A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

Summer of ’77

Big summer. The year ‘A Bridge Too Far’ premiered in cinemas. To a twelve year old military modeller seeing this film was a dream of mammoth proportions. A true old style war flick filled with mean old Germans and heroic Red Devils led by James Bond. To this twelve year old who was just getting tucked into Tamiya’s 1975 release of a German 8 T on Semitrack 20mm Flakvierling Sd.Kfz. 7/1 kit in 35th scale, seeing this film enticed my creative diorama ideas all the more.

1977 was quite a year, indeed. It was the year the Apple II was released. Really this was the first ‘real’ Apple computer. The Apple I was just a circuit board. I didn’t know anybody who had one of these until 1981. Elvis died at 42 years from drugs & jelly donut overdose. Star Wars premiered that May and Saturday Night Fever was released in December. Spain had its first free and open elections since the fascist Franco died. In the US a peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter was elected president. In England a gallon of petrol cost you .79 pence. In the US the same gallon cost 65 cents. The first commercial flight of the Concord from Heathrow to La Guardia took place, whilst a new BMW 320i would set you back a cool $8,000 US dollars. Pelé played his last professional football match with the New York Cosmos. In Blighty the only band that mattered—The Clash—released their first album as others celebrated the Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth. Of course through all this, there was a strike of one form or another going on. The British economy was in tatters.

In 1977 there was no social media. No Google. No internet. When a twelve year old kid wanted more information on the spectacle that was ‘A Bridge Too Far’ they went to their nearest news agent. Mine was a shop called Metro News. Failing that I’d give Save-On Drug a go as they had a small magazine section. On a steamy July morning, on my way home from swim practice I stopped at Metro News to have a look for the newest ‘Sgt. Rock’ and ‘GI Combat’ comics. The newsagent was not yet open that morning, but the chemist Save-On was. As I perused the meagre magazine rack, something caught my eye. I picked out the corner of Gene Hackman’s face wearing a beret poking out  from behind a stack of unrelated, and uninteresting to me, magazines.

So many incredible colour photographs from the film. So many diorama possabilities.

Pushing the other magazines aside I retrieved what in the moment was like discovering a Gutenberg Bible in Selfridges. It was a ‘New York Times Spectacular’  about the history and making of the film ‘A Bridge Too Far.’ On its over were the star studded cast in Allied and Axis uniforms. I was unable in the moment to leaf through the pages as it was still wrapped in plastic. A problem presented itself. I had no money. I was on my return from swim practice. I asked a teenager working the til if he could hold it for me until I returned to pay for the magazine. He took one look at my cut off jeans and chlorine filled 1970’s mop of hair and told me to push off.

So. I did. Riding my bike hell for leather the 1.1 miles home to suss up some money. When you are twelve years old and it is already 83f outside and you are riding a three-speed huffy bicycle, 1.1 miles seems like forever. Running to my room I grabbed my stash and headed back the 1.1 miles to retrieve what in some ways was to shape my adult life.

By the time I returned to Save-On the morning was well on and it was both a cooking 91f and the parking filling with morning shoppers. I went inside the chemist. Returning to the magazine racks I searched high and low, my quest eating at me from within. But I could not find it. I returned to the man behind the counter I had begged to hold the magazine or me. Did he still have it? ‘Sorry,’ he told. ‘Just sold it.’ Heartbroken, I stared at him aghast. He then smiled, pulling out the unopened copy of ‘A Bridge Too Far.’ My heart soared. Handing over my earnings from cutting lawns, I snatched the magazine from him and raced out the shop. On my bicycle I headed across the street to Foxcroft, a neighbourhood with a nice meadow and an old wishing well in its centre. Secreting myself behind the well I tore open the packaging and began perusing the pages. It was everything to me in that moment. Page after page of fierce Germans in groovy camouflage uniform, British paras defending Arnhem bridge in full colour, their red berets bright and gleaming. Endless queues of Sherman tanks ready to role through Holland, and Edward Fox looking splendid in his uniform before a map of XXX Corps plan of attack.

I looked a the inside over. Oddly the magazine was produced by The New York Times. A new feature magazine sold to promote blockbuster films. ‘A Bridge Too Far’ their first. issue. And since I’ve never been able to discover other issue of this, I presume it was their last, as well.

I spent the entire summer leafing endlessly through the magazine. And the following two years until sadly it fell to pieces and my Mum—bless her—chucked it.

I thought about that magazine for years. All though the 80’s. Forget the 90’s. I detested everything about the 90’s. And again in the millennium. I began searching Ebay for an issue of The New York Times ‘A Bridge Too Far’ special. To no avail.

Then. In the Summer of ’20, I did perchance again give it a go on Ebay. And there it was. Not one, but three copies. Two were a bit tatty. I went for the best of the bunch. And the most expensive. Clicking ‘Buy-It-Now’ I paid up and waited eagerly. Five days later it arrived. Tearing open the packet with the same enthusiasm as that twelve year old forty-three years earlier. There is was. The New York Times ‘A Bridge Too Far’ special. In all its glory. With the same fascination I had as a boy I leafed through the pages, reliving the memories of the Summer of ’77, remembering with perfect clarity the thoughts in my head as I read though the text and looked over & over at the stunning photographs.

It was a dream moment for that twelve year old boy. Summertime. Swimming pools. And ‘A Bridge too Far.’

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