Hooray for Tailspin Tommy

A recent discovery online has been one of the serials whose instalments were a weekly highlight of life for cinema-goers in the 1930s. Pretty much every major genre was represented in these movies, which broke a longer story into 10-12 chapters like a pulp fiction novel for the silver screen, but the antics of  Tailspin Tommy take some beating.

Just look at the hardware on show in these first two chapters of Tommy’s first tale! There’s an entire encyclopaedia of US Navy aviation in the Thirties on screen almost throughout the film, with the added joys of some proper barnstorming aerobatics.

Tailspin Tommy himself was a creation of comic strip artist Hal Forrest, a former WW1 pilot, who sought to capitalise on the popularity of barnstorming and the surge in popularity of aviators thanks to the record-breaking exploits of Charles Lindberg et al.

Tommy Tomkins made his comic strip debut in four newspapers during 1928, but such was the thirst for air-related yarns that this rose to 250 newspapers by 1931! The central character was America’s answer to Biggles, an aircraft-obsessed teenager from Littleville, Colorado who comes to the aid of an airman in trouble and earns himself a job with Three Point Airlines in Texas.

Once in Texas, Tommy soon earns his wings as a pilot and picks up a new best friend, Skeeter Williams, and a girlfriend, Betty Lou Barnes, and the tree of them buy shares in Three Point Airlines. Along the way the trio have many and varied adventures throughout the USA, usually with a ticklish problem to solve.

Hollywood soon beckoned and Universal snapped up the rights to these adventures. The first movie serial, Tailspin Tommy, appeared in 1934 as a 12-episode tale in which Tommy must help Three Point Airlines overcome an unscrupulous rival to win a major contract. Not only that but he must win Betty Lou’s heart from a rival suitor.

The second serial, Tailspin Tommy and the Great Air Mystery, is where the above clip hails from – an altogether bigger and more ambitious production.  Tommy must stop a corrupt businessman from stealing vital oil reserves, and along the way befriends an investigative journalist played by screen legend Pat O’Brien.

This was to be the last of Tommy’s serial adventures, although he would return for four full-length movies later in the 1930s. The cinema-going public’s affections had switched from air-minded melodrama to the utterly fantastical, which was good news for one of the stars of the Tommy Tomkins movies – Jean Rogers.

From playing the businesslike, if slightly flighty, Betty Lou Barnes she went on to become a genuine Hollywood icon playing Dale Arden, the love interest of Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon in the greatest serial of them all.


Jean Rogers went from Tailspin Tommy to Flash Gordon – doubtless to the envy of many girls of the Thirties


Jetting to Jersey?!

As the long, hot summer of 2013 continues to see the British Isles basking in almost unbroken warmth, this lovely old advert for BOAC’s new jet services to the Channel Islands leapt to my attention.

We have been blessed, of course, with the birth of a future monarch, victories for British athletes at Wimbledon and in the Tour de France, the British and Irish Lions delivered in rugby and the Ashes look set to be saved. Adrian Newey’s British-built Red Bull RB9 seems set to continue the team’s dominance in Formula One – and we can enjoy all this while breaking out the buckets and spades and heading for the coast this summer.

Truly it’s a vintage year… so here’s some vintage sunshine to celebrate.

You just can't beat a decent British summer...

In any era, you just can’t beat a decent British summer…

Sites we like #5 – The Cahier Archive

You have to be pretty special if you have ‘F’ and ‘1’ in close proximity in the URL of your website and don’t feel Bernie Ecclestone’s finger on your collar. The legacy of Bernard Cahier and continued good work of his son Paul-Henri in capturing the world of Formula One falls into exactly that category.

Graham Hill and Brice McLaren, Monaco 1960 (Copyright of The Cahier Archive)

Graham Hill and Brice McLaren, Monaco 1960 (Copyright of The Cahier Archive)

If you head over to The Cahier Archive you will find an unbroken line of passion for the best bits of racing, from the cheery bonhommie between the drivers of the 1950s to the blemish-free bottoms of modern grid girls and evertything in between. The Cahiers are Formula One royalty, meaning that they are at home behind the scenes and people tend to relax and enjoy themselves when they are around or accept their presence in the tense moments before or during a race.

All except for Kimi-Matias Räikkönen, of course, who saw fit to send Paul-Henri ‘a-over-t’ on the grid at Silverstone a few years back… a bit of a black, there, by The Kimster. Nevertheless, if it’s atmosphere you want to adorn your walls then you’ll find that the Cahiers have caught more of it and preserved it ready for any occasion… it’s always a pleasure to stop by P-H’s site.

Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn leaving after practice, 1958 German GP (Copyright The Cahier Archive)

Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn leaving after practice, 1958 German GP (Copyright The Cahier Archive)

A regular Renaissance man

Martin Field is someone who’s turned a love of the most elegant, powerful, competitive and evocative machinery of the 20th Century into a whole raft of little gems. He’s turning his career as a technical illustrator and model engineer into a ‘fun consultancy’ for those with an eye for the fine things in life.

It’s always fun catching up with Martin’s latest project… which could be anything from modelling a traditional wooden motorboat to capturing the beauty of a canal boat engine on paper or carving the master mould for a 1/32 model kit. Among the many projects he’s been busy with recently are a slot car model of the unique Ferrari 126 C2 from the 1982 US GP West at Long Beach:

Completed slot car kit: Gilles Villeneuve, 1982

Completed slot car kit: Gilles Villeneuve, 1982

A 1/43 Raysoncraft drag boat and custom trailer kit:

Lovely little combo!

Lovely little combo!

A watercolour of the delicious Supermarine S6b Schneider Trophy winner:

A vision in blue: Martin's S6b

A vision in blue: Martin’s S6b

Martin’s always on the hunt for an interesting project, so if you’ve got an idea for anything that nobody else does, and want it done better than most people would manage, why not check out his website.

The name’s Bond…

Life evokes art... Fleming in a Bentley

Life evokes art… Fleming in a Bentley

If you enjoy The Scarf & Goggles Social Club then it’s highly likely that you enjoy the books of Ian Fleming. Of course, since the first four movies – Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball – Fleming’s 007 has existed in a separate universe from his cinematic namesake. More’s the pity.

Fleming ensured that the literary Bond drives Bentleys, and although his pre-war car was written off in the novel Moonraker while in pursuit of Sir Hugo Drax’s white Mercedes-Benz 300SL, it was evidently felt to be a suitable icon. That’s why this example was chosen – complete with the Amherst Villiers supercharger – by Life magazine when photographing Fleming. Splendid stuff.

It’s safe to say that if the Scarf & Goggles were a pub, Daniel Craig would have considerable difficulty in getting served!