View Full Version : Aeronautical ‘ties’ before they were famous…

17th May 2005, 22:12
Aeronautical ‘ties’ before they were famous…

I’ve just finished a fantastic biography of the late great Jimmy Edwards and it’s got me thinking what other celebrities flew or had links to flying before they were made famous because of other attributes.

Jimmy Edwards was a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and spent much his time as a pilot in Toronto, testing those trainee navigators charged with getting him home before the fuel ran out. He was later called back to England to fly the Dakoto as a glider tug over Arnhem in 1944 and during this period he was shot down and sustained serious burns which he later disguised under his trademark handlebar moustache. For this action he received the DFC.

He can probably best be remembered for these works…

Whacko!, 1956-60, 1971, as 'Professor' James Edwards.

Three Men in a Boat, 1956, film role as Harris

Bottoms Up!, 1959, film acting role as ‘Professor’ Jim Edwards.

He was a great actor and comedian and although I was aware of his flying connections (like that of Roald Dahl), it got me thinking that he would have made a great member of the forum.

Can anyone else think of famous person who had ‘aeronautical links’ and then got famous through other talents afterwards?

The 4 celebrity aviators below don’t count for the obvious reasons and the fact they don’t subscribe to the criteria above.

Jimmy Stewart
Clark Gable
Tom Cruise
John Travolta

There has to be more though…?


tony draper
17th May 2005, 22:22
Didn't Dick Emery break his career in comedy and become a commercial airline pilot? seem to recal seeing or reading that somewhere,,hmmm mebee I'm thinking of some other famous comedian.

Onan the Clumsy
17th May 2005, 22:26
Neville Shute author of On the Beach, a book set in a post nuclear world (I think) also wrote Slide Rule about his time on the R101 (ok maybe it was the R100) project. One was private and one government, and both were bitter rivals. I haven't read the book, just a snippet but I would like to read the whole thing.

He also wrote several other books about flying (ok, at least one, but I did read that and it was very good, I just can't remember the name now :{ )

In the opposite vein to your excellent thread, there is Cecil Lewis who wrote Saggitarius Rising about his exploits as an aviator on the Western front in the First World War. His passage about watching artillery shells poise at the top of their trajectory is quite interesting and his passage about flying over the line at the moment the war officially ends is quite moving.

He later became a follower of the Greek Philosopher Ouspinsky and went to form a comune on a Greek island. This story and his subsequent disillusionment is told in Gemini to Joburg.

17th May 2005, 22:41
Would "Get on yer bike " Norm Tebbit count ??

17th May 2005, 22:49
Keep em coming chaps..

>Sagittarians Rising was a great book by another talented man.(fastening his ‘tale streamers’ to assume command just before leaving for the front really bought home the emotions...!)


>Brief research (Emery would be proud) has brought up a lead suggesting that Dick did more than a few pilots in his day….which has 2 possible meanings:

1) he was a keen performance review artist
2) lets not……..

tony draper
17th May 2005, 22:59
Errr, seem to recal that Jimmy Edwards was a tad inclined that way as well.

17th May 2005, 23:03
Tony Benn, Spitfires.
Duke of York (King George VI), RN pilot's wings in 1919.

17th May 2005, 23:07
Not a pilot, but how about Richard Todd?

In real life he was one of the paras dropped on the morning of D-Day to support the operation run by John Howard to take and hold the bridges over the River Orne and the Caen Canal.

By a twist of fate Todd the went on to play Howard himself in "The Longest Day" and later Gibson in "The Dam Busters".

Patrick Moore

Ex WW2 Bomber Command navigator, laterly BBC presenter of "The Sky at Night" for umpteen years.

tony draper
17th May 2005, 23:10
Lawrence Olivier,Fleet Air Arm I believe.

17th May 2005, 23:13
Sir Richard Attenborough, RAF (when he had that role in Gateway or Stairway or whatever to the Stars, he was wearing his own uniform, and had just dropped into the studio to goof around).

Sir Ralph Richardson, Fleet Air Arm.

Sir Francis Chichester, long before he became a solo round-the-world yachtsman.

17th May 2005, 23:29
Hughie Green was a pilot with the RCAF during WWII. His career as an entertainer was already established in his early teens, but probably best remembered for Double Your Money, Opportunity Knocks and the post-funeral revelations!

tony draper
17th May 2005, 23:32
Indeed, one of Chichesters best books was of his pioneering flights in his Gypsy Moth around Oz, he actually gave a lecture in my school once, very boring for us sprogs at the time it was, only years later after reading his Lonely Sea and the Sky that I realised who I had been lectured to by.
Ah yes spekesoftly, it was Hugie Green I was thinking of not Dick Emery.

Onan the Clumsy
17th May 2005, 23:35
...and of course, Raymond Baxter

Didn't Audie Murphy play himself in To Hell and Back? What was he famous for - other than for TH&B?

Airey (sp?) Nieve (sp again?) Killed by the IRA under the Houses of Parliament, but first bloke to escape from Colditz.

17th May 2005, 23:41
I do not know if he went solo, but Sir Winston Churchill took flying lessons very early on. His instructor was killed in a crash one day the great man could not be there.

Audie Murphy was the most decorated US serviceman of WW2; everything from the Medal of Honour down.

17th May 2005, 23:59
My family used to live very near a famous entertainer, and he did a short theatre season with Jimmy Edwards. Because Mr. E. was an heroic drinker our neighbour, himself a well known and successful chap would wet himself before each show, because of the uncertainty about what Edwards would do next.

18th May 2005, 00:12
Onan, Audie Murphy was the most decorated US soldier of WW2, seeing intense action during the Battle of the Bulge.

As for celebrity pilots, there's Rory Underwood and the old presenter of Tomorrow's World whose name escapes me.

18th May 2005, 00:23
As a youngster, I can remember watching Jimmy Edwards play Polo. Between chukkas, we would help to 'tread-in', and then wander over to the players' enclosure. He struck me as a rather cantankerous old 'B', who didn't take kindly to 'young whippersnappers'. :(

and the old presenter of Tomorrow's World whose name escapes me.

You're thinking of Raymond Baxter, as mentioned earlier by Onan.

18th May 2005, 00:45
George W Bush in Vietnam (or did he not show up)?

18th May 2005, 01:07
George Bush Sr. was the youngest pilot in the USN when he got his wings in WW2. He flew 58 missions TBM's and was shot down in the Pacific.

Not a pilot, but Sir George Martin wanted to become an aeronautical engineer before he became an A&R man in the recording industry.

18th May 2005, 02:44
Raymond Baxter, that's the chap, ta. Also, Kenneth Wolstenholme the famous football commentator.

Ali Barber
18th May 2005, 05:00
Jimmy Stewart:

Already a pilot, Stewart signed up for the U.S. Army Air Force a year before Pearl Harbor was attacked. Initially rejected for being too skinny, he gained weight and successfully reapplied. His first posting was at Moffett Field, California. American celebrities who served in World War II were generally kept out of harm's way and used for publicity purposes; Stewart objected to this special treatment, requesting the same combat duty as other pilots. By the end of the war, he had flown 20 missions over Europe with the 8th Air Force, piloting a B-24 Liberator.

Among his decorations were the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Croix de Guerre and 7 battle stars. In 1959, he served in the Air Force Reserve, before retiring as a Brigadier General. His final mission was a bombing run over Vietnam that he specifically requested as a close for his military career.

18th May 2005, 05:01
did someone miss out Bruce Dickinson?

Ali Barber
18th May 2005, 05:15
A couple of others.

Roald Dahl saw action as a pilot in WW2.

Arthur C Clarke served in the RAF as a radar specialist and was involved in the early warning radar defense system during the Battle of Britain.

Not aeronautical, but Christopher Lee served in the OSS during World War II, where he acquired the knowledge of the noise a person makes when stabbed in the back!!

Google is a wonderful thing.

Loose rivets
18th May 2005, 05:42
I seem to remember Jimmy being interviewed on TV. He told the story of trying to land with flames in the cockpit, and head and shoulders out of the escape hatch! (That got him the DFC)

18th May 2005, 06:50
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Senator John McCain.

Do Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong count, or does that fit the same job description? :p

18th May 2005, 07:21
Some thoughts and additions:

Churchill did not go solo. He is one of only two people (George V being the other) who were allowed to wear RAF wings not having done so.

Richard Todd and the Dam Busters. (Apologies to those who know this story from when I posted it elswhere) When filming took place, there was much confusion at RAF Scampton over "real" and "actor" officers and airmen, who salutes whom etc etc. Answer (black and white film) was for actors to wear brown boots/shoes so everyone would know they were not "real". Richard Todd, having been an officer, apparently insisted on retaining his black shoes and getting the salutes!

Oh, and to get back to the thread, Richard Burton flew (and drank) with the Oxford University Air Squadron...

Edited to add: Thought of another one! Keith Miller the Aussie bowler flew Mosquitos in the war...

18th May 2005, 08:17
I own a book which lists 100 famous personalities who served in the RAF but unfortunately I can't remember the title (at least I was given a day to read it before it was borrowed - hint hint).

Some of the people I knew of already as ex-RAF (like Raymond Baxter) but some came as a surprise (like Kenneth Wolstenholme - 100 missions in a Mossie as Pathfinder).

The book was, as I recall, printed in aid of the RAFA (they got the royalties) and was well worth the read.

18th May 2005, 08:35
Nevil Shute remains, in my humble opinion, one of the finest authors of the 20th Century. I read all his books as a young lad and still return to them when in need of a dose of real people dealing with real situations and not some reality TV programme!

One of his finest books about flying was "Pastoral", a story of a WWII Wellington pilot approaching tour end. Not in the same vein as Winged Victory of WWI, but still very thought provoking and beautifully written.

"In the Wet" covers the dissolution of the Commonwealth with the Monarchy moving to Australia and flying is the central thread that ties it together.

A civil airliner metal fatigue problem (a la Comet) novel, the name escapes me, was also brilliant and made into a film with James Stewart, I think.

Another book deals with religion, flying and the Middle East, tying them all together with a simple theme - do your best, always.

Must get back and re-read them all. Thanks for raising them to my consciousness, Onan. Cheers,


henry crun
18th May 2005, 08:42
johnfairr: The name of the book was No Highway.

Dr Illitout
18th May 2005, 09:10
Jackie Coogan the child actor and "Uncle Fester" in the munsters was a Glider pilot with the chindits in Burma.
Eroll Flynn was a gunner in the USAF 8th airforce but the "Brass" wouldn't let him fly for fear of being captured by the Germans. Eroll being Eroll did manage to fly on several missions "filming" for the USAF film unit.

Rgds Dr.I.

18th May 2005, 09:22
I knew they flew with the Commonwealth, but did they really let Aussies fly for the USAAF? :ooh:

tony draper
18th May 2005, 10:43
Why not Mr B? diid we not have a German Pilot in the RAF during the last scuffle with the chaps sausageside?
Something interesting I found out recently, there were Frenchmen in the SAS, one thunk they only allowed Geordies and Scotsmen into that organisation, mind you saying that there were also a few Englishmen in that organisation on tother side that also has a double S in their title.
One is not sure one approves of teaching Frenchmen the kind of thing they teach SAS chaps.

18th May 2005, 15:03

Thanks for all the replies. I knew I knew a few more than ole Jim, but some of you kicked up a few others I can add to the list next time I visit the library….

Cheers everyone.


18th May 2005, 15:38
That was Ken Adam, Drapes, flew Typhoons then after the war became set director for most James Bond films, Dr Strangelove and designed Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Great bloke met him a few years ago. He has two Oscars BTW.

As a Jewish German in a Typhoon, " I would not have been particularly popular if I was shot down" he told me.

Also told me that he and Peter Sellers would share a bowl of stew at a cafe in Shepard's Market when they were skint in the late 1940s.

18th May 2005, 16:32
Drapes, you'd be referring to the SS Legion of St George which, although listed, never saw action or numbered more than 50 IIRC.

Onan the Clumsy
18th May 2005, 17:29
The Nevile Shute Society (http://www.nevilshute.org/index.php)

Nevile Shute's bibliography (http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/authors/Nevil_Shute.htm)


Round the bend was the religion one that I read.

Another one in the reverse direction was Jackie Cochran. Air race winner, creator of the WASPs (now THERE's a fantastic story) she was married to Floyd Odlum, the richest man in the coutry at the time and had her own line of cosmetics. She was originally adopted by a sharecropper family deep in Louisianna (I think) but didn't enjoy her youth and before too long left it all behind to come to the big city.

She said "Modern aviators are so spoiled. On just about every flight we took, we would have to put down in a field and tinker with the engine. Change the plugs maybe." :ooh:

19th May 2005, 01:35
Internationalism isn't restricted to modern wars tony, there were several Frenchmen and a couple of Spanish chaps in HMS Victory at Trafalgar.