Memphis Belle On Set Memories

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A few weeks ago we discussed 1990’s Memphis Belle, directed by Michael Caton-Jones. The film follows a fictionalised depiction of the B-17 Memphis Belle on her crew’s 25th and final bombing mission in 1943. Filmed in Lincolnshire in Britain, many of the extras and production staff were drawn locally from around the disused former Bomber Command base at RAF Binbrook. People from the local villages of the Lincolnshire Wolds as well as nearby towns including Grimsby and Cleethorpes joined the film’s production as extras, labourers, catering staff and site staff. With the help of Paul Whitelam, a local friend of Fighting On Film, we have been lucky enough to gather together some fantastic photographs and stories from the filming in Lincolnshire.

Vanessa Foxon shared some photographs of the airfield including close ups of the ‘Memphis Belle’ and a great shot of a B-17 in flight!

Amanda Williams also shared her memories from working as an extra on the film:

“Me and my friend could only get to the town hall where all the auditions were taking place just before it closed. It had been in the paper with pictures of hundreds of people queuing up and lots of professional dancers hoping for a part! Me and my friend walked in and nobody else was there so we filled in a form and was asked could we dance, we said yes and we could make tea. We then thanked the people and left thinking we had absolutely no chance of getting picked. But three weeks later we received a call to say we had been accepted and to go to the winter gardens for a dance trial, John Hurt the actor was there.

It was one of the best memories I have got, I loved it from start to finish and would do it again! Unfortunately my dad had terminal cancer at the time and I was so glad he knew I was in the film. My dad started making a scrap book for me but it never got finished and he passed away before the film was realised but I was proud he knew.”

Tracy Dieudonné shared some photos (above) taken while working as an extra on the film and recalled “I really enjoyed it got friendly with Mathew Modine who took our pic together and Billy Zane, pure gents!”

Zoe Baker shared some great snaps (below) from both the airfield and from the big dance scene which features in the film’s first act! Lots of great on-set photos and some snaps with the cast including Harry Connick Jr., Billy Zane and Eric Stoltz.

Daryl Woodhouse shared a story about the crash of one of the operational B-17s during filming:

“In particular the B17 crash. I remember it well as we had been into Binbrook village to the local shop to buy some vodka! I drove back onto the set and one of the lads said “let’s go sit on that pile of chippings next to the runway and watch the planes take off” “no we will get caught drinking” I said, so we went next to some army tents and watched the B17 take off. The B17 veered across the runway and the wing clipped the top of the chippings that we would of been sitting on!

The wing also clipped a tree and crashed into the field, we ran over to where it crashed and it started to go up in flames. Nobody knew how many people were on the plane at first because the crew were taking other people up in the air. One of the extras was thrown through the  glass front of the B17. He was the one that broke his leg, we saw him stand up and fall straight over as he didn’t realise it was broken at the time.”

You can watch a contemporary news report which includes footage of the crash and the aftermath here, thankfully there were no fatalities.

Daryl also shared some stories about the opening scene where the crew are playing American football:

On our first day of filming we were shooting the opening scene playing American football, Eric Stolz did a touch down and stands up with his hands in the air celebrating. At this point a B17 flies over his head and the film begins… I was stood in front of Eric and watched the B17 fly towards us… as it flew overhead I ducked it was that low! The B17 was supposed to be 150 feet above us! The director asked for it to fly again another 150 higher!
Same day we were shooting the American football scene I was stopping Reed Diamond from receiving the ball, as he tried to go past me I dived on him and brought him down. He took me to one side and asked me not to tackle him so hard as he didn’t want to get injured… I was only trying to make it look realistic!”

Daryl also noted that during filming Matthew Modine lost a pair of his grandfather’s period-correct round-framed sunglasses. Modine “offered a reward if anyone found them so a bunch of extras started looking for them and found them nearby on the field.” Daryl also mentioned that to prepare the airfield and runways to look period correct the production has “a landscaping company spread many tons of top soil on to the tarmac… the first B17 that taxied down the runway blew it all away! They had to put more soil down and soaked it with water.”

Samantha Jayne Owen-Kendall shared some great photos taken with the cast during filming of the dance scene – including pictures with Eric Stoltz, Tate Donovan, Harry Connick Jr. Sean Astin and John Lithgow:

Our thanks to everyone who kindly shared their memories and stories about their involvement in the film. Thank you also to Paul Whitelam for helping bring this article together. If you have stories or photos you’d like to add to this article let us know.

You can find our episode on 1990’s Memphis Belle here.

Matthew Moss

Matthew Moss

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