The First of the Few – The Tatler, December 24, 1941
“The First of the Few”
A Film Tribute to Mr. R. J. Mitchell, the Man Who Designed the Spitfire, Which is Now in Course of Production at Denham With the Two Leslie Howard and David Niven
Photographs by Tunbridge.Sedgwick
David Niven co-stars with Howard as “Crisp,” Mitchell’s test pilot. Crisp is a composite character representing two or three well-known test pilots who put the products of Mitchell’s brain and drawing-board to test in the air. In the Battle of Britain prologue to the picture, Crisp appears as a Wing-Commander of the R.A.F. Fighter Command. Here Crisp is seen in an American hospital after crashing in a Schneider Trophy plane. Mitchell (Leslie Howard) has come to see him, but their conversation is interrupted by Nurse Kennedy (played by Miss Leslie Howard)
Leslie Howard, in his triple capacity of star, producer and director, is now filming The First of the Few at Denham Studios. His seventeen-year-old daughter, Leslie, plays her first part in the film. The First of the Few is a pictorial biography of the late R. J. Mitchell, designer of the Spifire, the single-seater fighter which contributed so much to the R.A.F.’s great victory in the 1940 Battle of Britain. Before shooting the film commenced, director Leslie spend weeks on location at a Fighter Station, securing, with the co-operation of the Air Ministry and Fighter Command, Battle of Britain sequences for the film. Some of Mitchell’s original sketches and plans have been lent by Vickers-Armstrong, builders of the Spitfire. The famous Supermarine S.6, the Michell-designed seaplane which won the Schneider Trophy outright for Britain, has been reassembled. One of Mr. Howard’s greatest helpers in the reconstruction and portrayal of the great inventor’s home life is Mrs. R. J. Mitchell, who from the first has taken the keenest interest in the film. Another helper is Mr. George Pickering, a former associate of Mitchell, who will be seen in the film manipulating with great skill an old amphibian “Walrus” in hair-raising dives and loops.
The Two Leslie Howards–Father and Daughter
David Niven, Leslie Howard and Derek de Marney discuss the snooker – game sequence in a set representing the billiard – room of the Royal Aero Club. De Marney plays “Jefferson,” a part based on the personality of a famous Schneider team captain. The billiard-cue seen on the left belonged to Mitchell. It has been given by his widow to the Motor Industries Fund and is to be auctioned to raise funds to buy a Spitfire
The actual Schneider Trophy, awarded to the winner of the International Contest for fast, seaworthy aircraft, which was secured for Great Britain by three successive wins in 1927, 1929, and 1931, has been lent by the Royal Aero Club. Here Leslie Howard is examining it with Adrian Brunel , the playwright, film director and author, who is acting in an advisory capacity with Howard on the direction of the film
An off-the-set picture of Major David Niven, of the Rifle Brigade, and his wife. Mrs. Niven was formerly Miss Prunella Rollo, daughter of Flight-Lieut. William Rollo, M.C., and Lady Kathleen Rollo, and is a niece of the Marquess of Downshire. Major Niven, who is the younger son of the late General W. G. Niven and of the late Lady Comyn-Platt, returned to England from Hollywood on the outbreak of war to rejoin his regiment. He has been given special leave to appear in this film.
(The Tatler and Bystander, December 24, 1941)