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The Battle of the River Plate

Picture Show Gossip
From: Picture Show; January 14th, 1956

Visitors to Pinewood Studios looked twice at John Gregson when they saw him on the set for his role of Captain F.S. Bell in "The Battle of the River Plate".

His appearance has changed. The explanation lies in his built-up wax nose. It alters his looks considerably and adds authenticity to his characterisation.

John Gregson decided on this change of appearance after meeting the man he is portraying. Captain Bell is known affectionately as "Hookie" in naval circles because of his proudly Roman nose.

This is by far the most dramatic role John Gregson has yet played on screen, and he has had first-hand advice on it from Captain Bell, who was in command of H.M.S. Exeter when, out-gunned and out-speeded, it went in to attack the Graf Spee.

"I was nearly caught with my pants down," Captain Bell recalls. "Commodore Harwood, who commanded the action from his flagship, the Ajax, had deduced that the Graf Spee would probably make for the River Plate and arrive at dawn on December 13th. I kept special watch until the sun rose, then went below to bath and shave. Yet some sixth sense made me wait a bit longer. It was just as well. Several minutes later we sighted the Graf Spee and I was able to dash up to the bridge still clothed."

The Exeter was severely damaged and, with nearly all torpedo crews wounded or killed and only one gun turret firing, went into attack for the last time. The Graf Spee, however, was drawn off by Ajax and Achilles, and was able to limp her way to the Falkland Islands after burying her fifty-six dead.

[That last sentence would read more clearly if it made it clear that it was the Exeter that limped her way to the Falklands.]

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