Arts / Michael thrills to a little ‘Flak’

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Michael Veitch in “Flak”. Photo by Justin Stephens
Michael Veitch in “Flak”. Photo by Justin Stephens
COMEDIAN Michael Veitch has written “Flak”, a play on his favourite subject, World War II pilots.

It’s coming this month to The Q, with Veitch on stage. I catch up with him by phone while he’s enjoying a cuppa in Cairns at the beginning of the “Flak” tour through Queensland and NSW.

Veitch is the last person TV fans would expect to be doing a one man show about World War II fighter pilots. Or is he?

Super-famous on the comedy scene in Australia, he was one of the Melbourne Uni revue crowd who entertained us in the ‘80s appearing in TV comedies such as “The D-Generation”, “Fast Forward” and “Full Frontal”. He used to host “Sunday Arts’” on the ABC, too, and once played Molly Meldrum in a musical.

But more observant fans will know that he’s an author who has written three volumes about the stories of servicemen, “Flak”, “Fly” and a third book of World Warr II airman stories due out this year.

“It’s all real-life,” Veitch tells me of the five characters in his stage version of the book, directed by Helen Ellis, “I interviewed all of them… I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Veitch chose the stories of two Australian pilots, a Battle of Britain pilot, a Welsh pilot and a Luftwaffe pilot, using his theatre skills to bring them to life.

“Flying has been my passion since I was young and was into making model aeroplanes,” he says.

“I didn’t read ‘Biggles’, I just didn’t like it… it was badly written and it was stupid – not real. I much preferred real accounts of people who did it and that’s what I’ve used.

“I used to love talking to the old fellows and asking them what it was like to fly.”

He discovered that many had never spoken about their war experiences before.

Once, he says, while interviewing a former pilot who’d been taken prisoner in the Mediterranean, he noticed the wife looking hard at her husband and saying: “You never told me that before”.

Quick as a flash came the husband’s reply: “You’ve never asked me”.

The men, he says, were “so modest, so polite and so self-effacing – it’s a way of keeping them alive.”

In fact, since he wrote the play, half of them have died.

“Flak” goes for just an hour without an interval so he talks to people after the show.

“Many tell me that they never asked their parents about the war and that now they regret it,” he says.

As for comedy, there’s a bit of humour and he does give a satirical PowerPoint presentation on the atrocious planes we flew in World War II, but it’s in context.

And does Veitch fly himself? A definite no to that, admitting: “I’m a hopeless flyer, I get sick at the drop of a hat…I’m a completely lily-livered wimp.”

“Flak – True stories from the men who flew in World War II”, at The Q, Queanbeyan, April 28-May 2, bookings to theq.net.au or 6285 6290.

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