‘Gamekeeper-turned-Poacher..!’

Well I suppose, just looking at the number of superb documentaries that are regularly appearing on both the traditional terrestrial channels & myriad satellite channels and the vast array of knowledgeable historians & lecturers with deep wells of fascinating knowledge to share, there was always an outside chance I might have something in between my ears that could prove useful to another producer, (then I woke up!)

However though I would certainly not wish to elevate my way up to the ranks of those superb contributors who are regularly seen on TV as serious & enthusiastic expert ‘talking heads’, after 27 years of working in the field of Third Reich Military Music, I must admit it was rather flattering to be asked if I could make a similar small contribution to a new BBC TV documentary series currently being produced by R K Productions in Leeds entitled ‘Len Goodman’s Big Bands’…

I have to nevertheless admit it was a somewhat odd and a slightly disconcerting feeling to once again be moving from behind the camera to very briefly appearing in front of the magic lantern, (though I have presented a couple of Travel TV documentaries before), but this time I really had to look as if I knew what I was talking about rather than just point to the stunning scenery & enthusing for the viewers - so no pressure then!).

But then that is always assuming my small contribution makes it to the final edit and is not last seen being metaphorically swept up on the cutting-room floor, (because of course now everything is hi-tech digital edits, so a similar fate would that of being simply deleted & banished out into the ether!)…oh how cruel the world of television can be..!

Mind you, I’ve been around this industry long enough to know how this all usually unfolds, so I am fairly sanguine about how things turn out, but nevertheless I had a superb day on location with the well known professional Ballroom Dancer and judge on the BBC’s ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ Mr Len Goodman, in this new role of fronting this superb new series by Roger Keech for the new BBC Four Channel.. (I say ‘new’ but it has been around a while now..and showing some very interesting documentaries).

However I digress, (as is my usual habit), for as many collectors & enthusiasts out there who have come to know my company Tomahawk Films and its now specialist Third Reich Military & Civilian Music output these past 27 years, though a former TV Floor and Unit Production Manager thence Producer myself, these days happily my usual involvement with such fascinating work is very much from behind the camera, either to provide music, film & sound-effects or specialist historical background information to television researchers or to occasionally record the voice-over for the documentary soundtrack in question, if I’m lucky..!

However when Mr Keech, the engaging producer of this BBC Four series & I got talking about supplying some of Tomahawk Films’ German music archive to his series, he kindly asked if I would also care to be interviewed on camera by Mr Goodman, thus contributing to a specific section on Glenn Miller & WW-II German music, to which I happily agreed.

But after all these recent years of standing behind the camera or directing other people’s performances, going on camera myself again felt somewhat strange and very much as if I was turning from Gamekeeper-to-Poacher and, if I am honest, despite having lived a good part of my life on TV sets and in live radio studios, I was amazed at how long it took me to relax and actually think about what I needed to say for the cameras.. (by which time the interview was over..dang!!)

Mr Keech & I had been e-mailing each other as we sought to establish what he needed and what I could talk about and then last Friday I found myself at the former RAF Twinwood Night-Bomber Operational Training air-base north of Bedford, the aerodrome from which Glenn Miller made his fateful flight in December 1944. I say ‘found myself’, which is an over simplification, for this former air-field is well hidden and the only way to find it is to drive through a modern housing estate and then skirt behind a clump of trees then up a long stretch of unmade farm track..yes, quite!

Sadly my Sat Nav got confused and directed me to a house right in the middle of the housing estate; however luckily I managed to collar a local who kindly pointed me in the right direction. I finally knew I was close because as I pulled off the main road onto the dusty track as directed, a rather sumptuous & good-looking Jaguar saloon was just ahead of me and a very distinguished gentleman had got out to open the closed farm gate: Mr Len Goodman himself as I live & breathe, and by crikey, is he tall or what?

I am a fairly reasonable 5’8” when I remember to stand upright, but he towered over me as we exchanged greetings, (and laughed and swapped opinions on just how hard this blessed air-field had been to find) and then I offered to close the gate after he had driven through and I would play ‘tail-end Charlie’ and follow in my car behind his to the airfield!

So the pair of us then bounced up this long rutted track, his huge jag nimbly handling the ruts whilst my new Peugeot, with its low-slung, sporty suspension tried hard to break my spine as I aimed.. and failed.. to miss the holes. But eventually the pair of us in convoy drove on to the old perimeter road and, (though the huge, original concrete runway has since been dug up & restored to farming land),up to the former flight control tower & surrounding buildings, sitting just at the top of this old road.

Today they offer a superb mirror reflecting back those halcyon war-time days as, included on-site, is the official UK Glen Miller Museum; this indeed was the reason for the interviews being filmed here on location, for in the afternoon after my mini-performance on camera, a nephew of former USAAF Major Glenn Miller was also to be interviewed… and what better setting than the base at which his late uncle made his final, and sadly, ill-fated flight from the UK..

Mr Goodman and I eventually found our way into the aerodrome compound to be confronted by a green-painted control tower and a number of typical war-time camo-painted buildings with anti-blast white tape criss-crossing over the windows, plus a NAAFI building and various other assorted out-buildings…

Quite a sight that you would never have believed was still here, almost hidden as it was by the slowly advancing thick, dense forest surrounding this former old World War Two air-base…

RAF Twinwood was an Operational Training Unit for Night Bomber crews flying Mosquitos & Beaufighters and the pilots would be trained here for night sorties over a blacked-out Third Reich. Today the control tower is decked out as it would have been in 1944, with several of the crew-rooms having flying jackets draped over crew chairs, so the whole ‘war-time bomber field vibe’ is very much still there, thus offering a superb back-drop for filming WW-II documentary interviews…

Mr Goodman and I spent a happy half-hour chatting on camera in that evocative RAF tower with all its ghosts and war-time history still hanging in the air and with the Glenn Miller connection, stemming from the fact that this bomber airfield was the closest to Bedford, where his famous war-time Orchestra were based as a safer alternative from Blitzed London. Thus RAF Twinwood was a very convenient base for him to fly back & forth to occupied France for his many morale-boosting troop concerts. It was also at RAF Twinwood on August 27th 1944, that Glenn Miller and his Orchestra performed a concert as a ‘thank you’ to all of the hard-working RAF ground-crew that allowed him and his USAAF musicians free access flying in and out on their musical duties.

Sadly it was to be just 4 months later that, on December 15th 1944, and bound for France, Glenn Miller boarded his Army Co-operation Norseman aircraft outside of the RAF Twinwood Control Tower and set off into the night sky… never to be seen again! Since that day myriad theories as to what actually happened to him remain legion.. I was always of the belief that his Norseman ‘plane flying low across the Channel to France, may have been accidentally hit by returning RAF Lancasters, USAAF B.17 Flying Fortresses or B.24 Liberators who, approaching the English coast, jettisoned any remaining bombs from their missions over Germany ahead of landing back at their bases, and Miller’s plane had simply been unlucky and been hit by one of these jettisoned bombs as he headed out to France in the opposite direction…

However in talking to Keith Hill, (below), a superb aviation artist who now has a permanent exhibition of World War Two US & RAF aircraft in one of the Control Tower’s ground-level rooms, (including a superb painting he produced of Glen Miller’s Norseman plane), he mentioned a new documentary that has come out in the US whereby an expert who has been looking into the mystery of Miller’s disappearance on that fateful December day in 1944. The new researcher has uncovered a witness who saw the Norseman flying over Maidenhead on the night of December 15th, (thereby off course at the hands of a somewhat inexperienced Air Force ‘taxi’ pilot).

However more significantly, there had been a problem in some of the larger bombers with engine parts freezing up in the wintry temperatures, (parts which, unfortunately this smaller Norseman shared), and as a direct result pilots were ordered not to fly in low temperature conditions. However Glen Miller’s pilot did take off into the freezing night sky..and this new research suggests that somewhere off-course and over the English Channel, the Norseman’s engine froze solid as warned… and plummeted vertically out of the sky and into the Channel, never to be traced..!

Whatever the true reason behind this tragic loss of a popular war-time band leader, it is a fitting tribute to USAAF Major Glen Miller that RAF Twinwood, the airfield from which he made his last flight, now boasts its own Glenn Miller Museum, which is open to the public at weekends and where, once a year, a full 1940’s tribute concert is performed in his name. So what remains of RAF Twinwood’s Control Tower & its ancillary buildings here on the edge of the forest was a great location for producer Roger Keech to record interviews for his new BBC series, ‘Len Goodman’s Big Bands’ which is due for transmission over Christmas…

It was also a perfect setting to get us both talking about our other great passions, WW-II Vintage bomber & fighter aircraft as it turned out he has been very heavily involved in filming with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster, Spitfire & Hurricane (along with the arrival of Canada’s last air-worthy Lancaster to fly alongside our our Lanc), whilst I could swap stories of my time in the US with the Confederate Air Force and Battle of Britain Movie stunt pilot Connie Edwards on his ranch in Texas with his beloved ME109s & Spitfires from the 1969 movie… so hopefully, if the gods are willing, we might be able to share our great aviation passion again before too much longer!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Choir Training in the Wehrmacht…

Throughout the history of German military music, the twin performances of full regimental band & soldiers’ song, by a single voice or full field-choir have run parallel with both vital to troop entertainment in the barracks or in the field. Compared to other field-entertainment such as cinema & theatre or concert performances, a choir raised from combat troops was seen as being on-hand & ready to sing in all locations and in all conditions when a band was not available.

The importance of singing in the Armed Forces of the Third Reich was underlined by Generalfeldmarschall von Keitel who said in the foreword to the Handbuch für die Singleiterder Wehrmacht (Army Handbook for Those in Charge of Soldiers’ Singing): “Throughout the ages, songs have been the comrades of German soldiers in good times and bad; for soldiers on the march, at rest or at play, singing is always the living expression of soldierly comradeship. Whoever is in charge of soldiers singing has himself to be in possession of a great wealth of knowledge and has to have a happy way of passing this knowledge on…He also has to understand the deeper purpose of soldiers’ song and music. In times of struggle, music is a source of joy, of up-lifting, and inner strength for the people. Those in charge of singing have to unlock this source of strength for their men…..”

Writing in the same manual, Hauptmann Wilhelm Matthes summed up the value of song to the German Army in 1940: “Whatever moves a soldier’s innermost feelings most strongly, be it battle, victory, death, comradeship, loyalty, love of weaponry, love of homeland, love of wife and family, all these emotions find their immediate expression in the wealth of beautiful soldiers’ songs which have been handed down through many generations, and also in the great number of new songs which give expression to the experiences of the current war….”

Set against this widely held belief, the Wehrmacht High Command decreed it desirable that, given the appropriate good will and organisation, every division or regiment in the German armed forces should be in a position to set up its own small choir, despite the demands of military duties or the restrictions put upon it by being a front-line unit.

Understanding that such choirs could only function with the full support of its commanding officer and the skill of the conductor, it was also stated in the Wehrmacht Handbook that: choir singing should be seen and rewarded as a part of service to the troop, and not just as a simple leisure activity. This should be achieved by recruiting eight good singers who have a rudimentary knowledge of how to read music. All too often such ventures fail because an advert is placed simply saying “Volunteer Singers Wanted” and then the applicants are accepted with no further selection.

These eight singers will then motivate others by performing comparatively simple songs to a high standard, so attracting others to come forward, and once the choir has reached 24 to 28 members, it can then cope with more tasks and the change of personnel that will undoubtedly occur within a combat unit….”

Oberkommando der Wehrmacht’s advice on selecting a choirmaster was: “to search for a conductor with previous experience of amateur choirs, someone who knows how to handle a variety of voices and who can combine educational flair with energy and staying power. Most of all, that soldier should know how to capture and hold his singers’ attention and how to inspire them, be he a good amateur or a professional…”

On programme selection, the training manual also suggested that it was: “far better to undertake a simple song rather than dishearten a choir by attempting something far too complicated. Conductors of field choirs have a unique opportunity to influence the tastes of a wide selection of the population by choosing music of an artistic value as found in folk songs and truly popular music…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Lale Andersen & ‘Lili Marleen’…

From the early days of Tomahawk Films when I stated to delve deeper into the field of Third Reich music and began to uncover the history and myriad stories that lay behind both the wonderful military & civilian songs, like many such enthusiasts, it was the distinctive war-time voice of Lale Andersen, the German equivalent of our British ‘Forces Favourite’ that soon caught my attention and I have been captivated by her voice and an assiduous collector of her images ever since…

Born Liese-Lotte, Helene, Berta, Bunnenberg in Bremerhaven on March 23rd 1905, the daughter of a dock-worker, she was first married, at the age of 17, to a local painter Paul Wilke, but following their later divorce (and after their third child), she moved to Berlin in 1929. Just two years later she found herself debuting on stage at the famous Kabarett der Komiker and became a regular feature of the city’s famous night-club scene in the immediate pre-war years of the late 1930’s. This was before Radio Belgrade was to catapult her to stardom, thanks to one abiding song that will forever live in the hearts of almost every soldier that served in World War Two.

Norbert Schultze’s Lied eines Jungen Wachtposten’ (better known as ‘Lili Marleen’) became not only an favourite with soldiers of all nations, but was subsequently recorded by many artistes around the world; however such was the power & emotion that Lale Andersen put into each performance of the song, that every German soldier instantly fell in love with her; and not just German soldiers. In the wake of the 8th Army’s success in North Africa, many members of the Afrikakorps found themselves prisoners of the Allies and, as many British veterans will testify, the young German prisoners, now safe from the fighting, well fed & provided with cigarettes, were happy to sing to keep themselves entertained and their spirits lifted.

It was also this world-wide fame with soldiers of all nations that was to save Lale Andersen’s life, for whilst an undoubted favourite with the combat troops at the front, Lale was to fall foul of the Nazi authorities and come close to finding herself sent to one of the German Reich’s many concentration camps.

Just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War Lale, who was living in Zurich with her lover Rolf Liebermann, (a Swiss-Jewish composer in whose pre-war plays she had acted), was asked to perform at a private birthday party for a high-ranking Nazi official at Lübeck as part of a troupe of famous German celebrities. However she was so upset by the anti-Jewish comments made by those present that she left early, totally disillusioned with life under Nazi rule!

Propagandaminister Goebbels, who liked to claim responsibility for all burgeoning show-business careers, ( and was by now well aware that Lale Andersen was becoming successful without his help), was becoming increasingly jealous of her growing fame and now ordered her to be kept under surveillance by the state secret police.

In 1938 the screws then tightened for Lale as she returned to Berlin for another concert, after which Goebbels refused to let her leave, and she was forced to remain in Germany and base her career there.

After recording ‘Lied eines Jungen Wachtposten’ in early 1939 and its subsequent popularity, Lale was  increasingly worried that Rolf Liebermann, left behind in neutral Switzerland, would think she had given up all hope and had thrown her lot in with the Nazis. So she took the risk of writing to him in Zurich, pleading for his help in making an escape from Germany back to Switzerland and both continued an exchange of letters until Rolf came up with a plan: in 1942, whilst entertaining German troops in a military hospital in Northern Italy, Lale would link up with Rolf’s friends who would smuggle her across the Italian-Swiss border.

However, as Lale was about to make good her escape, she was arrested by the Gestapo on Milan’s railway station and escorted back to Berlin; told she would no longer be allowed to sing to the troops and almost certainly be sent to the concentration camps, was allowed home to put her affairs in order where, unnoticed, she managed to take an over-dose of sleeping tablets in an attempt to commit suicide; however her attempt on her own life was spotted and prevented just in time.

But the Gestapo had blundered, for whilst Lale Andersen was a German citizen liable to Hitler’s law, the fictional character Lili Marleen was now an international cult figure, and in most eyes Lale and Lili had actually become one and the same person!

Propagandaminister Goebbels, more than aware of her immense popularity with the combat soldiers, fighting on the various fronts, and realising what a propaganda disaster it would prove if news of her attempted suicide were to leak out, personally intervened realising that she was more use to him alive than dead, though the price she had to pay for Goebbels intervention was a continued surveillance by the Gestapo, to whom she had to report on a weekly basis. But by 1944, she was allowed her to quietly slip away from Berlin for the last time to live with her grandparents on the German Friesian island of  in the North Sea, where she saw out the remaining year of the war.

Not long after the surrender, wrongly thinking that all interest in Lili Marleen had died with the Third Reich, Lale Andersen was invited by British Forces Radio in 1945 to sing for them, and her career was thus resurrected. Lale then made a complete return to the stage and toured the holiday resorts of Southern Germany as a singer with the Lutz Templin, (of ‘Charlie & his Orchestra’fame) jazz band, still very much in demand from the war-time generation and especially with the veterans of the Afrikakorps and the British 8th Army, both famous units having adopted her as their own!

Sell-out tours of Europe, America and Britain were followed in 1952 with a feature film on the story of Lili Marleen, (in which Lale starred), before then embarking on her final farewell tour of Germany in that same year. At the end of what was a truly magnificent musical career, both in war-time and then in peace-time, Lale eventually retired back to the North Sea island of Langeoog to become a rather jolly and much-loved guest-house landlady, before tragically suffering a heart attack on August 29th 1972 and passing away at the premature age of just 67.

Despite her tragic passing, long before her time, her wonderful legend very much lives on and Tomahawk Films and myself are most proud of the beautiful CD collection of her most famous, (and certainly most loved), songs that we have managed to lovingly restore, renovate and release from original war-time schellack 78rpm records we sourced in Germany, under the title:

‘Wie einst Lili Marleen’.. The Songs of Lale Andersen, war-time Germany’s ‘Forces Favourite’ 1939-1943’..

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

 

Dance Music of the Third Reich…

Aha, somebody has been featuring ‘Charlie and His Orchestra’ on television or radio I thought, judging by the sudden increase in sales for Tomahawk Film’s album of the same name…but whom I wondered..? I had recently sent a review copy up to a BBC contact of mine who I know is thinking about producing something on the phenomenon that is Third Reich military music… but this was too early in his creative process to have actually been aired!

Then I got a confirming e-mail from a customer ordering one of our Charlie CDs in which he exclaimed that he was somewhat surprised to see BBC 4 including the subject of Nazi music in a Swing documentary at the week-end!! Happily, I was able to respond that this is not something new, for ’Auntie’ has recently included some of the Reich’s finest music in its programming output, not least on BBC Radio Two a short while ago, when some of our archival material got a very welcome & rather popular airing:

The late Malcolm Laycock, (who presented a really superb late night swing & jazz show on Sunday evenings, of which I was a great fan), contacted us here at Tomahawk a few years ago after we had released 4 further albums of Third Reich civilian music to say he was interested in acquiring those titles for his own collection: Lale Andersen, Wilhelm Strienz and Zarah Leander.. but particularly our Dance Music of the Third Reich which featured the music of Barnabas von Géczy, who was incidentally, Adolf Hitler’s favourite civilian band-leader.

He also asked if it would be possibly to air a track or two from this latter album on his Sunday show, if we were agreeable? Agreeable!…with an audience measured in the many millions, what a wonderful shop-window for Tomahawk’s Archival CDs… and to play to such a knowledgeable & learned audience as those that regularly listened in to his wonderful late night Radio Two Show…

But what of this particular album of German Dance Music that Malcolm was so keen to acquire? Well there were a total of 93,857 professional musicians under contract across Germany when the Third Reich came into existence in 1933 and by war’s outbreak in 1939 this number had grown to a staggering 172,443, thanks to Propagandaminister Joseph Goebbels realising the power that music and radio had on a population; and  within a year of the Nazis coming to power, he had personally taken charge of this vital propaganda tool for the German government, which eventually led to some 5 million German homes receiving state radio broadcasts across the Reich..!

Goebbels skilfully & successfully balanced the world of entertainment with the field of politics and by 1938 light entertainment music, (Unterhaltungsmusik), accounted for nearly two thirds of all music output across the Third Reich and German radio was very popular for its willingness to play the latest dance records… and by war’s outbreak in 1939, the number of listeners had risen to 10 million!

In fact the demand for Unterhaltungsmusik grew so much that Goebbels actually ordered more of it to be played and broadcast to the ever growing radio audience… and so it was that this very talented Hungarian musician, Barnabas von Géczy (1897-1971), already an accomplished band-leader & violinist in 1930s’ Berlin, took a starring role in this wonderful musical renaissance that was taking place across the Third Reich.

As the personal favourite of Adolf Hitler, Barnabas soon became a Nazi favourite across the Reich, leading his own talented orchestra & dance-band and by 1941, over 50 million listeners were tuning in to his highly popular broadcasts. So Tomahawk Films were delighted when, after many months of searching, we located a 78rpm schellack record collection of Barnabas von Géczy’s most popular music in Dachau… and even more delighted when, one dark winters’ night some months later, we heard the lively & joyous ‘Kautschuk’ happily bursting forth from our radio, courtesy of Malcolm’s fabulous show on BBC Radio Two…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013