Remembrance Sunday 2023: Two Films from Tim Curtis (We Fought Them in Gunboats & Stanley’s War)

By Julia Jones

Tim Curtis.

On November 12th 2023 the Riverside Cinema Woodbridge will show two wartime documentaries by Woodbridge-based director Tim Curtis. Tim is probably best known to RDA Journal readers for the highly successful Life on the Deben project – 6000 DVDs and Blu Rays sold in the first year, more than 15,000 cinema and festival viewers and over £5000 donations made to Deben good causes. Earlier this year (2023) Tim made a short film ‘How Polluted is the Deben?’ which was shown together with ‘A Surge of Memories’ (not by Tim) commemorating the floods of 1953 and tidal surge of 2013.

We are indeed fortunate to have such a committed professional in our area. In 2018 Tim was commissioned to produce a Suffolk film commemorating Suffolk’s contribution to World War 1 to mark 100 years since the Armistice. This was Stanley’s War, a docu-drama based on the memoirs of Stanley Banyard, a farmhand from Ramsholt who served with the Suffolk Regiment. You can read Jayne Lindill’s article for the Suffolk magazine here.

The film Life on the Deben also produced a book by Woodbridge author Nick Cottam working in partnership with Tim.  This year they have worked the other way around, telling the story of the World War 2 Felixstowe book We Fought Them in Gunboats as a documentary. This was the work left unfinished by RNVR officer Robert Hichens when he was killed in action in April 1943, eighty years ago. It was first published in 1944 in a heavily censored version. Robert Hichens’ son, Antony, supplied the original typescript (heavily red-inked) and, with the help of Felixstowe Museum, I took on the job of producing an HMS Beehive edition. HMS Beehive was the name given to the WW2 base which played an important role defending the East Coast convoys on which the country depended.  You can read more about HMS Beehive here, in a recent article published in Practical Boat Owner magazine.

Nick Cottam.

HMS Beehive lies buried under the modern Port of Felixstowe. When Tim and Nick attended an event at Felixstowe Museum in April commemorating Robert Hichens’ death, they began to see the possibility of a film to try to ensure that this key area of local history is not forgotten. Tim is a Qualified Drone pilot with CAA authority for commercial operations. This was a key factor in gaining permission from Port of Felixstowe for him to film the site where the former Dock had been. He has put much thought into ways in which the short film can express the links between the present and the past.

Normally Tim works with TV broad casters, production agencies and brand clients. As a person completely new to this type of work, I have been amazed and educated by the hours of effort and attention to detail that goes into even a short film (24mins) produced to this professional standard. Peter Duck and I motored carefully out to the Woodbridge Haven buoy one calm morning to provide footage for an opening sequence.  When we returned, modestly pleased with ourselves for not looking at the drone or doing anything else silly, Tim said we needed to go and do it all over again because the light had improved.  Hyper attention to such matters as consistent sound quality (all voice overs recorded in the same space, no traffic intrusion, no possible echo from a polished floor) make an intangible but very real difference.

You can read Tim’s website for details of some of his other recent commercial commissions: Filming ‘Into the Deep’ in the Maldives looks especially interesting.  But keeping closer to home, the Deben is also lucky to have a dedicated independent cinema, providing space for local projects of high quality. Here’s their trailer for We Fought Them in Gunboats.

The two films will be shown from 6pm on Sunday November 12th with a Question and Answer session focussed on the new film We Fought them in Gunboats. Tickets are sold in aid of SSAFA, the armed forces charity.

Julia Jones

Julia Jones is editor of The Deben magazine. She was also the editor and publisher of the de-censored ‘HMS Beehive’ edition of We Fought Them in Gunboats.