shows at almost any hour of the day. Tonight was the turn of The House of Edgar – a deliciously dark musical about Edgar Alan Poe. Post-performance, we trooped up to Greenside @ Nicholson Square which was bathed in green light. Here’s a snap of Jacob and Fiona having an absolute whale of a time before it was time to go and take in the show.

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The House of Edgar is an absolute must-see if you’re here at the festival. Such good music and physicality. We were riding high on the spirit of musical theatre and decided that when back at the apartment, we should pop a musical on the TV. We searched various streaming services to seek out a good musical. And there it was. Chicago. Amazingly, it was Tim’s first viewing of it (which makes me even more grateful for him putting up with our exuberant performances of the Chicago numbers on the way up). We sang and danced our way along, apart from Cell Block Tango, where Fiona hushed us all to take in the masterpiece. What a jolly lovely way to spend the hours after the show!

Letters from the Home Front – Edinburgh Diary Day 7

Tuesday 7th August 2018

Gosh, it was a real struggle to remember the date. Being at the Fringe is like living in a lovely bubble where days of the week don’t exist and time seems to be fluid as we try to cram as much as we can into each day.

The day started with our dear Laura thundering down the stairs in a flurry of excitement. We had received another 4* review, this time from Edinburgh Guide who described Greyhounds as ‘pretty much perfect’ with a cast who ‘nail it, and are as genuine as the people they play’. To get such a great reception from the critics is wonderful, especially after all the late nights we’ve spent in rehearsals going slightly mad! Our latest success was celebrated with breakfast-time bacon sandwiches for the meat eaters and lashings of tea and toast for everybody else.

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We didn’t have long to bask in the glow though, as Jacob, Laura, Tim and myself were off to the Gilded Balloon to catch musical ‘Fall of Eagles’ by Green Ginger Productions. We’ve written a review of the show which you can read here, but to summarise – we thought it was jolly good fun! We caught the cast for a quick chat afterwards which was lovely, so great to talk to a fellow northern company. It was then time for some delicious lunch at veggie restaurant/bar Paradise Palms. This place has incredible eclectic decor, adorned with bright bunting, model pigs, a type-writer and vintage paraphernalia. We wolfed down our food with glee and chatted about the show we’d just taken in.

Meanwhile, Jac, Paul and Fiona took care of business on the home front. They gave the flat a much-needed spring clean and baked up some fresh bread. Paul, our techie, is not only a whizz with the sound and lights but also knows how to make a mean loaf! Whilst the bread was baking, admin was taken care of with Fiona taking to the blogosphere and updating you all on our comings and goings.

It was then time for Jacob, Laura, Tim and I to finally go see one of the shows right up there on our to watch list, ‘I, Sniper’ by Acting Coach Scotland. The play tells the true story of Lyudmila Pavlichenko – often called the deadliest female sniper in history. I came out itching to read more about her! We bussed it back to the apartment as director Jac was cooking up fajitas for dinner. We stuffed ourselves silly with the mexican deliciousness before rushing back out again to perform Greyhounds. We warmed up in our usual car park space and took to the stage. The audience seemed to enjoy the show again, which was great to see!

Back to the apartment again, this time for gin cocktails and board games. Fiona had bundled Articulate into the car at the very last minute on day one, and what a cracking call that turned out to be. The best moment had to Paul be trying to convey the word ‘horrifying’ to Jac, his description being ‘it’s like… a scary film but longer’. Laura, Tim and I were the eventual triumphant winners and reigning champions until the next board game night.

Until next time,

Catherine

(Greyhounds’ Ruby Winters)

Letters from the Home Front – Edinburgh Diary Day 4

Saturday 4th August 2018

Saturday started in fine fashion; a civilised pot of tea over excited discussion about our opening night. With the lovely reception we received under our belts, we decided we must build upon the momentum. We began to devise a plan for the day to maximise our efforts. We would split up into two packs of Greyhounds to prowl the mean streets for the first time. Director Jac and writer/producer/actor Laura would hit the Fringe’s Meet the Media event, whilst the rest of us worked on spreading some good ol’ word of mouth – flyering and telling people a little more about our show! We donned full 1940’s regalia (as is customary these days), grabbed our gas mask boxes full of our patented ‘ration book’ flyers and headed our separate ways.

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Jacob, Fiona, Paul and I headed to The Pleasance (the buzzing hub with lots of theatre spaces and cheese toasties, if you remember Thursday’s escapades). There we flyered with reckless abandon, ensuring that word got around about what was to be performed just down the hill later that evening.

Meanwhile, Jac and Laura (with Tim acting as what I’m assured was a very efficient runner – fetching tea and snacks and boosting morale as required) joined the back of what was an extremely long queue to meet the Fringe’s media. Thus commenced a jolly long wait, a four hour wait to be precise. With 3000+ shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, I’m sure you can imagine the queue which snaked around the block when an opportunity arose to tell the press about what makes one’s show unique. Jac and Laura really got in the wartime spirit and took one for the team!

The next task for the rest of us was to distribute some more of our snazzy A3 posters to catch passersby’s eye. This was preceded by a quick pitstop at Greggs to refuel and (rather unexpectedly) catch a well-dressed man stealing sandwiches. Keen to commence our task we marched onwards, baked goods in hand, ready to get these posters up. So keen we were that Fiona managed to staple up a poster with a chicken slice in one hand and her weapon of choice in the other (stapler). What a gal.

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We received word that Jac and Laura had now made it into the building where the media event was hosted but alas, they were now waiting in line to speak to the writers and reporters. When dropping a poster into theSpace Triplex, we spotted a chap from Error 404 Theatre Company‘s Wakey Wakey waiting to go on dressed in a flowing ivory wedding gown. We were intrigued and had to snap up some last minute tickets to see the show and find out more. Wakey Wakey is a newly-written comedy set at, you may have guessed it, a wake. Four twenty-something-year-old friends come back to their hometown to celebrate the life of Jessica, their best friend’s late wife. However, things don’t go as smoothly as planned as the bunch of misfits make faux pas after faux pas. The show is well-observed and has some real tender moments amongst the comedy when the characters divulge their feelings and stories about their late friend.

After taking in the show and doing a little more flyering, we reconvened with Jac and Laura once they had spoken to the media. We headed back to our apartment and got ourselves ready for the show. We didn’t quite have time to warm up as usual back at base, so ever the professionals we headed to the Radisson Blu’s car park, filed into an empty parking space and did our thing. I’ll admit we did get some funny looks from car park patrons as en mass we exuberantly proclaimed the word BA-NA-NAAAA. However, I’m glad of our weird car park warm up because we had a full house on Saturday! Jacob took this sneaky photo of everyone filing in pre-show…

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After a smashing show (with thanks to our wonderful receptive audience!) and a cheeky gin or two it was time to take in a show. We went to see Shit-Faced Shakespeare’s Hamlet. There was a great atmosphere in the theatre as we watched Claudius get drunker and drunker and mangle the Bard’s words and story – insisting that Laertes and Ophelia swap costumes. Much hilarity ensued as the actor’s muddled through the chaos. This show is best enjoyed after a few beverages – it does make for a fun night out!

We had such a busy and exhausting day that we all flopped into bed with ease when back at the apartment.

Adieu!

Catherine

(Greyhounds’ Ruby Winters)

Letters from the Home Front – Edinburgh Diary Day 3

Friday 3rd August

We arose at the civilised hour of nine and began, what is fast becoming, our morning routine. RuPaul was blaring from our USB speaker, Tim went running, and Jacob polished off four sets of two Weetabix, because it’s only polite to finish the sleeve.

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When you’re a hot vintage vixen, there’s quite a lot to do of a morning: pin curls to be pinned, eye brows to be plucked (covertly by torch-light while Fiona’s sleeping in the next bed) and red lips to be lipsticked. At eleven thirty we gathered in the apartment to partake of the daily warm-up. Nothing gets you feeling ready for a day of professional theatre work than shouting LIMMMEE, cherrrrries, BAN-AN-A at each other for twenty minutes (our warm-up is very fruit-based because we are mature professionals).

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After an elevenses of Iced Gems and Mini Rolls (healthy snacks are essential if you’re going to survive the Fringe – little tip for you there) we headed out into the throbbing metropolis. Well, Leith. Our first port of call was flyering near Underbelly but the girls may have got distracted en route by the window of W. Armstrong & Son; purveyors of fine vintage togs. I couldn’t resist buying a new skirt to add to my repertoire of 1940s outfits. Catherine joined me in getting a cheeky new dress but Fiona outdid us all by nabbing two full new outfits. The boys did something useful like more flyering or getting our posters printed, or something, I don’t know.

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We dropped off our beautiful posters at all the SpaceUK venues across Edinburgh, and then paraded up and down the Mile in our costumes (to raise awareness of our show, not to boost our egos, obviously) Gorilla flyering occurred when Jacob handed a flyer in through the window of a moving van (all procedures were safe and within the law)
Then time to nip into Frankie & Benny’s for a spot of lunch. We then hot-footed it over to theSpace at Surgeon’s Hall to grab our tickets for Mulberry Theatre’s ‘Cry God For Harry, England and St George’. We were excited to see another play using extracts from Henry V to tell a brand new story. Whilst we’d been doing all this, our director Jac had been at theSpace at Triplex attending the SpaceUK press launch. She got to watch an eclectic mix of snippets from the 300+ shows that theSpace is hosting at Edinburgh this year. Complimentary Champagne slipped down a treat too, as she tried to sweet talk the press, alongside our fellow performers, flashing our Ration Book leaflets and discussing all things war, Henry V, and vintage.

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By then, it was already time to get back to our apartment and change into our costumes after a quick tea and toast break. The nerves were starting to mount. Social media was buzzing (at least we were publishing quite a lot of selfies on Twitter and the Gram) and lipstick was flying. Back on the bus into town – we’re going to know that route like the back of our hand before long – and then a nervous wait outside our venue as the clock ticked round to 8pm. As we prepared to get in, it was exciting to see old friends and members of the public alike begin to drift into the box office to collect tickets for Greyhounds. Having expected no one to turn up at all, as a first time Fringe company, we were beyond excited to be half-full on our first night. There was a good buzz to the room and then… we were off!

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It was such a brilliant opening night! It was the slickest the show had ever been, leaving us plenty of time for a confident get-out. The audience laughed (lots of love for a gag involving Hamlet!) and left us some truly lovely feedback on our wartime feedback cards. In a celebratory mood we went down to the bar for a round of cocktails – Tim’s was naturally the campest. Once we’d drunk the venue dry of gin, we headed back out onto the mean streets and got a glamorous dinner of late-night McDonalds. Then it was back on our favourite bus and to the apartment for Prosecco and pyjamas.

Reviews from the Home Front – In Loyal Company

In Loyal Company by David William Bryan

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Despite the fact that we had been in Edinburgh for less than 24 hours, we were chomping at the bit to see what else the biggest Fringe festival in the world had to offer. Before even getting to the Fringe, we had been following the progress of In Loyal Company on Twitter, so it made perfect sense that David William Bryan’s one man show about a prisoner of war during WW2 should be our first watch of the festival. We had been looking forward to seeing it for a while, and it certainly did not disappoint.

In Loyal Company is based on the true story of Bryan’s great uncle, Arthur Robinson, who went missing during his service in the Second World War. The story starts before he signs up to fight, as we are introduced to Arthur’s family (his mother has the cleanest doorstep in the street, don’t you know) and get a glimpse of what life on the home front in Birkenhead is like. There is great warmth and humour in Bryan’s performance here, endearing you to Arthur – known as Joe – straightaway, which makes his later ordeals in the war all the more of an emotional punch to the gut. These shifts in tone are handled masterfully by Bryan, who shifts seamlessly from gentle comedy to heartbreaking pathos like the flick of a switch as he describes the horrors of what he saw and experienced. It was fascinating to see a different aspect of the war, after we focus so much on small village life on the home front in Greyhounds; our characters struggle to deal with the repercussions of war, whereas Joe is right in the thick of the action.

As Bryan takes us from Birkenhead to India, Singapore, and Thailand we meet a few other characters who, although their appearances are often fleeting, are still distinctive and well played. They feel rounded and their respective relationships with Joe feel convincing; I was particularly moved by his fellow soldier, George, and Joe’s interactions with his parents.

Bryan is an excellent story teller. The script is tight and well written, and well balanced between moving the plot forward and world-building details that help the audience to imagine what it was like to live and serve in these conditions. As a performer, Bryan works extremely hard in this hour long play; his performance is as physical as it is emotional. I was struck by how his body almost seemed to transform before our eyes as the war took its toil. His physicality was excellent.

I cannot finish the review without giving a specific mention to the technical aspects of the performance. The lighting and sound complemented the action perfectly and was extremely slick. Each part of this production was well executed, and the hour flew by. Congratulations and well done to everyone involved on a thoroughly excellent show!

 

Letters from the Home Front – Edinburgh Diary Day 2

Thursday 2nd August 2018

Dear reader,

Today Time & Again Theatre Company’s Edinburgh escapades started to feel a little more real! For me, the day started out with a quiet few chapters of my book (I am utterly storming through Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro) before the rest of the happy few woke up. Soon enough, my fellow cast members began to blunder into the kitchen in search of caffeine and we cracked into a classic cereal variety pack courtesy of writer/producer/actor Laura’s lovely mother. Three cheers for Cheerios!

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After a brief social media interlude (got to keep you lovely lot updated on our goings on haven’t we?), we began to put together our fierce 1940’s looks for the day. Fiona who plays Nancy Wilde – Shuttlefield’s aspiring actress and ever the optimist waged battle on the curling wand yet again. Alas, she lost her fight but came away with less battle scars than usual! Here’s a snap of Fiona, Laura and I serving up some WWII realness.

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Into an Uber we hopped and we were on our way to see our first play of the Fringe. We had been looking forward to seeing In Loyal Company at The Pleasance for quite some time. The one man show, set in WWII, got a standing ovation from us having taken the audience on quite the rollercoaster of emotion. The Pleasance is such a buzzing hub of activity with lots of cute little food and drink booths alongside the performance spaces. I thoroughly enjoyed my falafel wrap and I hear the cheese toasties were marvellous.

Next, we trotted down to the Royal Mile swinging by an artisan shortbread shop on the way. When in Scotland, you know.

We headed to our venue theSpace on the Mile for the very first time. It’s a lovely (air conditioned) oasis of calm in the midst of all the royal mile madness; at the moment at least.  We handed over some of our much-coveted ration book flyers to the lovely box office staff to be displayed in the venue. I wonder when we’ll stop making quips about not being to eat without your ration book whilst handing them out. We started to set up for our technical rehearsal and Jacob (who plays Will Croft in Greyhounds) arrived, having zipped back from Spain the very same day. The whole gang were back together again. The excitement was palpable.

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Imogen and Claire our technical gurus were very helpful and got our show looking and sounding great in the space by the end of the session. On our way out we were handed our performer’s passes which felt very official and exciting. Before dinner, we simply couldn’t resist a spot of flyering on the Royal Mile!

Once we had consumed a big old meal, we arrived back at our apartment. However, the day’s activities didn’t cease then. At 11pm Laura finished up painting the scenery she had been slaving over the day before. This task was fuelled by well-earned Cadbury’s Mini Rolls – other brands of chocolate miniature roll are available – and de-caff tea. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast excitedly leafed through the Fringe programme and picked out all of the excellent shows that we endeavour to see and support over the next two and a bit weeks!

Until next time,

Catherine

(Greyhounds’ would-be bohemian and hapless director Ruby Winters)