By Stephanie Ciccarelli
June 18, 2008
Over the past several months, US-based (and British born) voice actor Derek Partridge had been traveling and working abroad in Europe on a number of exciting projects, one of which more than piqued my interest.
I've asked him to share his story with you and he was very pleased to do so.
For those of you who are familiar with the late British actor Leslie Howard and the flight that took his life, you'll be amazed to see how this story unfolds and how the Hand of God works in mysterious ways, giving a little boy who was unimportant enough to be taken off a plane for a VIP the opportunity to live to tell the tale of the grave day that ultimately changed the course of his life, and that of Leslie Howard's, forever.
Itâ€™s 1943, I was 7 years old, strapped into my seat and excitedly waiting for take-off on flight 777 from Lisbon to Bristol in England. At the last minute, I was bumped so that VIP Leslie Howard (best known for his role as Ashley Wilkes in Gone With The Wind) could have my seat. Three hours later the KLM Dakota DC3, named â€œIbisâ€, was shot down over the Bay of Biscay, by a squadron of 6 Luftwaffe Ju88 fighter-bombersâ€¦ with the loss of all on board.
I get an e-mail from Tom Hamilton, a British writer-director, asking if Iâ€™m the same Derek Partridge who was removed from the plane and, if so, could he interview me for his documentary â€œThe Mystery of Flight 777â€?
After learning that I was a TV presenter and former documentary scriptwriter we then collaborated on his script. In March I flew to London to host and narrate â€œLeslie Howard: A Quite Remarkable Lifeâ€ and â€œThe Mystery of Flight 777â€.
We filmed at many locations, including sequences at Leslieâ€™s former 5,600 sq ft home at Dorking in Surrey, a few miles from my childhood home at Limpsfield in Surrey, an historically preserved mansion which had been built around 1350. We filmed -- in 85 mph gale force winds -- at the old Bristol airport at Whitchurch where Howard should have landedâ€¦ and I did. That wind was not only tough on sound but made it difficult for me and the camera to remain upright!
We interviewed his daughter Doodie Stirling, co-star Olivia de Havilland, people who had worked with him, relatives of the other passengers and crew who had lost their lives, as well as scholarly experts who had studied and researched Howardâ€™s life and untimely death.
Probably the most interesting interview was with Ben Rosevink, son of Engbertus Rosevink, the flight engineer on the ill-fated Dakota. He had done an enormous amount of research, had scrapbooks filled with news cuttings and pictures and, most importantly, had spent a week at the home of the German Squadron Commander, Colonel (then Oberleutnant) Herbert Hintze.
As far as Iâ€™m concerned, he finally provided irrefutable proof and answers to the 65 year-old mystery of why the plane had been shot downâ€¦ a mystery which had spawned a plethora of different conspiracy theories, at least 4 books, as well as radio and TV plays and discussions.
Youâ€™ll need to view the finished documentary to learn what I learned! For a 5 minute, preview trailer of â€œThe Mystery of Flight 777â€, please visit this link:
Voices.comâ€™s Stephanie Ciccarelli asked me a few questions, including: how great an affect had not being on Flight 777 had on me, and I suppose the tongue-in-cheek answer is being here today to tell the story!! I spoke in my normal Brit voice, which is described as accent-less BBC or Queenâ€™s English, most prevalent in the Southern counties of England where I was brought up and went to school.
Stephanie also asked about my linguistic abilities: a couple of weeks later I was back in London to present the 50th Anniversary video for farm equipment giant, Massey Ferguson International. On a giant stage in a chateau outside Paris were life-size portraits of founders Daniel Massey and Dubliner Harry Ferguson, who died 60 years ago.
The Marketing Director asks the CEO if he would recount to the audience one of the succinct sayings for which Harry Ferguson was renowned. The CEO replies: â€œWhy donâ€™t we ask Harry?â€ He turns and speaks to the portrait and I step out of the portrait and commence 20 minute presentations to the different audiences in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Irish!
I got this job in unusual circumstances.
I received another e-mail from London producer John Landon, with whom I had worked nearly 30 years ago! He not only remembered me but recalled that I had more than a passing resemblance to Harry Ferguson!
John and I have a shared hobby of clay pigeon, trap shooting (Iâ€™m a former member of the British Team). I decided to take advantage of being in Europe, flew to the Perazzi factory in Brescia, Italy, to be fitted for a custom-built, trap gun with gold partridges (what else!) inlaid into the engraved game scenes. This will ensure thatâ€”even when I donâ€™t shoot well in competitionâ€”Iâ€™ll have the best looking gun on the range!
Derek Partridge has a long and distinguished career as a voice-over artist and on-camera presenter, who won the 2007 Voicey Lifetime Achievement Award to add to his two Emmys and two Tellys. You can view and hear his work (including audiobooks) and learn more of his business interests and other activities, during his travels in some 80 countries, at www.derekpartridge.com.
A special thank you to Derek for sharing his story!
Derek and Stephanie
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