Imperial War Museums (IWM) has digitised and released rarely seen footage of the making of the 1969 Battle of Britain film, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Michael Caine classic and IWM Duxford’s annual Battle of Britain Air Show.
The striking amateur footage was filmed by Prince William of Gloucester, who can also been seen inside the cockpit of a Spitfire on IWM Duxford’s airfield. A trained pilot, the prince was tragically killed in an air race in 1972.
The unique behind-the-scenes footage of director Guy Hamilton’s 1969 film, which tells the story of the Allied victory over the Luftwaffe in 1940, shows the production crew preparing for the shoot including testing pyrotechnics. While filming part of the Eagle Day sequence at RAF Duxford, the crew deliberately exploded and destroyed one of the airfield’s First World War Air hangars.
IWM Duxford, Britain’s best preserved Second World War airfield, has played a significant role in the history of filmmaking in Britain. This year’s Duxford Battle of Britain Air Show, which takes place 21-22 September at IWM Duxford, will celebrate the site’s place in cinema history – and will be screening Prince William of Gloucester’s amateur footage along with other classics over the two-day festival.
Jane Fish, senior film curator at IWM, said: “The footage has rarely been seen outside of the family of Prince William of Gloucester, and so it’s wonderful to have been able to digitise it and make it accessible for people. It’s a really evocative glimpse into the making of Battle of Britain film, and you can even see the production team preparing special effects, including a small explosion on a bomber aircraft. The fact that it was filmed by Prince William of Gloucester gives the footage even more of a rich historical association.”
The air show will include displays from an array of original Second World War aircraft, including P-51 Mustangs and a P-47 Thunderbolt, and will culminate in a mass flypast of 18 Spitfires. Four Buchon fighter aircraft with Luftwaffe markings, which starred in the 1969 Battle of Britain film, will also take flight.
The air show will also feature the Bremont Great War display team, who starred in George Clooney’s The Monuments Men (2014), and aircraft from films including Memphis Belle (1990); Pearl Harbour (2001), Dunkirk (2017) and Squadron 303 (2018).
On the ground, IWM Duxford will be transformed into a film set once again, giving visitors the opportunity to dance their way into a party scene, or step in as an extra and deliver their lines. History lovers can watch cinematic footage from IWM’s archives, while fashionistas can enter a best dressed competition, or try on a costume from the wardrobe department.
Tickets from £35; kids go free. Ticketing information is available on the IWM website. Information on premium experiences can be found here. Tickets for all air shows must be booked in advance; no on the day tickets are available.
Duxford on Film
- 21-22 September, 12.30pm and 3.45pm screenings
- Vintage Soundstage, AirSpace Zone, IWM Duxford
- From Czech and American airmen to Prince William of Gloucester, these amateur cameramen captured Duxford as a working airfield before it became part of IWM in 1976.