Magazine

Been and Gone: Bagpipes to baseball

Our regular column covering the passing of significant - but lesser reported - people of the past month.

When members of the Palestinian Black September movement seized a Belgian airliner in 1972 they were not to know that the plane was captained by a decorated former RAF bomber pilot, Reginald Levy. Levy's Sabena Airlines Boeing 707 was hijacked just after it left Vienna en route for Tel Aviv's Lod airport (now Ben Gurion International). The crew transmitted a coded message to alert the authorities and Levy flew as slowly as possible to give those on the ground time to prepare for the landing. Once on the tarmac at Lod, the hijackers allowed Levy to leave the aircraft to assist in negotiations for the hostages' release, and he was able to pass on valuable information to the Israeli authorities. Israeli commandos, disguised as mechanics, stormed the plane, killing two of the hijackers. The boarding party itself was remarkable in that it contained two future Israeli prime ministers, the commanding officer, Maj Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu. Levy joined the RAF at the age of 18 and piloted Mosquito reconnaissance aircraft before transferring to Halifax bombers, in which he carried out a number of raids over Germany.

Another wartime hero was Bill Millin, whose bagpipes stiffened the resolve of British troops going ashore during the D-Day landings. Brought up in Glasgow, he learned to play the pipes in the Boys Brigade before joining the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders as a piper and a commando. He became the personal piper of Lord Lovat, the flamboyant commander of the 1st Special Service Brigade, which went ashore on Sword Beach in Normandy on 6 June 1944. Lovat, a patriotic Scot, upheld the tradition that troops should be piped into battle and Millin found himself marching up and down the beach piping The Road to the Isles while bullets, shells and grenades rained down on the sands around him. Millin himself was completely unscathed - which some said was the result of German defenders being so surprised at his appearance they didn't aim at him. His pipes, however, were holed by shrapnel four days later. Millin's heroic playing was captured in the classic 1962 film The Longest Day.

It was another native of Glasgow, Bobby Thomson, who made the baseball strike that became known as "the shot heard round the world", so called because of the numbers of US service personnel listening in bases across Europe and the Far East. Thomson's family emigrated in 1926 from Scotland to New York, where he played baseball at high school and was signed up by the New York Giants in 1942. Late in the afternoon of 3 October 1951, the Giants were in a play-off with the Brooklyn Dodgers for the National League pennant. With the Giants 4-1 down going into the ninth inning, the Dodgers' pitcher Ralph Branca set his second ball towards Thomson. The Scot swung his bat and the ball soared over the outfield fence and into the stands, the resulting home run helped the Giants win the decider 5-4. Thomson continued his baseball career until 1963 including spells with the Milwaukee Braves and Chicago Cubs.

A famous television duel between legendary jazz drummer Buddy Rich and the Muppets' frenetic sticksman, Animal, was organised by composer and bandleader Jack Parnell. Parnell came from a music hall background; his father was a noted performer while his uncle, Val, ran a string of theatres including the London Palladium. Parnell was an accomplished drummer, who played with the Ted Heath Orchestra before forming his own band. He became the musical director for the commercial TV company ATV, working with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole, and conducted the orchestra for the popular variety show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Parnell also provided the music for Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck's TV shows and composed a string of programme theme tunes. He joined the Muppet Show in the late 1970s and was the "real" conductor of the Muppet Orchestra, rather than the Muppet, Nigel, who appeared on screen.

In films, it is the production designer who creates the overall look of a scene and Robert Boyle was one of the most creative and longest-serving designers in Hollywood history. He was best known for his partnership with Alfred Hitchcock which lasted 20 years. In the days before computer generated images, Boyle abseiled down the Mount Rushmore monument to provide the background for the key scenes in North by Northwest. He also spent hours enticing seagulls and crows to fly to order for The Birds, although it took him a year to perfect the scenes. His first Hollywood film was The Plainsman, starring Gary Cooper, filmed in 1936. He went on to work on more than 100 films and achieved four Oscar nominations.

If film images are important, so too is sound, and dubbing mixer Freddie Slade was one of the finest exponents of the art of ensuring a final soundtrack perfectly complemented the pictures it was composed for. Like Robert Boyle, he worked in the days before computers, when finalising the track was done on a mixing desk by ear alone. And, like Parnell, Slade worked for ATV, then Thames Television for 30 years, producing the soundtrack for programmes such as This Week, Edward & Mrs Simpson and Rumpole of the Bailey. His biggest project was undoubtedly the massive 1973 documentary, The World at War, which ran for 26 episodes and is still regarded as one of the most authoritative television productions of the 20th Century.

Among others who died in August was Oscar-winning actress and wife of Roald Dahl, Patricia Neal; former Attorney General Nicholas Lyell, who was criticised over the Matrix Churchill arms-for-Iraq trial; and trade unionist, author and leader of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in Jimmy Reid.