Watching it unfold – Charles Gardner’s famous dogfight commentary

Perhaps one of the most famous – some would say infamous – radio broadcasts of the second world war was this commentary on a dogfight off the Kent coast by BBC journalist Charles Gardner.

Gardner was one of the pioneering BBC reporters before the Second World War, at a time when the corporation went to great lengths to avoid controversy. Gardner and Richard Dimbleby were two journalists who were determined to bring more life to broadcasts.

In 1940 Gardner spent some time in France with the RAF before making his famous broadcast of aerial fighting over the Channel from a viewpoint on the white cliffs of Dover.

His words and tone were immediately controversial and have remained so ever since. Some have praised him for reporting the reality of what was happening. Others have claimed that he went too far in his descriptions, making the fighting between the RAF and the Luftwaffe seem like a contest on a sports field.

Gardner was wrong when he reported seeing a German airman coming down by parachute. In fact he was witnessing the descent of the badly-wounded  Pilot Officer Michael Mudie of No 615 Squadron, who had baled out of a Hurricane. Mudie was rescued from the Channel by the Royal Navy, but died of his wounds the next day.

Charles Gardner joined the RAF later in 1940. After the war he returned to the BBC, before working in the aircraft industry. He died in 1983.