Cone of Silence (film)

Cone of Silence is a 1960 British drama film directed by Charles Frend and starring Michael Craig, Peter Cushing, George Sanders, and Bernard Lee.[2] The film is about the investigation into a series of crashes involving the fictional 'Atlas Aviation Phoenix' jetliner.[3] Cone of Silence is loosely based on the 1952 crash in Rome and subsequent investigations into the structural integrity of the de Havilland Comet airliner.[4]

Cone of Silence
Directed byCharles Frend
Produced byAubrey Baring
Written byRobert Westerby
David Beaty (novel)
StarringMichael Craig
Peter Cushing
George Sanders
Bernard Lee
Music byGerard Schürmann
CinematographyArthur Grant
Edited byMax Benedict
Aubrey Baring Productions
Bryanston Films
Distributed byUniversal–International Films
Release date
  • 10 May 1960 (1960-05-10)
Running time
88 min. Black and white (UK)
76 min. Black and white (US)
CountryUnited Kingdom


Captain George Gort (Bernard Lee) is a pilot for British Empire Airways, flying their route London – Rome – Cairo – Ranjibad – Calcutta – Singapore. He is found to have been at fault after his Phoenix 1 jetliner crashed on takeoff from (the fictional) Ranjibad airport, killing his co-pilot. He is accused of rotating too early, increasing drag to such an extent that the aircraft could not achieve flying speed.

Gort is reprimanded and reduced in seniority but is allowed to return to flying the Phoenix after a check flight under Captain Hugh Dallas (Michael Craig). Meanwhile, Gort's daughter Charlotte (Elizabeth Seal) refuses to believe he was at fault. Gort's flying skills are again called into question when a piece of hedge is found wrapped around an undercarriage leg after an unusually low approach to Calcutta. However, it is later discovered that there is no hedge at the threshold of the Calcutta runway, and that the piece of hedge round the undercarriage had actually come from Ranjibad, where the take-off had been flown by Captain Clive Judd (Peter Cushing).

Dallas eventually discovers that the aircraft's designer had deliberately withheld information on potential take-off difficulties in hot conditions. A third crash is avoided by seconds when a message from the aircraft designer comes through to a crew about to take off in the same problematic weather conditions, advising them to add eight knots to the calculated unstick speed and keep the nose-wheel on the ground until just before unstick speed is reached. The take off is successful.


As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified):[5]

Michael CraigCaptain Hugh Dallas
Peter CushingCaptain Clive Judd
Bernard LeeCaptain George Gort
Elizabeth SealCharlotte Gort
George SandersSir Arnold Hobbes
André MorellCaptain Edward Manningham
Gordon JacksonCaptain Bateson
Charles TingwellCaptain Braddock
Noel WillmanNigel Pickering
Delphi LawrenceJoyce Mitchell
Marne MaitlandMr. Robinson
William AbneyFirst Officer
Jack HedleyFirst Officer
Simon LackNavigator
Howard PaysSteward
Ballard BerkeleyCommissioner
Charles Lloyd-PackCommissioner


Cone of Silence was based on David Beaty's novel, Cone of Silence (1959), also known as Trouble in the Sky in the United States. Beaty was an ex-military and commercial pilot with BOAC who became an expert on human error in aviation incidents and accidents.[6] After beginning a writing career with his first novels revolving around aviation themes, Beaty went back to college to get his degree in psychology and became a civil servant in 1967. He wrote his first non-fiction work, The Human Factor in Aircraft Accidents, in 1969, and followed that with other works before he returned to the subject of his first non-fiction book in The Naked Pilot: The Human Factor in Aircraft Accidents (1991). The film Cone of Silence represented his concern that human factors were being ignored in the aviation industry.[7]

Budgetary constraints led to the production using miniatures to depict airfields and aircraft, although principal photography took place at Filton Airport in North Bristol with the cooperation of the Bristol Siddeley Engines Ltd. (BSEL). The majority of the film was shot on the sound stages at Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Surrey, United Kingdom.[8] [N 1]

Aubrey Baring provided £16,060 to the budget.[10]

Representation of the 'Phoenix' in the film

The 'Phoenix' airliner is represented by the Avro Ashton WB493, in use since 1955 as a testbed by the engine manufacturer Bristol Siddeley (now part of Rolls-Royce plc).[11] The real aircraft, named the 'Olympus-Ashton', was powered by two Olympus turbojet, podded, underwing engines in addition to four Nenes mounted in the standard wing root location. For its starring role as the 'Phoenix' airliner, the Olympus-Ashton was painted in a special livery to represent the fictional 'Atlas Aviation'. It was the only full-scale aircraft seen in the film.[12]


Box office

Cone of Silence lost Bryanston £32,348.[10]


After its premiere in London, reviews of the Cone of Silence were generally positive. Gerard Schurmann's film score was notable " music which divorces it from the routine and the prosaic ... the scores are infused with a dynamism, an energy, which is not only compelling but impelling, the music always a cogent force on the soundtrack, driving all before it."[13] The authoritative Flight magazine concentrated on the aviation elements, stating, "Coming at a time when jet runway lengths, ground stall effects and unstick manual speeds are again under close review, this is a timely and exciting film; no pilot could see it without mentally following through every action of each take-off and landing sequence."[9]

Other reviews noted, "Somewhat talky with a lot of technical jargon thrown into the screenplay (based on actual events), ... a fairly straightforward drama aided by a top notch cast of familiar Brit character actors."[14]T.V. Guide, however, was not impressed. "This average drama has simplistic characterizations and poorly written dialogue."[15]

See also



  1. Captain John C. Crewdson of Film Aviation Services was the technical coordinator for the production.[9]


  1. Petrie, Duncan James. "Bryanston Films: An Experiment in Cooperative Independent Production and Distribution." Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 2017, p. 7. ISSN 1465-3451.
  2. Pendo 1985, p. 202.
  3. Paris 1995, p. 27.
  4. "Cone of Silence (1960).", 8 June 2010. Retrieved: 21 November 2011.
  5. "Credits: Cone of Silence (1960)." IMDb. Retrieved: 5 December 2011.
  6. Santoir, Christian. "Review: 'Trouble in the Sky'." Aerofiles, 4 October 2006. Retrieved: 7 December 2011.
  7. Beere, Ken. "Obituary: David Beaty." The Independent, 22 December 1999. Retrieved: 5 December 2011.
  8. Erickson, Glenn. "Best of! British Classics: Trouble in the Sky a.k.a.Cone of Silence." DVD Savant, 10 July 2010. Retrieved: 5 December 2011.
  9. "Conspiracy of Silence." Flight, April 1960. Retrieved: 5 December 2011.
  10. Petrie 2017, p. 8.
  11. Jackson 2000, p. 437.
  12. "Olympus-Ashton." Flight, 18 February 1955. Retrieved: 6 December 2011.
  13. Wishart, David. "Gerard Schurmann." Gerard Schurmann, 1999. Retrieved: 7 December 2011.
  14. Reis, George. "Trouble in the Sky." Retrieved: 6 December 2011.
  15. "Trouble in the Sky." TV Guide. Retrieved: 6 December 2011.


  • Beaty, David. Cone of Silence. London: Pan Books, 1960.
  • Jackson, A.J. Avro Aircraft since 1908. London: Putnam Aeronautical Books, 2000 (revised edition). ISBN 0-85177-797-X.
  • Paris, Michael. From the Wright Brothers to Top Gun: Aviation, Nationalism, and Popular Cinema. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-7190-4074-0.
  • Pendo, Stephen. Aviation in the Cinema. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8-1081-746-2.
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