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"Prevents that Thinking feeling !" said Tee Emm of
itself in the first issue on
us start at the end (a departure of which Tee Emm would have
approved). When Tee Emm produced the final issue in March, 1946 (to
be immediately succeeded by Air C/ues, on some-what different
lines), over 30,000 copies a month had been printed in the UK alone,
plus separate printings in Canada, Australia, South Africa, the
Middle East and India. It was a success.
Why Tee Emm? Merely the initials of Training Memorandum spelt out for Tee Emm was something quite new in official publications. As the first issue explained (yes, we're back at the beginning now!), Tee Emm would provide ". . . an occasional intrusion of light-heartedness into serious subjects ... an occasional unconventionality of treatment . . . an occasional lack of stiffness in the presentation of training and instructional points and information".
Or, as the Editor mentioned later in one of his books," .. it put the jam of read-ability round the powder of valuable information. Painless education, in short." Introduced in the first issue was a certain Pilot Officer Percy Prune,
89008), the Clueless Clot who stayed throughout the life of Tee Emm
to become the most talked-of pilot in the .RAF. While aircrew
laughed at his boobs, they were reminded to tighten up their own
But it was Prune's comments on the changing events of wartime flying that guaranteed his fame, linked as they were with those oh-so-apt drawings of him. And the beauty of it all was that his excuses and "blacks" could so often strike home to a real live embarrassed conscience.
For Prune's "couldn't-care-less" attitudes to flying and operations were often the echo of other's errors. "Landing with the undercart up was just a mistake" explained the doughty Pilot Officer—and many u/t pilots had used that excuse.
"A good landing is one you can walk away from" was another gem; and we are told that Prune's navigator, Flying Officer Fixe, used to complain that Prune flew so close to the deck over the Channel that he had to stand up to see over the waves,with the pitot head registering fathoms gone instead of IAS.
|AN "ACE" SCORE?
He had a good score of "destroyed or damaged" aircraft; unfortunately they were Tiger Moths, Ansons, Wellingtons, Spitfires and Lancs. But Prune always emerged unscathed to boob another day.
The day Prune was, occurred in
bar of London's famous Holborn Restaurant, now no longer at the top
of Kingsway. Here were Squadron Leader Anthony Arm-strong Willis,
OBE, MC (better known in civvy street as "AA" and Anthony Armstrong,
author, playwright and contributor to Punch - his thriller "Ten
Minute Alibi" was performed all over the world), newly appointed
Editor of Tee Emm; staff artist "Bill" Hooper, and Wing Commander L.
H. ("Joe") Stewart, who was then in the Signals Training Branch at
They were planning the launching of Tee Emm, and discussing the Wing Commander's suggestion that the magazine should have a regular character. Here is what Bill Hooper says of the "creation" :
"Whenever the subject of Percy Prune comes up nowadays, and it still does, despite the passage of time, I have to admit that it was not so necessary to create him as to report on him, because his counter-part, to some degree - fortunately small - existed in every unit of the Services. It needed only the genius of Anthony Armstrong to write up the boobs of the RAF 'prunes' in his own inimitable style and for me to portray his doings in cartoon for the character to emerge, so that when he 'resembled any person living or dead' it was by no means 'coincidental' but downright intentional !
"Since the early part of 1940 I had been engaged in a capacity which provided me with almost total obscurity in the South-East, during that stage of the war which comprised long periods of inactivity interrupted by short periods of intense activity - a time which latter-day historians have put neatly between two dates and called the 'Battle of Britain'. "When the squadron on which I served - No 54 (which, incidentally, is 50 years old this month)
- was posted to the quiet of Catterick
for a breather, my Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader 'Doc' Leathart, wrote a humorous book of instruction for fighter pilots;
this was ultimately printed on a Restricted basis illustrated with
my cartoons. With the title 'Forget-me-Nots for Fighters', it had as
its central figure a blob-nosed 'bod' who had no name but which
afterwards proved to be Prune in embryo. Anthony Armstrong asked me
to come and see him to discuss the, use of a character in his new
training manual for aircrew.
"At the long bar of the old 'Holborn', I sat between Willis and an ebullient Wing Commander called Joe Stewart. Pints came as frequently as air raid warnings were sounded - which was very often - and during that lunch hour (?) Joe christened the character 'Pilot Officer Percy Prune', A.A. suggested some classical moral and mental attributes for our brain child, and I provided several beer-stained sheets showing what he should look like. So, in an atmosphere of bombs, beer and general goodwill, Percy Prune was brought into the world."
However, to jump back a bit again, from Wing Commander L. H. Stewart, OBE, RAF (Retd), now living at Cambridge, we learn that he began thinking of the name of "Prune" before that famous "birthday" at Holborn. It was a term then being heard in the Air Force particularly to describe a pilot who had just given a brave and dashing - but very dangerous - display of flying.
His office at the
Air Ministry was adjacent to A.A.'s room, and they became friends in
the period when the newly-appointed Editor of Tee Emm was preparing his
first issue. A.A. liked the Wing Commander's suggestion of a cartoon
character for the magazine, and asked him to try to think of one.
The Wing Commander's son, Group Captain C. L. W. Stewart, CBE, DSO,
AFC, at present at the Ministry of Defence, remembers the very
occasion when the idea of Prune really crystallised in his father's
During the course of the evening,ensconced. round a blazing log fire in the ante room of the Officers' Mess, and fortified with a jug of mellowed ale, he mentioned the requirement of a monthly magazine for the RAF to explain new operating techniques
technical equipment then being introduced into the Service - which
were becoming more intricate as time went on.
"Essentially the magazine would have to explain dry and involved technicalities in a lucid, readable way which would immediately appeal to the reader and gain his interest.
To help in achieving
this, a humorous tone was required if the
was to 'get across' to aircrew and technicians alike. What was
wanted was a suitable 'figure', aptly nicknamed, who would fit this
theme, and he suggested that this might take the form of a character
who was rather dim and vague.
"How should this character be called? Suggestions from the small group of officers around the fire waxed enthusiastically loud and clear. Such pseudonyms as 'clot', 'dim wit' and 'snooks' were mentioned, and sometime from some-where in the depths came 'prune'. 'That sounds very apt', my father said; 'it may be just what we want.'
||This Month's Prunery
THE MOST HIGHLY DEROGATORY ORDER OF THE IRREMOVABLE FINGER (Patron : Pilot Officer Prune) has this month been awarded to F/Sgt. --- for Failing to put his Hand Up when Wanting to Leave the Aircraft. F/Sgt....was passenger in the rear of an Oxford which was on a daylight exercise. On completion of a period of instrument flying, at about 3,000 feet, the pilot and instructor looked round and found that they no longer had a passenger.
It turned out later that F/Sgt. , wishing to relieve himself, had opened the door of the aircraft, but instead of carrying on with the exercise had fallen out. He eventually returned to camp by bus with his open parachute tucked underneath his arm.
Prune blossomed as the RAF took to its heart Tee Emm and its easy to-absorb lessons, which Anthony Armstrong wrote up in his own way from the piles of official wordiness. Other characters joined him; they are all shown in one of our illustrations. The Fleet Air Arm wasn't forgotten either, with S/Lt Swingit doing the things at sea that Prune managed so well over land. A.A. fixed up a desk in his office for Prune - his name was on the door and, in fact, within a year he appeared in the official Air Ministry telephone directory at Headquarters.
Of course, Prune was rarely found in - but, as A.A. explains, even more rarely found out. People used to ring him up, or try to see him. To all telephone enquirers A.A. would say that Prune was still not back from lunch - at any time up to 6.30 p.m. And when one indignant lady protested that it was not yet midday, A.A. explained that Prune was not
yet from lunch the day before. A.A.'s big disappointment, however,
was that he couldn't get Prune into the Air Force List.
So, to scotch the foul rumour, Tee Emm
of January 1942 published the following letter from Prune, with his
'photograph', and duly 'signed' :
December 10th, 1941
Publish it if you like for all the
clots who don't believe I exist. P.S. - And now if anyone says I'm
not real you can tell them to pull their finger out.
|Then there was Sir Pritchard Proon (1530 - 1592) who, fired by Sir
Walter Raleigh's example, once spread a cloak over a puddle for
Queen Elizabeth. The fact that he was a trifle short-sighted and
that what he took for a puddle was really an open manhole led to his
speedy, very speedy, retirement from Court.
Three hundred years later we hear of a Percivall Pruin who fought as a Royalist in the Civil War and had the family characteristics developed to a high degree. Indeed, when King Charles heard that Percivall had taken up arms on his
behalf he at once ex-pressed grave doubts of ultimate victory. A Prune cousin, how-ever, fought on the other side and so evened things out. He was named, after the religious fashion of the day, Praise-him all-ye-works-of the-Lord. P.H.A.Y.W.O.T.L.
|Pruin joined Cromwell's Ironsides, was nicknamed "Ironhead",
and put in the front of all the charges to soften up the opposition.
Other illustrious Prune ancestors were Captain Percy Prune who served on Marlborough's staff—when he remembered to do so ;
Paul "Beau" Prune, who for many years was a leader of fashion in Bath, but ultimately died in Penury while on holiday there; and Major Pritchard Prune of that famous regiment the Hundred and Eightieth Foot, or "Fighting Drunks".
Then there was our Percy's own grandfather, Philip Prune, the well-known racing motorist. He took part in the big race of 1895 from Paris to Bordeaux and back—or rather would have taken part if he'd been able to get his car to start. He was still trying three days later when the winning car returned. In true Prune tradition, from 1900 to 1902, he owned, and succeeded in dam-aging beyond repair, 13 cars. He died in January, 1903, at the age of 43 years and a speed of 35 mph, together with three friends to whom he was giving a lift.
months had destroyed 27 aircraft - mostly Bristols and Sopwiths.
After his 26th machine was confirmed he was sent home for a rest.
His 27th, and final, machine was, of course, the one he flew home
in. He only went up once again - shortly before his death. Very
shortly indeed, in fact.
And so we come finally to Pilot Officer Percy Prune.
Percy was born, naturally enough, on April 1st, 1922; at Ineyne Manor. At the age of six months, beginning as he meant to go on, he crashed his cradle, and within the next six months had crashed five replacements. As a child in the nursery he was so backward that at one time his parents weren't certain which way he was growing, or going.
so far as to engage a mind specialist; but he soon threw up the job,
saying he had nothing to work upon.
Percy, however, did manage to grow up and went to school at St. Finga's, Herts, rising through the following years from "new-bug", via "Upper 111B" to ""blood"". He left suddenly under a 10/10ths cloud, and in 1940 went up to the 'Varsity to Judas College. No sooner had he gone up that he was sent down and then called up.
He was commissioned in the RAF on 1st April, 1941, his birthday, and funnily enough the date of the first issue of Tee Emm.
Since then he has been in Fighter Command, where he accounted for so many Spitfires that he was transferred to Bomber Command where he accounted for so many Lancasters that he was transferred to Transport Command, who wouldn't let him touch a single one of their aircraft, but had him transferred to the Air Ministry, where from sheer force of habit he promptly accounted for the three model aircraft hanging in the office.
And in that office he stayed till his demobilisation. for Prune - 'Aspirant Praline'. A
certain pilot, who was the 'unluckiest' we had, remarked to me
casually and modestly one day that he had that morning "got a 'Un".
I was staggered, but later his Commandant and mine assured me that
he had not in fact shot his enemy down in the orthodox fashion but
had inadvertently collided with him when returning to Biggin Hill
after a fighter sweep.
When I am in the company of young pilots I am asked to tell just what Prune was, and when in the company of hoary old veterans of my own time I am asked what happened to him. So, for the benefit of those who were. perhaps fortunately, too young to have come within the erratic orbit of Prune during their service, and for those who did, I should like to 'say again.'
It was not for achievement that Prune's fame was so widespread. Rather was it for non-achievement, or, more often, for achievement in the wrong direction. He was, in fact, not so much known as notorious.
He was the fool, the poop, the boob, the mug, the mutt, the butt, the clot, the affable dim-wit of the RAF. Fatuously exuberant yet permanently bone-headed, he invariably made a complete muck of everything he set out to do and yet survived to make another. From the ruins of his latest 'prunery', miraculously safe as ever, he contemplated with a hurt and puzzled detachment the incomprehensible eccentricities of a world which was never quite within his grasp; a world in which undercarriages never came down of their own accord and where his
COME ALIVE Now Bill Hooper takes up the story again:
So recognisable was Prune as a type - for there is a little of him in all of us - he caught on quickly. As with the monster created by Frankenstein, however, Percy had a tendency to come alive - so much so that we were able to institute the Most Highly Derogatory Order of the Irremovable Finger, of which we made Prune the Patron and, when given written evidence of classic Pruneries occurring within the Allied air forces, we awarded the Order (although the recipient was never named) ; some even got 'joints' to their Order.
Another example of true Prunery occurred when I was seconded to a Free French Squadron where I created a Gallic opposite number
finger unerringly found its way to the wrong knob, at the wrong time
- and he never under-stood why. Prune was willing but wet, dutiful
but dumb; he was one in a thousand, nay, rather one in a million -
which was just as well for the Allies, and for the Royal Air Force
'Battle fatigue' was a phrase unknown until we heard about it from the Americans, but it is known that at least one of Percy's flying instructors went out of the Service with something like it.
He would taxy out of the dispersal in the dawn light only to find that his path along the perimeter track was barred by a line of barrels on which some planks rested. Not wishing to "worry Flying Control" with his R/T he had the planks and barrels removed by some passing Aircraft-men on their way to breakfast. After this, he taxied on and down into a large bomb crater which the barrels and planks had been marking.
On his CO's mat for ripping through some telephone wires he explained that he had had to "fly fairly low to avoid strong winds at higher altitudes".
After a hasty posting to Scotland he was sent on a navigational detail to the Midlands, but on the way was ordered to return to base and to "come via Stratford" to avoid deteriorating weather at Liverpool. He absorbed the first part of the message and started back, but within 10 minutes of his Scottish base he remembered the last part and dutifully returned 200-odd miles so that he could "come back via Stratford". Of course, he ran out of
fuel and forced-landed in a turnip field. His CO got him posted by means of a forged letter for a course at the School of Air Support (before the squadron ran out of aircraft). From here, on a low-level strafing exercise, he started for a West Country airfield but his navigation was so bad that he was soon reported flying over a dummy airfield
in Occupied France - to be precise at St. Praline de Prangue. He was returned by courtesy of Air/Sea Rescue three days later. Facing his Commanding Officer and expecting commendation for his display of enterprise and individual initiative in strafing the enemy 'drome, he was patiently informed that it was in fact a dummy 'drome - to which Prune replied that it "had been done with only dummy bombs".
Prune was a master of the line-shoot. After one raid, he said that the flak was so heavy over target that, just for a lark, "I selected wheels down and made a temporary landing on it".
His excuse after an "incident" - which involved a Miles Magister, an ambulance, a grounded Typhoon, two starter trollies, three rather aged Aircraftmen and an Intelligence Officer who afterwards entered a mental home - was that his compass "must have been out".
THE IRON CROSS
I still cherish a document discovered among the files of the
which, when Berlin was occupied, came into my hands. The paper is
headed with a swastika and eagle and bears the facsimile signature
of Der Reichsminister Der Luftfahrt Und Oberbefehlshaber Der
Luftwaffe - Hermann Goering. It is a recommendation that, in view of
the number of Allied aircraft he had destroyed, "Pilot Officer Percy
Prune" be awarded the Iron Cross !
To bring his contemporaries up to date, I should add that someone suggested to Prune that since such outstanding ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong time, in the wrong way, could not have been achieved in Prune's life alone; that heredity had played its part and that generations of Prunes had lived, boobed and died before the sum total of their cosmic ineptitude could be concentrated into one single human frame; that he, Percy, should embark on a chronicle of his ancestry - from which we have already quoted.
after the out-break of Peace, he retired to Prune Parva, where the
family have, as he puts it, "held manurial rights from time
immoral", there to "write up" the family which must have been
responsible for every major disaster in history - no doubt starting
with the burning of Rome.
He sometimes surfaces to attend reunions - but invariably gets his dates wrong and attends reunions with Squadrons, Commands, and even Services he had nothing to do with during the war.
He describes his recreations as motoring and walking. The first he does to the peril of every other road user and the latter he does at constant peril to himself. He is well-known at the County Court and in various 'Out-Patient' departments of county hospitals. Recently he was awarded a complimentary season ticket for the local ambulance service. Percy is assisted in his search of the family archives by his son Peter "Ropey"
Prune who served for a short, very
short, time in the peace-time Royal Air Force. Unfortunately, at an
air display he destroyed two tea marquees, several cars in a park,
and a beer tent, when he success-fully selected "rockets" instead of
"drop tanks" - and this at the wrong moment.
However, Prune was not all of Tee Emm. By far the greater part of the magazine consisted of easy-toassimilate lessons on wartime flying, plenty of good, solid 'gen' offered with a leavening of Armstrong's wit. New equipment was explained, the importance of using navigational aids was stressed, and hints on survival in hot and cold countries were supplied.
But we won't bore you with details of these now, suffice to say that many a prospective 'Prune' is alive now because he read Tee Emm.
Clues took over from Tee Emm, and - amidst many a tear - Prune was
regretfully retired. The 'Prune' team were rejoining the ranks of
the civilians, so he couldn't have continued without them! Anthony
Armstrong Willis went back to his country home to write more books;
Bill Hooper's new characters can be seen in news-papers, magazines
and on TV. Both were delighted to contribute to re-telling Prune's
P.S. - You may be wondering why we waited to include this feature in the May issue, when the anniversary is of the birth of Tee Emm in April, 1941. Well, Prune was always late ...