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"In Which We Serve" - 'the story of a ship'


ABOVE: Poster for the film

"In Which We Serve"

Sir Noël Coward in the role of

'Captain Kinross' addressing the crew

of HMS Torrin, using Mountbatten's

own words including the immortal line

"a happy ship is an efficient ship"


Sir Noël Coward in the role of

'Captain Kinross' wearing Mountbatten's

own helmet in a battle scene


Sir John Mills in the role of

'Shorty Blake'

and Kay Walsh as his wife 'Freda'

in the film "In Which We Serve"

In 1942, the film “In Which We Serve” was released, it was written, produced, co-directed and starred (Sir) Noël Coward (1899-1973) and told the story of HMS Torrin, loosely based on HMS Kelly’s exploits.  The main character of 'Captain Kinross' was played by Coward – Mountbatten’s friend, and during the film he wore Mountbatten’s actual caps and helmet and used his actual words in the dramatic scenes.  The film was a great success and starred other such British theatrical names such as (Dame) Celia Johnson (1908-1982), (Sir) John Mills (1908-2005), (Sir) Bernard Miles, later Lord Miles (1907-1991), an uncredited (Sir) Richard Attenborough, later Lord Attenborough (1923-2014) and earned Coward an Honorary Oscar.  The film was thought to be so realistic about Navy life that the Royal Navy showed the film to new recruits throughout World War II (1939-1945).  The film remains a classic example of wartime British cinema through its patriotic imagery of national unity and social cohesion within the context of the war.


Interestingly - Sir David Lean was married at the time to the actress Kay Walsh (1911-2005) who played the role of 'Freda' in the film.  Lean subsequently married the actress Ann Todd (1909-1993), whose first husband was Victor Malcolm (1905-1977), the son of Jeanne Marie Langtry, later Lady Malcolm of Poltalloch (1881-1964) who was the illegitimate daughter of the celebrated actress Mrs Edward 'Lillie' Langtry, later Lady de Bathe (1853-1929), a former mistress of both King Edward VII (1841(1901-1910) and Prince Louis of Battenberg, later 1st Marquess of Milford Haven - Mountbatten's father, who it is said was the biological father of Jeanne Marie Langtry.  Another Royal link concerning the actors of the film involved Penelope Dudley Ward (1914-1982) - who played 'Maureen', a newly engaged Naval Officer's fiancé.  Her mother was Mrs Freda Dudley Ward (née Birkin), later Marquesa de Casa Maury (1894-1983), who was a mistress of Mountbatten's cousin 'David', King Edward VIII (1894(1936)1972), whilst Prince of Wales.  Penelope's daughter from her first marriage - Tracy Reed (1942-2012) was the first wife of actor Edward Fox (b.1937), who portrayed King Edward VIII in the 1978 award winning TV drama "Edward & Mrs Simpson". 

Mountbatten is said to have asked Coward what part he intended to play, and when Coward replied that he was to portray the Captain of HMS Torrin, Mountbatten said - "there is one thing you must be quite certain about.  If you are going to play the part of the Captain - you are not going to be a hero.  You are just going to be one of the ship.  The heroine is the ship!" Coward asked Mountbatten if he could have a ship's company from a destroyer that had been recently damaged, wearing the clothes they wore whilst at sea.  The Royal Navy duly supplied the sailors, which added to the reality of the crew in the film.  Mountbatten was easily recognisable as the inspiration behind Coward's Captain, especially as events in the film mirrored Mountbatten's own much publicised wartime adventures.  

During production of the film, Coward invited King George VI (1895(1936-1952) and other members of the Royal Family to the set.  The King, accompanied by Queen Elizabeth (1900-2002), Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II (1926(1952-    ) and Princess Margaret (1930-2002) were shown around the Denham Film Studios, Buckinghamshire by Coward and (Sir) David Lean (1908-1991) - who Coward asked to direct the 'action scenes'.  Both Mountbatten and Edwina joined the Royal visitors, whose presence proved to be good publicity for the film. 


ABOVE: Sir John Mills

in the role of 'Shorty Blake'


King George VI (left)

was personally shown around

the set of "In Which We Serve"

at Denham Film Studios

by Sir Noël Coward (centre)

BELOW RIGHT: A trailer

for "In Which We Serve"


The visit of King George VI,
Queen Elizabeth & Princess Margaret (seated)
to the set of "In Which We Serve" at Denham Film Studios.
Mountbatten & Edwina can be seen standing behind
King George VI 
& Queen Elizabeth




Despite the success of the film, Coward's script did cause Mountbatten some 'challenges' - in one scene the film shows a copy of The Daily Express newspaper dated 1st September 1939 bearing the headline "NO WAR THIS YEAR", which was Coward's revenge at the newspaper's continual criticism of the film during production.  In 1942, the newspaper's proprietor - The Rt Hon. William Maxwell 'Max' Aitken, 1st Lord Beaverbrook (1879-1964) said to Mountbatten at a dinner-party accusing him of self-glorification and ingratitude - "you and Coward have gone out of your way to insult me and try to hold up the Daily Express to ridicule!"  He also said - "I shall never forgive you for this piece of disloyalty.  From now on, you watch out.  You will live to regret the day that you took part in such a vile attack on me." 

BELOW: cast members

from "In Which We Serve" -

(top left to right):

Sir Bernard Miles,

later Lord Miles;

Sir John Mills;

Dame Celia Johnson;

Kay Walsh; Joyce Carey and

Sir Richard Attenborough,

later Lord Attenborough

(who had just started his acting

career and was originally

uncredited in the film)

Bernard Miles  In Which We Serve (1942).
John Mills  In Which We Serve (1942).jpg
Celia Johnson  In Which We Serve (1942).
Kay Walsh  In Which We Serve (1942).jpg
Richard Attenborough  In Which We Serve

Sir Noël Coward in the role of 'Captain Kinross' 


When Coward sent a draft of his autobiography to Mountbatten for his comments some time later, Mountbatten wrote to Coward - "you may not realise it, but I have been greatly criticised, chiefly among my brother officers, for being a party to the making of a film which was apparently designed to boost me personally."   The film however, is dedicated to the Royal Navy - "whereon under the good providence of God, the wealth, safety and strength of the kingdom chiefly depend".

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