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Day with a Dambusters actor was 'proudest moment' for cub reporter

Former Lincolnshire reporter Peter Hopper recalls the day the Skegness News sent him out to interview film star Richard Todd – but faced a two-mile walk to retrieve his bicycle after getting a lift with the actor from a remote stretch of coast.

News that Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson is to remake the classic Second World War movie, The Dambusters, provides me with a graphic reminder of one of my proudest moments as a cub reporter on a weekly newspaper in Lincolnshire.

Part of the original film in the mid-1950s – the scenes where Barnes Wallis’s awesome bouncing bomb burst on impact when it hit the water, because it was being dropped from too great a height – was shot on a lonely part of the coastline two miles outside the seaside resort of Skegness.

I was 17 years old at the time and I was sent out on my bicycle to interview the star of the film, Richard Todd, who played the raid’s leader, Guy Gibson.

I waited on the edge of the set until filming ended for the day before I approached the actor for my big moment.

“Yes,” he said to my request, “But you’ll have to jump in my car, we can talk on the way back to Skegness.”

I did as he said, but the interview did not go as I intended, because Richard Todd was also a farmer, and all he really wanted to talk about was farming.

There was a pile of Farmers Weekly magazines in the back of the car, as if to emphasize that he was a real man of the soil.

I managed to get a few bits and pieces out of him about his film career, but I wasn’t really interested in the farming side of his life at that time, though I would have been later as I was to spend more than 30 years of my own career as an agricultural journalist in Lincolnshire and Suffolk.

I dare not tell one of my greatest film heroes that I would have to walk the whole two miles back to the film set to retrieve my bike, but I set off on the return journey on foot with a glad heart, feeling mighty pleased with my reporting coup.

It is only three years since I discovered the Lincolnshire home address of the now veteran actor Richard Todd, so I wrote to him about our encounter.

He graciously replied, and said he could well believe that he tended to harp on about farming rather than filming.

Before wishing me success on my forthcoming book on farming, the actor commented: “Sadly in many ways, I gave up actively farming years ago and now live in semi-retirement contemplating the rotting crops of other less fortunate country-folk.”