This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: COI 370).


Dramatised documentary using a story about faulty navigational radar to illustrate RAF life and work in the Far East.

RAF Staging Post at Gan in the Maldives discovers a malfunction in the CRDF (Cathode Ray Direction Finder) hut, making it difficult to give aircraft (such as Bristol Britannia) a true bearing. At Far Eastern HQ, RAF, Corporal Mitchell has just obtained married quarters and whose wife is flying to Singapore that day) Mitchell's wife is seen onboard Transport Command Comet. (Reel 2) The mess at RAF Changi: Mitchell sees his friends Nobby and Ellis. Flight Sergeant informs Mitchell that he is assigned the job of flying to Gan to repair the faulty CRDF. He reluctantly agrees. At the barracks, he packs, visits the quartermaster to pick up a 6KC oscillator (necessary equipment) and asks Nobby and Ellis to meet his wife for him. Comet flight to Gan: Mitchell is picked up by Corporal Barnett. they drive out to the CRDF hut in Land Rover. The 6KC oscillator is replaced. Meanwhile, Ellis and Nobby are in Singapore. (Reel 3) Repairs continue; flaw found in aerial and fixed. Mrs Mitchell seen in flight. Mitchell himself scrounges a lift on a Shackleton back to Far Eastern HQ; the plane checks bearing using the CRDF: it is a true bearing, mitchell's mission has been a success. He flies home ready to greet his wife.


Remarks: although RAF recruitment is not mentioned, the gushing commentary ("Singapore. Far Eastern headquarters of the Royal Air Force... unrivalled surroundings of comfort and climate") and the endless shots of scenery and lifestyle are obvious temptations for prospective RAF officers.

Technical: tramlines throughout most of print.



True Bearing centres on two Royal Air Force bases in Southeast Asia: the Far East Air Force Headquarters at RAF Changi, Singapore, and the RAF station on the island of Gan (Seenu Atoll) in the Maldives.

Monitoring the build-up of Japanese military power in the inter-war period, Singapore was identified as a base from which Britain could protect its colonies in Southeast Asia. Royal Air Force Singapore was formed in 1930 and a large dock for the navy was formally opened in 1938. The Japanese nevertheless captured Singapore in February 1942, a defeat that Churchill described as ‘the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history’. Following the War the British military rebuilt their base on the island. Royal Air Force Singapore re-emerged as the Far East Air Force, the command organisation responsible for RAF assets in the east of Asia.

Gan had been earmarked by the British military during World War II. In 1941 a naval base was constructed on the island, prompting the transfer of the local population to neighbouring islands. The RAF superseded the Navy in 1957 and used Gan as one of the staging posts for flights between Britain and Singapore.

In both of these territories British military presence outlasted British political control. Singapore became a self-governing state within the British Empire in June 1959, achieving full independence in 1963. The British military did not withdraw from the island until 1971, however (Stockwell, 2001, 488). The Maldive Islands were administered as a British protectorate from 1887 until 1965. Gan nevertheless remained under RAF control until 1976, when British Forces withdrew. The Atoll was handed back to the Maldivian government and its airstrip has now been converted into Gan International Airport.

True Bearing was shot in these locations in 1961. It is credited as ‘A Central Office Information Film for the Air Ministry’ and appears to have been planned as a recruitment film. The director of the film, Seth Holt, developed his career at Ealing Studios where he had served as editor or assistant editor on many famous films. He directed one film there, Nowhere to Go (1958), before the studios closed. At the time of working on True Bearing he was emerging as a director of horror films at Hammer studios. Holt was regarded as a fine talent who failed to deliver his full potential. The Times described him as ‘a master that might have been’ (The Times, 8 December 1984). True Bearing was not widely reviewed, but received notice in Kine Weekly as being a ‘direct little episode which skilfully embraces most aspects of service abroad, and provides interesting glimpses of the many facets of life in a part of the world in which every prospect pleases. Very good’ (KW, 28 December 1961).



True Bearing sells the attractions of the life for RAF recruits in the Far East, particularly in Singapore where ‘some 7000 Royal Air Force men with their wives and children spend two-and-a-half years in unrivalled surroundings of comfort and climate’. It also sells the attractions of their work: war is nowhere to be seen in this film, instead it features a display of the efficiency of military machinery. Radars, aerials and aeroplanes are all lovingly detailed by both the camerawork and the script.

This film has high production values. It employs actors in the leading roles, the cinematography is of a high standard, and the music is cleverly sequenced (an aptly titled piece called ‘El Dorado’ accompanies shots of the beaches of Gan; a jaunty jazz piece is used for pleasurable excursions in Singapore). It also uses devices familiar from theatrical motion pictures. For example, lingering shots of an aeroplane’s control panels indicate that something is likely to go wrong. Similarly, the attention that is paid to Corporal Mitchell leads us to believe that he is the prime candidate to fix things. Nevertheless, this is resolutely not a disaster movie. The emphasis is not on machines malfunctioning, but instead on how well the RAF can deal with problems. Serviceable equipment and the engineering skills of the force are put on display.

The film is as carefully constructed as the RAF’s equipment. Scenes lead directly on from one another and their various plot devices interlock. Corporal Mitchell is moving into new married quarters in Singapore and awaiting the arrival of his wife from England. Mitchell’s visit to his new quarters provides an excuse to put the elegant RAF compound on display. He drives through it in his classic car, accompanied by the jazzy soundtrack, and is halted by a charming local lollipop man. Once at his new quarters he is presented with a beautiful Singapore girl who wishes to stay on as helper; and we are told that she is a ‘real treasure, a marvellous washer and keeps the place like a new pin’. His wife, meanwhile, is onboard her plane and is worried about her new destination. This enables the flight assistant to inform her that ‘you live like blooming potentates!’ and to claim that eating at the RAF’s canteen is ‘like dining at the Ritz’. We then cut to the canteen, where we see abundant food being served by a large team of locals in crisp white uniforms. The menu, reassuringly, features ‘Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding’ and ‘Lancashire Hot Pot’.

Corporal Mitchell’s removal to the island of Gan to mend the equipment serves several narrative purposes. It provides us with a chance to see his engineering skills and the range of RAF equipment. It also elicits a portrayal of the easy-going camaraderie of various RAF teams. His journey facilitates aerial shots of the beauty of Singapore and of the enticing island of Gan at sunset and sunrise. Finally, his removal provides an excuse to send some of Mitchell’s comrades on a shopping trip in his stead. This last device is subtle. In place of the steady and married Corporal Mitchell we get to see young recruits who are playful and single. Their excursion introduces us to attractive WAAFs at the army swimming pool and on the beach. It also features a montage sequence of Singapore, where we witness the beauty of the city and of its people. We also see that these people are on hand to serve the young recruits: they are obligingly pedalled around the city on a trishaw by a middle-aged local.

In True Bearing the people of Singapore, like the city itself, serve as an attractive backdrop and as providers of comfort to the men of the RAF.The Far East and life in the services are pictured as being idyllic. Active combat does not impinge on this film and nor does local politics. As such, this film reflects Britain’s withdrawal from active involvement in governing this region.

Richard Osborne (July 2009)


Works Cited

Kine Weekly, 535/2,830 (28 December 1961), 17.

Stockwell, A. J., ‘Imperialism and Nationalism in South-East Asia’, in The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume IV: The Twentieth Century, ed. by Judith M. Brown and Wm. Roger Louis (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 465-89.

Waymark, Peter, ‘A master that might have been’, The Times, 8 December 1984, 17.




Technical Data

Running Time:
29 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
2627 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Air Ministry
Central Office of Information
Byers, Isabelle
Mellor, James
film editor
Cooke, Malcolm
Arapoff, Cyril
Holt, Seth
Production company
Editorial Film Productions
Edwards, Rex