Sir Richard’s note of thanks to his officer

The recent death of the legendary actor and director Richard Attenborough brought to light the story of how a man from Newton Stewart gave him his first break.

During the Second World War, RD Stewart, whom we featured last week in Galloway’s Great War, was training RAF pilots at Cambridge.

One of Wing Commander Stewart’s most promising pupils was the 20-year-old Richard Attenborough who, even then, showed a great interest in the theatre.

He asked permission from his commanding officer to put on a play at Cambridge called “Men in Shadow” based on a story about a subaltern in France during the First World War.

Wing Commander Stewart’s son, Berkeley Stewart, of Barrar House, told The Galloway Gazette that the play was a resounding success and went on to be performed in the West End and even had a run on Broadway.

Mr Stewart still has a publicity picture from the original play dedicated to his father by the grateful Richard Attenbourgh.

The young actor writes: “Sir, Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity of doing this play. It has made me very happy.

Sincerely, Richard Attenborough, 1943.”

After initial pilot training Attenborough was seconded to the newly formed RAF Film Unit at Pinewood Studios. He then volunteered to fly with the Film Unit and after further training, where he sustained permanent ear damage, qualified as a sergeant, flying on several missions over Europe filming from the rear gunner’s position to record the outcome of Bomber Command sorties.