Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown CBE, DSC, AFC Royal Navy


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Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown CBE, DSC, AFC Royal Navy

Many of you will have heard of Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, one of Britain’s foremost test pilots who started off flying in wooden, flimsy bi-planes through nearly every model of British military and several foreign military aircraft right up to the jet age. He holds numerous records for the work he has done over the years having flown 487 different types of aircraft from many different countries. His Wikipedia entry is eye opening to say the least ( )

A book has recently been published, “Too Close for Comfort” about his exploits but not in the usual fashion. This book is a special limited edition covering fifteen of the many exploits that Winkle was involved in throughout his career. These have been depicted in paintings and sketches by Michael Turner, the famous aviation artist, each has a narrative explaining the event depicted in Winkle Brown’s own inimitable way.

As ever, Winkle Brown is thinking of others and the proceeds of this book are going to the Fly Navy Heritage Trust. I tried, tongue in cheek, for a review copy but at a throwaway price of £150 for the ordinary edition and £350 for the leather bound edition, the publishers thought it bestnot to let me have one! However, this should not pass us by unnoticed as Winkle Brown has been the subject of a few threads on this site, deservedly so, and there is a lot of interest in this remarkable man.

The full press release is as follows:

‘Too Close for Comfort’

Legendary Pilot’s breath-taking story of death defying courage
The world’s greatest test pilot, Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown CBE DSC AFC Royal Navy will be launching his latest book ‘Too Close for Comfort’ on Thursday 2 July at Mead Carney Fine Art Gallery, 45 Dover Street, Mayfair, London W15 4FF at 18.30.

The book, which is a special limited edition, tells the story of fifteen of the most gripping and hair-raising close-calls in Eric’s legendary flying career, each episode dramatically illustrated by a series of stunning paintings and sketches by renowned aviation artist and President of the Guild of Aviation Artists, Michael Turner FGAvA.

Retold in the author’s own inimitable style, the incidents include: narrowly surviving an attack from a Messerschmitt Bf 109 in a Norwegian fjord while flying a Blackburn Skua, developing the tactics of head-on attack on a heavily armed Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Kurier, and being dragged unconscious from the Solent after hitting some floating debris and cartwheeling the prototype SR/A1 jet seaplane.

The danger and drama of each incident is powerfully brought to life by Michael Turner’s paintings and none more so than the closest shave of all - the heart-stopping painting of the sinking of HMS Audacity in the freezing Atlantic in December 1941. “I will never forget that fateful day” said Eric “We were hit by three torpedoes from German U-boat U-751.The ship reared up so steeply that the aircraft plunged down the wildly tilting deck. She sank taking all her aircraft with her. I lost many friends that day and was very lucky to survive.”

The book launch will also include an auction of the fifteen original paintings in the book. Michael Turner has a world-wide reputation as an artist of great technical skill and has exhibited his work in the UK, USA, Europe and Australia. The paintings are fine examples of his work and are expected to attract great interest from art collectors, historians and aviation enthusiasts alike.

Speaking of working with Eric on the book, Michael said “It was deeply emotional – Eric’s account of each incident was so vivid that I could immediately visualise ‘Guy Fawkes night in the cockpit’ or the ‘turquoise green glow of phosphorescence surrounding the U-boat’. Interpreting his experiences and painting each white-knuckle moment was a great privilege. I felt as though I lived through each of them with him!”

With the provenance of these exceptional paintings so intrinsically a part of Eric’s remarkable life, they are coming on the market as a unique and rare collection. They will be on public display in the Mead Carney Gallery from 1st – 2nd July and a preview catalogue is available on request.

Captain Eric Brown has flown more aircraft types (487) than any other pilot in the world and also holds the world record for deck landings at 2407. His life reads like a handbook of beating the odds and today, in his nineties, he remains a living legend, is in great demand as a lecturer and has recently been the subject of a BBC 2 documentary and a castaway on the 3000th edition of Desert Island Discs.

‘Too Close for Comfort’ is available as a signed casebound edition price £150 or a signed Collectors’ leather bound edition price £350. Proceeds from the sales of the book and the auction of the paintings will go to the Fly Navy Heritage Trust.

Sinking of HMS Audacity December 1941
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