'YOU can't talk to a Guinea-Pig without a pint' were Jimmy Wright's first words to me 30 years ago at Shepperton Studios where, in the early 1950s as a blind man, he had launched his first film production company.
Wright represented the essence of what was to become known as 'guinea-piggery'; for seven years he was a patient of Sir Archibald McIndoe, the plastic surgeon, as one of his 'Guinea-Pigs' at the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead.
There never was, and never will be, another ward like McIndoe's hutted Ward 111, where a barrel of beer was on tap day and night and the Guinea-Pig Club was founded by McIndoe over a bottle of sherry. But for the club set up for the lifetime welfare of his patients, to care for its charges from the outset of multiple surgical operations until rehabilitation and resettlement, Wright and hundreds of other British and Commonwealth wartime aircrew might have been institutionalised until they died.
Thanks to guinea-piggery, Jimmy Wright, blind and disabled, launched a film production company, and remained at the helm of his most recent company, Cinexsa Productions, until he died.
That Wright survived the Second World War was little short of miraculous. Although commissioned into the RAF as a pilot officer in 1942, he was rejected for pilot training because his eyesight was considered inadequate, but was accepted as an RAF Film Unit cameraman.
Once 'in' he qualified as an air gunner to enable him to film operationally. While flying with No 223, a Baltimore bomber squadron, he had already had two lucky escapes (one involving perilous reconnaissance filming over heavily defended enemy targets for which he was awarded a DFC), beforehe was burned beyond recognition in a Martin Marauder reconnaissance bomber crash on take- off at Taranto. Although he was just alive, his name had been included in the 'dead' column of an army casualty signal, in the certainty that in hours he would be.
It was only because he unexpectedly survived the night that his father, a former RFC 1914-18 fighter pilot and newsreel war correspondent, pulled strings and had time to reach the hospital and save him.
Jim Wright stopped a nurse administering the massive doses of morphia which would have given substance to the signal and accompanied his bandaged son home on a cargo Liberator.
After seven years in hospital, in 1952 Jimmy Wright founded Anglo-Scottish Films at Shepperton Studios. He produced documentaries and shorts for the Central Office of Information and companies.
In 1961 he launched Film City Productions. He made screen ads for cinema and, as independent television arrived, produced commercials. Granada Television called on his services for its Searchlight current affairs programmes and he filmed Bob Hope shows for General Motors.
Ever mindful of the debt he felt he owed to guinea-piggery and St Dunstan's, where he mastered braille, he worked enthusiastically for the Guinea-Pig Club fellow members and for the club's great benefactor, the RAF Benevolent Fund.
He made training videos for the Braille Authority and less than three years ago, quite extraordinarily for a blind and disabled man approaching 70, parascended the Channel from Ramsgate to Dunkirk.
Each September the Guinea-Pig Club holds an annual 'Lost Weekend' reunion at the Felbridge Hotel near the 'Sty' (as members of the Club called the Queen Victoria Hospital). Jimmy Wright was always the life and soul of the bar and dinner at this annual medical check-up and renewal of the spirit of Ward 111.
Wright was appointed OBE in 1980 in recognition of his numerous charitable activities, including committee work for the Julie Andrews Appeal to fight arterial disease, the Royal School for the Blind, Leatherhead, and the Spelthorne Talking News, a neighbourhood spoken local newspaper which he ran for the disabled. In 1981 he received a Bafta award.
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