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Ray Darr-ling

As speculation continues regarding the authenticity of several extracts from the novel Death in a Dentist's Chair recently published in Dorset Untrue Crime Detective Monthly, the spotlight has fallen, not unnaturally on authoress Crola Haress and the creative process whereby she invents her masterly plots and sets down on the page characters so lifelike that many of her readers feel they know them as well, if not better than, their own real-world friends and acquaintances.

Ranking chief amongst her many memorable characters [the naughty nurses, voluptuous vicars and grumpy gardeners included] are, of course, the dapper Group Captain and the foxy Lady - two of crime fiction's most immediately recognisable and most exquisitely drawn sleuths. The normally reticent [though in private vivaciously sociable] Ms Haress has proven reluctant to disclose much about the inspiration which lies behind either, though this has certainly not prevented fans from making any number of suggestions as to who the real-life models for the two might be.

Asked in an opportunistic Dorset Radio interview in 2017 [Ms Haress was visiting Canford Cliffs on a Fernando Mediantepiezzo Magic Memories charabanc tour] if she drew upon any of her large circle of acquaintances when writing, Ms Haress would say only that all of her characters were fictitious but that some were "semblances, syntheses and partial refractions" of the "very many men and women" who had come into her ambit at different times and in different places during her life. In what is perhaps a case of the lady "protesting too much", she has denied particularly often and vehemently any suggestion that the Lady is a semi-autobiographical version of herself, despite the fact that both are "a dab hand with a Moulinex Magimix" and both can "down a pheasant at 60 yards on a good day". [Not to mention that both can also get on the outside of a schooner of Harvey's Bristol and a large slice of Black Forest Gateaux - especially on a bad day.]

Group Captain Ray "Bunty" Darr: the real Group Captain?

As for the Group Captain, any number of candidates have been suggested over the years. Douglas Bader was an early suggestion, though, like the World War II fighter ace himself, stories linking them proved not to have legs. Leonard Cheshire too came briefly into the frame but perhaps only by association since a home bearing his name does stand in the village of Cavendish not far distant from the author's delightfully picturesque and immaculately maintained property. However, as every Group Captain and the Lady reader knows, Ms Haress is far too cute to clothe her dashing ex-RAF enigma in so flimsy a disguise.

Ray "Bunty" Darr's unobrusive home in Cavendish. Few who knew him would have guessed his military pedigree. [Photograph courtesy of the Cavendish World War II Local Heroes Museum. Open Tuesdays 2-4, Summer months only. Please call at the Vicarage or Village Shop for a key]

All of which leads to the most recent - and certainly most intriguing - suggestion put forward in 2020 by local historian, researcher and Dorset Untrue Crime Detective Monthly contributor Steyne Lokal. A graduate of Alma Mater College, Cambridge, where she quickly acquired a reputation as a night stalker [night climber surely [Ed]], Ms Lokal has been familiarising herself with the locals since 2015.

After overhearing a conversation in the snug of Cavendish's The George public house, concerning a former RAF spitfire pilot who had retired quietly to the village in 1968, Steyne undertook extensive research in the Suffolk County Archives wherein she discovered a good deal more about the legend that is Group Captain Ray "Bunty" Darr. A veteran of several campaigns - the Battle of Britain, North Africa, and the D-Day landings amongst them, "Bunty" became a poster boy for the RAF both during and just after the War. He even featured in advertising campaigns for products which, as a result of his endorsement, became household names and bywords for reliability and quality. In addition to frozen Jubblys, two-tone shoes, Pifco sunlamps, Electolux refrigerators, Capstan Full Strength Untipped cigarettes and Timothy White and Taylor's own-brand liquid parafin, Group Captain Darr was the face [no pun intended] of Omega watches - the post World War II equivalent of today's iPhone 12. "To say that Bunty was the Johnny Depp or the Brad Pitt of his generation would perhaps be an exaggeration", Ms Lokal opines, "but that isn't to say that he did not have his five minutes of fame. In fact, he had about five years before being replaced - inexplicably - by Chris Brasher*; the general thinking being that they needed someone with a more athletic image and a smaller moustache". "Cliff Michelmore was busy doing something with Jean Metcalfe at the time, so Chris got the gig - and that spelt the end for Bunty."

Open any quality magazine in the 1940s and 1950s and Bunty would be there: the epitome of suave, sophisticated manliness.

* British track and field athlete, sports journalist and co-founder of the London Marathon. On 6 May 1954, Brasher acted as pacemaker for Roger Bannister when the latter ran the first sub-four-minute mile at Iffley Road Stadium in Oxford. Brasher paced Bannister for the first two laps, while his friend Chris Chataway paced the third. Two years later, at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Brasher finished first in the 3,000 metres steeplechase with a time of 8 minutes 41.2 seconds, but was disqualified for allegedly interfering with another runner, Ernst Larsen of Norway. He was later reinstated when it was proved that Larsen's shorts had suffered elastic failure and had that he had not been "tugged off" by an over-excited Brasher. Brasher himself stumbled and, as a result of his over-excitement, pole-vaulted into the nearby sandpit.

For the sophisticated readers of the Cavendish Mysteries, the irony of the Group Captain being based on Roy "Bunty" Darr will not be lost; for in his fictional reincarnation as the Group Captain, "Bunty" and his Pathfinder he will surely live on long after Chris Brasher and his Pacemaker are the stuff of forgetfulness.

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