Pelham Groom

A remarkable writer

It would be remiss of me if I did not include on this Web site a mention of a remarkable writer named Pelham Groom who became part of my working and air training life way back in Singapore in the mid-1950s. PG as we called him was a retired RAF group captain and former Fighter Command staff officer, who found himself in the colony as a forces Malcolm Club manager, and then lost his job and was down on his luck.

He appeared one evening at my MATC headquarters in Waterloo Street and fascinated me with his Battle of Britain stories. I then discovered him to be the author of Angels One Five, a memorable book about WW11 fighter pilots which became a fine film starring Jack Hawkins, Michael Denison, Dulcie Gray and John Gregson. It's the drama of an enthusiastic volunteer reserve pilot (John Gregson) waiting for his big break but coming up against the more careful approach to regulations by his CO (Jack Hawkins).

Despite the passing of the years, almost without fail, on the anniversary of the Battle of Britain the film is shown on one TV channel or another, and never seems to lose its impact. To those who were directly or indirectly involved it brings back sights and sounds of a critical time in our island history and serves to remind the younger generation of the sacrifices made. PG was responsible not only for writing the film script but acting as technical advisor. It's much credit to him that, nearly half a century later, the video of Angels One Five is still being sold.

I was then the editor of Singapore's evening newspaper, the Singapore Free Press, and I decided to take on PG as a freelance features writer. I soon learnt that you could turn him on and off like a tap. Just give him a subject and he would sit down at his typewriter, push a cigarette into a long holder, peer over his glasses, and within less than a minute high quality stuff would come pouring out. Two paragraphs or two columns, it didn't matter. He was earning a pittance but seemed happy enough, and when he turned up at the ATC mess we supplied him with beer and sandwiches.

His most successful contribution was a serial story about a Malay detective called Latiff. PG knew the Malay language backwards, together with all the nuances of Malay life and culture, and Latiff became a must read. The odd thing was that he never knew when he sat down at his ancient portable typewriter where the story would lead. The plot just appeared in his mind on the day it was required. I often wondered what would have happened if he had been taken ill, because none of us could have picked up the threads.

He was not at all a pushy or superior type, and there was much that he failed to reveal. I was taken seriously ill and had to leave Singapore in a hurry so I was unable to learn his eventual fate, but he didn't live long enough to make further contact. It was many years later that I came across several novels he'd written immediately after the war, with absorbing tales of high adventure, perilous encounters, heroic sailors sand airmen, British agents and nasty spies - the whole gamut of life through the eyes of a master writer. I wished then that i'd been able to spend more time with this most able and amiable man whose fall from the heights must have been triggered by some unfortunate event or other, which he preferred to keep to himself.


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