Terence Rattigan | NNDB | 17061
Playwright Terence Rattigan’s greatest secret wasn’t his homosexuality, writes Robert Gore-Langton in The Spectator. It was his wartime service for his country: he was a tailgunner in the RAF.
After basic training, Rattigan was assigned as a wireless operator and airgunner to a squadron of Sunderlands, hunting enemy submarines in the Atlantic. One moment he was banking nice fat royalties from West End hits such as French Without Tears. Next thing he knew, he was patrolling the Atlantic on 13-hour missions.
His 1942 play Flare Path was written while on active service. He completed the first act during repairs after a Heinkel had shot up the tail end of his aircraft. Then, flying 1,200 miles on to West Africa, the starboard engine died. Luggage, loo seat and every fitting they could hack off with an axe went overboard in a desperate bid to stay aloft. Rattigan was about to sling his kitbag when he realised that his manuscript was in it. He ripped off the heavy cardboard covers but shoved the pages up his jacket.
The article goes on to lift a dust cover off life in London during the war. Actor Kenneth More, who appeared in many war period films, always thought that his best job in the theatre was being a stage hand among the nude girls at the Windmill Theatre. Instead of hunting enemy submarines, as he did in the navy, More used a peephole to scan men in the stalls who had newspapers concealing their laps and relayed their position. He’d whisper, ‘Wanker, Daily Mail, C17.’ Offenders would then be ejected.