A picture which appears to have been taken at possibly the start of an important bombing raid over Europe. However, you will soon know better!

On a cold, damp January morning in 1941, Reggie Speller of Fox Photos turned up at a RAF airbase ‘somewhere in the south of England’ to take a series of shots on his trusty glass plate camera on behalf of the famous Fleet Street agency. Fox ‘staffer’ Reggie had been with the agency since its inception in 1924 and was famous for his ‘set up’ shots – today’s assignment was going to be no exception.

When presented to the airbase’s Group Captain, Reggie was asked to explain what it was he was trying to capture. After all, Britain was at war and the airbase was a busy and dangerous place so there was only so much the RAF were willing to do to accommodate Reggie’s needs. The shoot had taken a long time to arrange through the Ministry of Information and a number of senior people at Fox Photos had gone to some lengths and had needed to pull a few strings in the Ministry to procure the shoot in an attempt to aid the propaganda war. 

Reggie ‘Scoop’ Speller , as always, already knew the shot he had in mind and proceeded to outline the image his was trying to capture. The conversation went something like this, (according to Reggie’s ‘bag man’ – George Freston who is still very much alive and went on to actually own the Fox Photos agency);

“So Mr Speller, what can we do for you?” the Group Captain asked in his most clipped British RAF-style English.

“Well, what I’d like is several pilots being scrambled with a squadron of Spitfires parked in the background…”, Reggie replied.

“I’m afraid that is out of the question Mr Speller – for obvious reasons. If you cast your eye around the base you will observe that no aircraft is within 500 yards of another. If the Luftwaffe were to drop a V2 on the base with all our aircraft being in such close proximity we’d lose the whole squadron in one hit….what, what…do remember, dera boy, that we are at a heightened state of alert what with the German raids over London and I need my men and my aircraft at the ready at a moment’s notice. So can you think of anything else you’d like to shoot while you’re down here?”

“Well, what I’d like is a squadron of Spitfires in a line with several pilots being scrambled…” Reggie asked again, restating his request in exactly the same tone and using the same words…

“As I have explained Mr Speller…” and the Group Captain proceeded to give exactly the same answer – stiff upper lip and all. Reggie then proceeded to ask the same question and so on and so forth, the Group Captain never wavering from his military training of not ‘losing one’s temper’. However, Reggie was not to be denied and this conversation went on for a while with each side saying exactly the same thing.

After some time of this rather surreal exchange, the Group Captain finally lost his nerve and screamed at our hero;

“Dammit man, do what you like but make sure it’s bloody quick…”!

The Group Captain then proceeded to scramble the entire squadron – completely against military rules and regulations - and the aircraft were arranged to Reggie’s liking so he could get his shot – quite unthinkable today. Bearing in mind he would only take perhaps 4 or 5 plates with him on a job, the number of shots taken on this shoot was relatively few, indeed the entire shoot didn’t last more than a few minutes once the pilots had been coerced into action. Needless to say, there are few WW2 RAF shots as immediate or urgent as the ‘Scrambling Pilots’ by Reggie Speller which, to all intents and purposes, appears to have been taken ‘as it happened’ and possibly at the start of an important bombing raid over Europe. However, you now know better….!


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