The only excuse I have for forgetting the eightieth birthday last week of my friend David Sherwin is that it occurred on 24 February, the day that Russia invaded Ukraine.
An important formative experience for David was the Hungarian uprising of 1956. As the Hungarian people rose up against their Stalinist rulers, he equated the experience with what was happening in his school, Tonbridge: ‘Freedom fighters, boys like us, had destroyed the Soviet Union and defeated their army – or so it briefly seemed.’
Over the next two weeks, David followed the events in Hungary closely. With the West’s hands already full over the Suez Crisis, the Soviet Union hit back. At dawn on 4 November, 2,000 Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary. The Hungarians put up fierce resistance but were hopelessly outnumbered. Budapest radio broadcast repeated SOS messages to the West but no one responded. The Revolution was crushed. Over 2,000 Hungarians lost their lives and another 200,000 fled abroad. David listened every night to the progress of the revolution on his radio: ‘I remember hearing the Hungarians saying, “We’re holding out, we’re on the radio station, America please help us, America please help us . . . ’’ And that was the end. And I was shattered.’
David was so stirred by the plight of the Hungarians that in the holidays, he decided to make a film with a friend: ‘We borrowed an 8mm camera from the father of a girlfriend, and got our cast to act as the Hungarian freedom fighters. The final scene was in another friend’s house in their attic and on the roof for the final plea to America.’
David described this early roof scene as an ‘embryo’ for the finale of If.... I don't know if this film still exists anywhere, but there was an even earlier embryo for If...., which has survived. It’s a short 16mm film, called Guy Fawkes, which David made in the early 1950s at the Dragon School, Oxford, when he was only twelve years old. The only thing missing was a soundtrack.
The clip below contains the finale of Guy Fawkes – one of those acorns from which a large oak tree would eventually grow. When it came to the missing soundtrack, it was obvious what to add....
Happy 80th, David.