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Sunday 21 October 2018

Dustin's endurance prove he's no turkey

The Children Who Fought Hitler (BBC4, Sun)
Dustin: 20 Years a-Pluckin' (RTE1, Sun)
The X Factor (TV3/ITV, Sat & Sun)

"One never thinks one is going to get shot down," said Jerry Eaton, recalling what it was like being an RAF fighter pilot. "One always thinks it's going to be the other chap." That could be a cheesy line from a stiff-upper-lip, morale-boosting British war film; yet Jerry's story is more enthralling than anything from a movie.

Jerry was one of The Children Who Fought Hitler -- that is, a pupil of the British Memorial School in Ypres, Belgium. The school was set up in 1929 to give a British education to the children of the families who settled in the town after the First World War. When Hitler invaded France and the Low Countries in 1940 the school was evacuated, never to reopen, and the children sent to England.

Jerry, then 15, asked his headmaster to help him apply for the RAF. Three years later he was flying Spitfires. When he retired he'd reached the rank of wing commander. But even Jerry's exploits pale alongside those of his former schoolmates Stephen Grady and Elaine Madden.

Stephen was just 13 when he and a French pal cycled to Dunkirk. Unable to secure passage to England, they roamed the countryside collecting bits and pieces from the wreckage of German tanks and trucks. The Germans arrested them and threw them in jail for three months. On his release, Stephen joined the local Resistance and by the age of 16 was the leader of his section.

There was a Boys' Own quality about Stephen's war. He relished blowing up railway lines and wrecking Nazi operations, but is still haunted by having to assassinate a German officer up close.

"I didn't like shooting a man like that, point blank," he said.

Elaine Madden, meanwhile, was recruited by the Belgian arm of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Her striking good looks and fluent command of three languages made her perfect spy material, and she was one of only two female agents parachuted behind enemy lines.

Like others who fought in the only war ever worth fighting, the trio's remarkable heroism is matched only by their extraordinary modesty.

Dustin: 20 Years a-Pluckin' was an entertaining look at the colourful career of the turkey that survived Christmas. Everything was here: the early Den appearances; the musical duets; the move into politics; the celebrated tussles with Gay Byrne and Pat Kenny, and, of course, the Eurovision misadventure.

It's easy to forget that it's Dustin, and not his former stablemates Zig and Zag or Podge and Rodge, who's been the most subversive comedy force on Irish television. Happy 20th, birdbrain.

And finally (though not finally enough for me), Simon Cowell decided to save the appalling Jedward from the noose.

Tell me, X Factor fans: how does it feel to realise you're being played for suckers?

STACEY'S STARS

The Children Who Fought Hitler ****

Dustin: 20 Years a-Pluckin' ***

The X Factor *

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