Liv­ing up to a legend by Diana Bishop

Montreal Times - - NEWS -

It’s not al­ways easy to live un­der the shadow of a fa­mous rel­a­tive, es­pe­cially one who has a his­toric, le­gendary sta­tus at­tached to them.

Just ask for­mer CBC/CTV/Global News re­porter Diana Bishop. Her fa­mous grand­fa­ther is the late Billy Bishop, the Cana­dian World War I air force pilot and fly­ing ace who shot down 72 Ger­man planes, and was also best known for his solo raid against a Ger­man aero­drome in 1917 that earned him the highly cov­eted Vic­to­ria Cross medal.

To a de­gree, Diana had some pres­sure to live up to the Bishop name and the legacy her fa­mous grand­fa­ther es­tab­lished ex­actly a cen­tury ago. How­ever, that legacy fell more heav­ily on the shoul­ders of her fa­ther, Arthur Bishop. A fighter pilot in his own right dur­ing World War II with the RCAF,Arthur Bishop hap­pily pre­served the heroic legacy of Billy Bishop, from writ­ing nu­mer­ous books (which in­cluded the bi­og­ra­phy “The Courage of the Early Morn­ing”, which be­came a na­tional best­seller and is still in print), and re­liv­ing that legacy in count­less per­sonal ap­pear­ances and speeches he de­liv­ered at mil­i­tary and avi­a­tion events.

“He was mas­ter­ful,” writes Diana. “Play­ing a part that he had been born into – though it was not one he had se­lected for him­self.”

And now Diana Bishop, who has made a ca­reer telling other peo­ple’s sto­ries on three tele­vi­sion news­casts, tells her own story of what it was like to grow up with the same fam­ily name and blood ties with one of Canada’s great­est war he­roes in her mem­oir Liv­ing Up To A Legend.

In her book, which ef­fec­tively dou­bles as a rather cathar­tic con­fes­sional, Diana re­counts the story of both her fa­ther and grand­fa­ther; how one built an ex­tra­or­di­nary, heroic rep­u­ta­tion as a re­sult of his ac­tions in the skies over war torn Europe, and how the other tried to echo that rep­u­ta­tion nearly 30 years later, but to a rather lesser de­gree.

She chron­i­cles the life of Billy Bishop as a man who showed ex­em­plary brav­ery as a fighter pilot who faced in­creas­ing dan­ger with ev­ery dog­fight he en­gaged in against the nascent Ger­man air force. And al­though he mar­ried into a wealthy fam­ily (his bride Mar­garet was a mem­ber of the Ea­ton fam­ily, of the depart­ment store fame), he didn’t ex­actly get the chance to en­joy the in­stant mon­e­tary wealth that mar­ry­ing into a wealthy fam­ily can bring. How­ever, up un­til his un­timely death in Florida in 1956, Billy Bishop en­joyed his celebrity, es­pe­cially serv­ing with the RCAF dur­ing World War II, and even as a tech­ni­cal con­sul­tant for the 1942 Warner Broth­ers war flick “Cap­tains of the Clouds”, which starred James Cag­ney.

As for Bishop’s son – and Diana’s dad – Arthur, life wasn’t easy be­ing the son of a World War One fly­ing ace (he only shot down one Ger­man plane dur­ing his ser­vice with the RCAF). Al­though he found suc­cess as an au­thor and speaker whose main fo­cus was to pre­serve the legacy of his fa­mous fa­ther Billy Bishop, Diana notes that he had very lit­tle suc­cess in the pub­lic re­la­tions field and the var­i­ous mar­ket­ing projects that he un­der­took (one rare suc­cess hap­pened dur­ing the mid60s, when he pro­moted a de­vice called the “Play Tape” – which was like the pre­cur­sor to the Sony Walk­man). Usu­ally, he came home from a hard day of work, had his din­ner, drank his daily glass of scotch and went to bed. Al­though he was the life of the party when he and his wife at­tended par­ties and so­cial gath­er­ings, Arthur Bishop was at best a dis­tant fa­ther to Diana and her sib­lings.

Also, Diana had that un­en­vi­able task of hav­ing to live un­der Billy Bishop’s shadow, first with the com­mer­cial suc­cess of the play “Billy Bishop Goes to War” (which helped to el­e­vate his al­ready le­gendary sta­tus), and then with the re­lease of the NFB doc­u­men­tary by Paul Cowan called “The Kid Who Couldn’t Miss”, which was ba­si­cally a scathing cri­tique of Billy Bishop and his wartime record, and al­leged that he lied about his war record (es­pe­cially the num­ber of Ger­man planes he shot down). She later re­sponded to those charges af­ter she joined Global with a doc­u­men­tary she put to­gether called “A Hero to Me”, which re­futed the al­le­ga­tions that were put for­ward in Cowan’s doc­u­men­tary about Bishop.

Diana Bishop has writ­ten a com­plete fam­ily mem­oir with Liv­ing Up To Legend, and has suc­ceeded tremen­dously in telling the story of three gen­er­a­tions of a fam­ily and how they dealt with one mem­ber’s enor­mous con­tri­bu­tion to Cana­dian his­tory. It is writ­ten with a great deal of hon­esty, jour­nal­is­tic in­tegrity, ad­mi­ra­tion, pain and poignancy (es­pe­cially the lat­ter part of the book, which deals with Diana’s heart­felt rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with her fa­ther to­wards the end of his life, as the rav­ages of de­men­tia be­gan to take over is body and mind). If Diana has proven any­thing with this book, is that hav­ing a fam­ily mem­ber who is his­tor­i­cally fa­mous can be a bur­den, but with a great deal of per­sonal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and ac­cep­tance, it can be some­thing to be proud of, and not ashamed, and face it with as much courage as Billy Bishop did a cen­tury ago. As she states at the end of the book:

“I be­lieve that each gen­er­a­tion builds on the ex­pe­ri­ences of the last, so in telling my story, I’ve sought not only to mend and heal my own pain, but per­haps a lit­tle of my par­ents’ and grand­par­ents’, too.This is where I found my own courage.And dis­cov­ered that there is a hero in all of us.”

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