Steve Dix...Comedian?

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15.07.2005 18:48 - Film runs in the Family

My father was one of the last intake for National Service. He wanted to join the Navy, but wasn't accepted for various health reasons. Such are the vagaries of the armed farces that he soon found himself posted as a radio operator on a rescue boat stationed at Holyhead, Wales. It was there that he had his only experience of film.

At the time, there was a brand of cigarettes named "Senior Service", which had a picture of a sailor on them. It was decided, in those far-off dim days of innocent advertising, that it would make an exciting advert to show some piece of sea-related Royal Navy action, and then cut to an actor dressed up as the sailor on the packet, enjoying a ciggy.

Quite how they ended up filming an RAF rescue launch, God only knows. Particularly in the days when most people would know the difference.

Anyway, the script was this : the ad would open with the rescue boat, which was really just a modified Vosper Motor-Torpedo Boat without the torpedo tubes, haring through the rough, choppy sea, towing a target. As the boat had twin Rolls-Royce Merlin V12s, it could do this at a fair old whack. Up would come an Avro Shackleton or similar, which would then drop flares on the target. Cut to naval type in duffel-coat, lighting up a Senior Service, and puffing smoke luxuriantly though his nostrils, which forms into the words "lovely fags", doubtless then followed by some blatant slogan questioning your manhood if you didn't smoke the same brand, irrespective of the (then-unknown) devastating impact of nicotine on sperm-count.

Except it didn't really go that way, did it?

Thanks to the rotten weather, which was required to make the sea all choppy and dramatic, the wind was up, and due to this, your man in the Shack miscalculated somewhat, and dumped a load of lighted flares right onto the main fuel tank of the boat.

There followed a scene, that if it still exists in some archive somewhere, undoubtedly looks like some strange surreal hoedown or impromptu sea-shanty, as all hands (other ranks) feverishly attempted to stamp out the super-hot flares, before they burnt through the fuel tank and made the film more dramatic than anyone had bargained for.

My father took things on himself and, rather unwisely, got on the radio to the pilot of the Shackleton, explaining what a silly thing that was to do. Somewhere along the way, he may have questioned the parentage of the pilot in somewhat frank terminology. Frank terminology which is illegal to use on an open radio channel, never mind for addressing a senior officer, as he found out later when they'd returned to base.

Apparently, somewhere in a radio monitoring station, some WAAF had sat and copied the whole exchange down, and not mispelled a single word : which my father still considers amazing, as those were the days when women were not given to such language.

So ended my father's film career : in a minor disciplinary action and three weeks in the glory hole. He's probably not going to be happy if he reads this.

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