Old-Time Radio Episode Spotlight: Those Magnificent Cats in their Flying Machines

“Clipper Home,” An American in England
December 22, 1942

Norman Corwin was one of the most important creative forces in radio’s golden age. He wrote, produced, and directed several prestigious, poetic shows celebrating American values. In December 1942, TIME wrote, “CBS’s Norman Corwin, top-flight U.S. radio dramatist, went to England last summer to try something that U.S. radio had not done before. He wanted to explain England to Americans by short-waving his dramatized observations of the English.”

This was a huge technical challenge in 1942, and not all the broadcasts from England aired successfully in the United States. After Corwin returned home in the fall, he produced four more episodes, including this final one.

Pyro, of Helensburgh, Scotland, flew on experimental bombing test missions in World War II. Source: WIRRALNEWS.co.uk

Recently, while listening to it, I became fascinated by a short incident near the end. The narrator, slowly making his way home from Great Britain to the United States, meets a U.S. flier in Brazil. With him, the flier carries his “mascot,” a gray kitten name Tiger. The flier says he brought the kitten from his home in New Hampshire and carries him along on all his flying missions.

As a passionate cat lover, I wanted to find out more about Tiger. Unfortunately, my research didn’t unearth any information about him, but I did learn about a flying World War II cat named Pyro. British photographer Bob Bird was working at the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment base in Helensburgh, Scotland, when he adopted a stray kitten. Pyro didn’t like it when his owner left to accompany flight crews on experimental bomb tests. Bird started taking Pyro along on the missions; together they survived a crash landing, and Pyro once helped protect Bird from frostbite. Last year, Pyro received a posthumous award for bravery from the United Kingdom’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals charity.

At the time of the award, Bob Bird’s son Robin said, “’We are really very proud of Pyro. He was the only flying cat in the Second World War—and any other war as far as we know.”

Even if “Tiger” didn’t really exist, Pyro wasn’t the only flying cat in World War II. The web site Purr ‘n’ Fur has fascinating and comprehensive pages about cats in wartime. You can read about a few flying cats (and even see a picture of a cat of in a military aircraft in flight). You can also learn about ships’ cats, which were much more numerous than flying cats.

To be honest, my first reaction to hearing about Tiger was annoyance that someone had put an animal in such a dangerous situation. I can’t begrudge soldiers and sailors for seeking comfort from a pet, though, and the cats I’ve read about took their “service” in stride. (Why do my cats fuss so much about a car ride to the vet’s?)

The entire series An American in England makes interesting listening for history buffs and Anglophiles, even though it is wordy and rather unsubtle in its propaganda. (This episode also has an uncomfortable segment in which the narrator wonders what’s going through “the simple tribal mind” of a West African native. That segment concludes, however, with hypothetical soldiers expressing sentiments like this: “Listen, I like bread. So does the next guy. I’d like to see everybody in the world get a piece of bread and a quart of milk a day. And that goes for Indians and Eskimos and Hottentots, too.”)

Joseph Julian plays the narrator, who represents Corwin’s viewpoint.

Final Fun Fact: Corwin, who died last fall at 101, once said, “Cats are designated friends.”

Other Old-Time Radio Entries:

Playlist: Till Death Do Us Part

Episode Spotlight: A Snapped-Worthy 1920s True Story

Episode Spotlight: CSI, 1940s Styl

Playlist: London Calling, Part 

Playlist: London Calling, Part 2