• Warning: Spoilers
    Imagine the sky,cloudless,deep blue as only at the height of an English summer,stretching from horizon to horizon.A small boy about 12 years old is happily searching rockpools left at low tide on a south coast beach.A shadow flashes across him,followed by a deep roaring sound.He looks up and spots a pencil-slim red jet plane disappearing into the distance followed shortly by the familiar "double boom" that signalled the breaking of the sound barrier.He lowers his fishing net and shields his eyes against the sun as the plane returns for another low-ceiling run over the sea.It could be the pre-title sequence for a movie about the perils of high-speed flight,but,in fact,the small boy was me,and I had just watched one of my heroes(the other one was Stanley Matthews) Squadron Leader Neville Duke regaining the world air speed record. Those were heady days to be a young Briton.The recent coronation of the lovely Queen Elizabeth the second,the climbing of Mount Everest,the end of the war in Korea - all these events combined to create a huge air of optimism.There was even a children's magazine called "The New Elizabethan" with no articles about how to avoid getting pregnant at 12 years of age(without being at all judgemental of course),how to spot dodgy "Ecstasy" tablets or how to get a start in modelling.To us modelling meant making planes from balsa wood.Moss and Campbell meant Stirling and Malcolm,reassuringly British names. No one calls the post 1952 era the Elizabethan age any more.Starting with Macmillan,the era became associated with the names of politicians,culminating with our present Dear Leader.It is becoming increasingly likely that history will remember only one Elizabethan Age,and it won't be this one. But it all could have been so different.The land fit for heroes didn't have to become the land fit for nothing,it just sort of happened without anybody noticing.Courage,self-sacrifice,idealism,patriotism and the pioneering spirit became merely the stuff of "sophisticated" comedy. "The Sound Barrier",demonstrably lauding all these attributes,could never get made in this brave new century. Somehow it has become "racist" to love your country,"elitist" to want to set high goals and achieve them.The men who flew jet lanes in the early post-war years were racist and elitist by modern definition. They had fought in a war(albeit against fascism)which made them post-imperialist dupes at the very least.And(worst sin of all) were mostly middle-class public school/boarding school products. Mr Nigel Patrick and Mr Denholm Elliot very accurately reflect this. A test pilot didn't climb into his cockpit,turn to his groundcrew chief and say"Gawd bless you governor,you've got a lucky fice",he really didn't.If you have a problem with that,then I suggest you watch "Top Gun" or "Officer and a Gentleman" and see how our more egalitarian American allies do things.Then think of what happened to them in Vietnam without a traditional Officer Class to lead their troops. Back in the days when "Flight" and "The Aeroplane" were staple reading for schoolboys,it was taken for granted that "breaking the sound barrier" was an essential first step towards space flight - that panacea-like dream of the 1950s.That proved to be correct and the first astronauts were beholden to men like Chuck Yeager whose courage was recognised in "The Right Stuff",albeit in a post-modern ironic sort of way.The British supersonic flight programme rather petered out in comparison,due possibly to lack of will and vision,but more probably,lack of money."The Sound Barrier" is its filmed legacy. The late Squadron Leader Duke was a man of high courage.A few months before his record breaking flight over the Sussex beaches a ,De Havilland 110,piloted by John Derry who had flown a Mosquito filming aerial views of Paris for "The Sound Barrier" broke up in supersonic flight at the Farnborough Air show,its wreckage causing many casualties in the crowd,which included David Lean and Ann Todd.In the deadly hush that followed,he walked out to his plane and took off.Flying low over the Hampshire hills,he banked round to the aerodrome and began his pass.The Hunter screamed over the runway and climbed rapidly,the resulting sonic boom offering a fitting tribute to his fallen colleagues and all the victims of man's restless urge to leave the confines of the Earth.