Vintage Years of Fliar Phil
Ray Malmström celebrates his diamond jubilee this year - his contributions to the hobby are well known, and vintage enthusiasts who thumb through old magazines cannot fail to have noticed his cartoon work both as article illustrations and as caricatures in series like “Caricaplanes” and “Aerobods of Note”, not to mention the countless model designs (there were over 500 of them during the last 50 years), that appeared in many publications world-wide including AeroModeller, Model Aircraft and Meccano Magazine.
His model designs were often caricatures in the true dictionary meaning of the word and had “characteristic traits exaggerated in a ludicrous way”. He did this to such good effect that most of us have built one or more of his models sometime or other. One thing all his designs had in common was that they all flew. They were simple yet “different” and were aimed mainly at the younger modellers and most of them could be built from the scraps of balsa left over from building “conventional” models, thus cost was never a factor that might have suppressed the desire to construct a Malmström design.
Ray’s earliest contribution to AeroModeller was the ‘Pee-Wee’, a baby indoor duration model of 8 inches wingspan that appeared in the November 1940 issue. It was followed by ‘Horus’, ‘Tom-Tit Triplane’ and the ‘Avenger’, the latter being the simple indoor forerunner of the ‘Kestrel’ and ‘Merlin’ twins. The ‘Avenger’ had mere sticks for motors, a profile fuselage and a high mounted “T” tail, altogether like a Westland Whirlwind; it was produced at the time when there was great interest in the indoor evening flying that included much of the RTP (Round the Pole) variety. His attractive ‘Kestrel’ appeared in August 1944 Aero Modeller; being presented in half-size meant that for some time it was a chore to enlarge and one wonders how many readers built a model of this nice looking twin-engined (and twin-fuselaged) fighter of 21 inches wingspan.
Its high speed flights of 20 to 30 seconds duration were “due reward for those who built it”. Another smart design in similar vein appeared in the February 1945 AeroModeller, the 201/3 inches span ‘Merlin Mk 1’ twin-motor fighter-bomber, again regrettably presented in half-size. Ray’s description tells us the reasoning behind this type of model. “. . . an attempt . . . to create a model that follows, without being a copy, the general layout of a type of aircraft that has won battle honours in every theatre of war. . . In conclusion, the designer . . . believes that future development of, and research
into, the hobby of aeromodelling must, and eventually will, be directed to the production of models that are in real truth MODEL AIRCRAFT... ” This is the semi-scale approach that was common both before and during the war, but which gradually lost support due to the rapidity and ease with which flying scale models of real aircraft could be produced especially after the coming of the miniature compression-ignition or diesel engine.
In October 1946, a full-size plan appeared in AeroModeller for his twin-engined civil machine called ‘Athene’ whose shapely fuselage was built on the keel-system of construction; if lightly built and fitted with efficient propellers, the power contained in the 8 inch long engine nacelles should, especially with today’s know-how, produce a high-performing feeder-airliner. Ray was one of the old school who continued to make semi-scale models with “exaggerated characteristic traits” and never stopped using rubber power because of its obvious simplistic appeal to beginners; however, he quickly saw the advent of the small diesel and Jetex units as providing the ideal means of powering his creations and designed accordingly.
Another practice that he developed regardless of the page size at his disposal was to show important parts full-size, and some of his layouts in books and magazines are masterpieces of this art. Possibly his most famous creation was Fliar Phil – the antics that this cartoon character got up to were legion, yet all the situations could be identified with the hobby. AeroModeller’s popular “Photonews” of the wartime years concerned full-size aircraft, but with the easing of the war situation it slowly gave way to “Model News”, a keenly read photographic section entirely devoted to models.
look at the 1945 issues of the magazine we see that this is merely a
page of photographs
with short captions, but, from January 1946, this feature boasts a
cartoon title, a different one being drawn every month for this purpose
into the 19503 - well past the end of the vintage period. More detailed
captions now appeared as “Selected Items by F liar Phil” and the
commentary by Ray on the photographs submitted by readers was to long
popular AeroModeller item. As present day readers know, a “Photo Prize”
of “Model News” has appeared since March 1983 run by the same
Apart from the activities mentioned, Ray found time to produce a number of books for which he wrote, drew and photographed the entire contents. These included the four Eagle Books of Model Aircraft, Model Boats, Model Cars and Model Space-craft, also two books published by Arco, one on Model Space-craft and the other on Aeromodelling. All these are sought after by collectors nowadays. His “space-age” contributions led to a series of models printed in colour on the back of an international breakfast cereal company’s products, and Ray admits to nipping secretly into Tesco’s to admire his handiwork on the shelves!
Art and AeroplanesGrandfather Malmström was a Swedish boot maker who took an English wife and settled in this country setting up a business in London; a son, Ray’s father, was also business-minded and kept a toyshop in the Southsea area of Portsmouth and in the late 192os stocked various flying toys including some of the Appleby card model aeroplane kits. It was the sight of these excitingly boxed models that fired Ray’s imagination and, as we shall see, started him off on aeromodelling. But there was also school, and. after attending St John’s Secondary School, the young Malmström studied art at the Southsea College of Art, and apart from continuous model building, naturally developed an interest in full-size aviation.
A fascinating aspect of his early modelling, which showed a business-like approach, concerned his offer to the pilots of 1 the air service operators running to the Isle j of Wight and Jersey to make scale models of their machines. He sold models of the DH 84 Dragon to pilots of Jersey Airlines who operated that type from Southampton and Portsmouth, and to the pilots of Southampton, Southsea and Isle of Wight Aviation Ltd operating a de luxe Westland Wessex, Monospar and Fox Moth to the Isle of Wight, miniatures of their aircraft. With this money he was able to take flying lessons with the Portsmouth Aero Club on Gipsy Moths, and also, when space allowed, he accompanied F/O Brown on flights in the Wessex.
With the approach of war, as his art studies allowed, he undertook work of national importance when he joined the Auxiliary Fire Service and it was during this period that he made the ‘Pee-Wee’ indoor model which was flown in the confines of the Fire Station. Enterprising Ray sent the design to AeroModeller and it appeared the following year, his first published design. Finally he took his art teacher’s diploma at Brighton in 1939 and this led to an appointment as junior art teacher at Kendal Grammar School.
The outbreak of war made this employment of short duration, but Ray found time to form and run an active model aeroplane club at the school. However, soon in 1940 he entered the RAF and AC 2 Malmström was trained as an armourer serving with No 249 (Gold Coast), 71 (Eagle) and 56 Squadrons. One of many interesting stories that he tells of his RAF service took place at North Weald when, as a corporal, he was working on a Hurricane IIC armed with four 2omm Hispano cannon. The CO brought an Air Ministry photographer out to the aircraft and allowed him to sit in the cockpit while Ray lingered nearby. Suddenly the guns went off with a shattering roar as the photographer caught up the firing button with his camera gear. Ray was stone deaf for three days! Eventually the RAF found out that he was a trained teacher and Ray was sent to a training unit and eventually became a sergeant armament instructor but was demobbed shortly afterwards.
returned to teaching in 1946 when he took up an art teacher post at
College which is close to Cambridge; he was to
remain there for 40 years and finished up as head of art studies.
say, he lost little time in forming a model aeroplane club at the
school - this
rejoiced under the name of Model Air Squadron with himself as CO.
youngsters passed through that club and Ray regularly gets letters from
aeromodellers all over the world who were his pupils. Some of the
members are still in the club which is a very successful one and
enthusiasts from all over Cambridgeshire who regularly travel up to 50
Members include Mick Reeves, inter-nationally famous R/ C flier, Henry J Nicholls and the SMAE Treasurer Robin Gowler. Ray always attends and brings a clutch of indoor rubber models to fly in the school hall in winter and on the playing fields during summer evening sessions. He still teaches part-time at the College and is still building models carrying on the tradition he started so long ago.
Ray looks backAlthough the foregoing is an attempt to tell something of Ray’s background, just how the youngster from Southsea with the Swedish name started into the hobby is best related by Fliar Phil himself. Here he indulges in a bit of nostalgia:-
“I was about 12 years old when my father, dear soul, succumbed to my repeated onslaught and bought me my first model aeroplane kit. And what a kit! An all- cardboard affair, designed, I feel, by someone who certainly had little aeronautical knowledge, but made up for it with an immense and touching faith in the gods! It was supposed to build up into a model of the fascinating little Wee Bee I Beardmore monoplane! God - that cardboard resembled good quality sheet iron! Only a particularly evil smelling virulent variety of fish glue could hold it together.
My father, sweat wreathing his bald but noble napper, did indeed manage to get the fearsome aerofoil section (?) wing to stick, but unfortunately only to the backside of his trousers - this act of unquestioned dedication was achieved by accidentally sitting on it. The resulting model was, in the light of subsequent efforts, a catastrophe that put WWI, the Wall Street crash and the General Strike rather in the shade. But bless its reinforced cardboard heart it set me out on our great hobby of aeromodelling.
Early days included flying the inevitable Warneford spruce and silk jobs, and then on to that great design by dear much respected ‘RIP’ - the Cruiser Pup - my model of which departed this life a couple of thousand feet up over Portsmouth Harbour, 12 minutes OOS. Long flights with a Burd Thermalider (cost of kit about three bob (15p) - with a machine or saw-cut balsa propeller), an introduction to the joys of scale with a Captain Pages Racer - a Comet kit from Sweetens in Blackpool, and a monstrous 5 feet span rubber-powered (l) Rearwin Speedster - another dreamboat from Burd - and it flew!
Recall the days when it was considered a sign of moral turpitude (not to say indecency) to turn up on one’s local flying patch with a Wakefield, that sported less than a couple of dozen sylph-like stringers encasing its streamlined figure. Flew Copland’s ‘GB3’ and Stott’s ‘Flying Minutes’ with success. Built Cahill’s ‘Clodhopper’ (ugly brute!) - the model, not the bloke - but it tried conclusions with some decidedly unfriendly telegraph wires which did absolutely nothing for its subsequent trim! Great streamliner days those - until Dick Korda wrote “finis” to the streamline syndrome with his slab-sided masterpiece.
About this time helped to run the Portsmouth MAC and founded the Kendal Grammar School MAC. Lots of keen aerobods - but then yours truly (and some of his senior pupils) got mixed up with the RAF and a five year stint assisting a few million others to put Hitler’s mob where they couldn’t rock the civilised boat again.
Back in the teaching biz once more, founded the Impington Village College MAC in 1946 - and, like the famous brand of whisky, (thank you, I don’t mind if I do!) IVCMAC is still going very strong. Got aeromodelling included in the official curriculum and discovered what a help it was to both the bright lads, but especially to those whom educationists describe rather delicately, as “the less able”. There was nothing “less able” about ’em when they got the feel of balsa in their souls and the lovely reek of dope up their “hooters”! Even the headmaster smiled as their gliders glided and control-liners circulated, and the free-flight jobs washed out most of the glass in the greenhouse of the gardening section!
an account of a visit paid by Doug Gillies and Bill HannanRay Malmström was an artist/teacher/author and an aeromodeller extraordinaire. His interests included virtually every facet of model building, and his creativity and enthusiasm were legendary. He published a remarkable number of original model designs in magazines over the years, and contributed cartoons to most of the Runway publications.
During 1975 the late Doug Gillies and I visited Ray in his Cambridge, England home, and the following excerpts are from Doug’s diary, edited in the interests of brevity:
Ray Malmström is an elderly youth aged somewhere between 15 and 50 vintage, and upon our arrival full-spectrum three-way communication is instantaneous. Sheila Malmström, a marvellous hostess, supplied delicious refreshments as our animated conversation flowed on. Time stops, or maybe, is annulled... we view Ray’s model den, Bill flies one of his single-bladed helicopters...we examine a multitude of photos and press clippings... and we go into the back garden and fly a profile autogyro.
produces a push-’n’-pull rubber-driven monoplane of about three-foot
and as we eventually go outside to air it, we discover that the
night has fallen; pitch-black night. Nothing daunted, we four (Ray’s
Peter, makes the fourth, complete with battery torch), pile into
Mini car and navigate the velvet black lanes of Cambridgeshire. In five
or so we arrive at the flying site, and pile out of the Mini into a
large dimension, with vaguely-seen cattle perambulating here and there.
are not so much seen by sight, but rather by their king-size pancakes
All the while Ray has been adding power knots to the rubber-motor of his push-n’-pull, and eventually announces a ‘full keg’; then poses the immortal question, ‘Which way is England?’ and launches the model in the general direction of Betelgeuse in Orion.
The craft immediately goes into the fourth dimension and becomes invisible to us – but fleeting glimpses are reported of the model’s progress as it blacks out stars, or the fuselage faintly reflects light from the torch held by the youngest and most active member of our crew. Vector-location is also indicated by the ghostly cattle, who disperse to left and right of the model’s course as it whirs amongst the quadrupeds!
Master younglegs retrieves the model whilst the three adults(!) stagger around chuckling, laughing, effervescing in their utter freedom from life’s woes, and delight at this performance. Ray makes another ‘twist o’ the rubber,’ plus a few extra turns for luck, and this time the model goes even further into the wild black yonder, and we concede that all things are finite - and to venture again would tempt fate. So, in a pixilated state, we all five (four humans and an apparatus) squeeze back into the Mini and away we go to the Malmström residence.
Words just cannot do justice to this experience - only those who were there can understand the sterling value... life is for living... Ray Malmström is one of nature’s livelier characters and to be in his company is to be truly alive.
Ray makes me a present of his Peanut Scale model of David Livesey’s D.L.5 minimum-aircraft and Bill receives signed 4 copies of Ray’s aeromodelling books. The time has come to say goodbye to this gentleman who has devoted a lifetime to imbuing thousands of people with the joys of model making.
|p1 to 6||The man of a
|p7 to 11||In the begining
|p12 to 13||I say, I say, Isay
|p14 to 18||The Pee Wee, The
|p19 to 27||MIMI, Martian, SAAB
|p28 to 37||Push-Up, model'n
|p38 to 42||Cosmic Wind,
|p43 to 52||Mini Master,
Stream, The AVRO F
Eastbourne Monoplane, Starduster
|p53 to 56||SAAB A37 Viggen,
|p57 to 59||AVRO 504K
|p60 to 64||Miss Starstreak,
|p65 to 72||Spitfire VB, OLE
|p73 to 80||Tailup, Arrowair,
|p81 to 89||Avions Hanriot,
Wren, The Starfli,
|p90 to 94||Ascenda