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"It's Just the Way It Is."
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Film & Television
Flying Officer X Byline
Pilots, Death, War

About his first "Flying Officer X" story, Bates would write: "I met the Wing Commander of No. 7 Squadron, a tough young man who viewed with a certain suspicion, if not indeed resentment, the writer from Air Ministry. Nevertheless we talked; and as we talked I solved the first of my problems: I would play the game of eavesdropping. Accordingly, that morning, I got my first story, unwittingly given to me by the unsuspecting Wing Commander who, in an unguarded moment, let fall some remark to the effect that the worst of his problems was that of writing to relatives of men killed or even of seeing them in his office as they turned up, pitifully hoping, perhaps, that by some sort of miracle he would conjure their beloved ones back from the dead. 'It's Hell,' he said, but then that's just the way it is'" (The World in Ripeness, pp. 16-17).

"Clear, pictorial simplicity was, I felt, the right and only way that this story, and indeed any others, should be written. I wrote it the following day, in a couple of hours, and posted it straight off to Hilary Saunders [the head of Bates's unit], half-dreading what he might have to say about it. In no time there came back from Whitehall a stream of delighted cries and I was able to breathe again."

In the story, the grieving parents learn of their son's heroism from the interview and leave: "they walk steadfastly, almost proudly, and the man holds the umbrella a little higher than before, and the woman, keeping up with him now, lifts her head. And the Wing Commander, watching them from the window, momentarily holds his face in his hands."

A film version was directed by Leslie Fenton for the Ministry of Information and Two Cities Films in 1943, and featured actors Ralph Michael, Louise Hampton, Allan Jeayes, and Terence Morgan. In The World in Ripeness (p. 126) Bates mentions writing a film-script of the story and of "my one and only appearance as a film actor in the guise of a dead navigator being carried on a stretcher from a shot-up bomber." The film is mentioned by novelist Anthony Burgess in his introduction to the posthumous collection A Month by the Lake & Other Stories: "I remember seeing a brief film made from it when I was a soldier during the war — one of the short movies put out by the Ministry of Information to precede the main feature. I was deeply moved, and I'm moved again when I re-read the story." Burgess goes on to comment that in the story "narrative style is pared to nothing; everything is left to dialogue; it may well be too subfusc a piece of writing to please Americans brought up in a more ebullient tradition, but it represents what a lot of British writing of the period was like. Paradoxically, it owes something to Hemingway."

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