A CHRISTCHURCH man has launched a new career as a writer at the age of 85.

Former local businessman William Smith, an ex-paratrooper, wrote the book, Birth of the Black Panthers, in dedication to his late brother, Flying Officer Len Smith, who was killed in 1948 while flying a MK 19 Spitfire for a Battle of Britain fly past in Scotland.

The book focuses upon Len, who was a successful Spitfire pilot during World War Two, and weaves historical narrative with personal stories and anecdotes from the pilot’s logbook.

William, who founded Christchurch Ski Centre with his two sons in the eighties as well as running Viking Motors in Somerford Road beforehand, said: “I left school at 14 and never even thought about becoming a writer.

“I’ve also written my memoirs and tried to make them interesting and witty and cryptic so have enjoyed writing this.

“I was so surprised when the publishers told me they were interested. Together we have worked on the book to make it what it is. My memoirs are also due out soon. It’s not bad for an 85-year-old.”

He added: “My brother was seven years my senior and I felt that his life deserved telling. I just wanted to write his story.”

The catalyst for the book came about after William’s sister Irene had a painting commissioned of their brother Len’s favourite Spitfire a few years ago.

The plane was adorned with a black cat leaping over the RAF emblem, and when the artist’s work was shown at an exhibition the curator was approached by an gentleman asking questions about the painting.

The man, Ken Plumridge, was a former Black Panther and after identifying the plane immediately as William’s brother Len’s, put them in touch with Ray Johnson, who became the squadron’s sergeant armourer and helped William with information for the book, including the foreword.

“For me, once I had all Ray’s information as well as diaries and letters from my brother which had been kept, I wanted to write it all down.

“The rest as they say is history”, William added.