Second World War flying ace Keith Quilter survived all that enemy forces could throw at him – including double whammy kamikaze attacks on the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable – yet he appeared to have been felled by a slight seat-shifting movement in the ballroom at Oxford’s Randolph Hotel on Sunday.

The Fleet Air Arm veteran, a star participant in the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival, adjusted his position the better to face his near-capacity audience. They gasped in horror as his chair legs overshot the dais, sending him crashing to the floor. A goner? It seemed possible.

He lay motionless for minutes as helpers clustered around and an ambulance was called. It was not needed, as it turned out. The old stalwart was soon back on his feet – to hearty applause – and ready to give a lucid exposition of his wartime exploits.

Among them was a dive-bomb attack on the German battleship Tirpitz. Did I ever think I should meet such a man, I wondered, as I shook his hand in the Green Room before the talk. Of course not, except that literary festivals – and this one in particular – tend to promote such never-to-be forgotten encounters.

Keith, sprightly in his blazer and cravat, was doing his bit for us in company with the no less astonishingly youthful looking Colin Bell, a 98-year-old former member of the RAF’s Light Night Striking Force.

He flew 50 missions over Germany – including 13 over Berlin, defended to a degree as was nowhere else – in a Mosquito fighter/bomber. This was a high-speed machine, as was Keith’s American-built Corsair in which he took part in low-level daylight attacks over Japan.

“This was the first navy plane to exceed 400mph,” he told us. “It was like getting into a grand prix racing car after driving an Austin 7. It had the nickname ‘whistling death’ or, less politely, ‘bent-winged bastard’.” Difficult to land in their early days, until modified, they were also called ‘ensign eliminators’, an ensign being the most junior officer rank in the US navy.

The speed of Colin’s ‘mozzie’ was such as to place him out of reach of most likely pursuers, except the jet-propelled Messerschmitt ME 262, with one of which he had a memorably tense encounter. He escaped only by luring the plane into low-level combat in which its fuel supply was soon exhausted.

Colin’s outings to Germany were, he told us, distraction exercises, often conducted alone, to summon enemy firepower away while Bomber Command’s huge forces went elsewhere.

One target, Dresden, remains for many a blot on its record and on the reputation of its commander, Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris. Colin begged to differ. As a centre for armaments production and a major staging post for German troops bound for the Eastern Front – “20,000 passed through the centre every day” – it was “a proper target for attack”.

The next day, again in the Randolph Ballroom, I was present at a second festival event which directed a spotlight on another much debated issue arising from the Second World War.

This was the controversial series of broadcasts made from Berlin in 1941 by the comic novelist P.G. Wodehouse, who had found himself behind enemy lines following the invasion of France. These caused shock in America and Britain.

It is widely believed that establishment disapproval lay behind the decision to withhold his knighthood until shortly before his death, aged 93, in 1975. Had he not been awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature at Oxford’s summer Encaenia just before the war, it seems highly unlikely he would have been given it after.

The excellent actor Robert Daws portrayed ‘Plum’ in William Humble’s biographical piece Wodehouse in Wonderland, which featured songs he wrote with the likes of Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Ivor Novello.

The play finds him looking back on his life from his Long Island home while at work on one of his funniest books, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (currently to be heard on Radio 4 Extra, with perfect casting in Michael Hordern as Jeeves and Richard Briers as Bertie Wooster).

The wartime broadcasts were dismissed, as they often are, as innocent stupidity from a man given to it. Certainly, he said nothing in them that could be considered in any degree treacherous – far removed, say, from the disgusting tirades of William Joyce, ‘Lord Haw-Haw’.

Myself, I tend to the view of his recent biographer Robert McCrum that while forgivable in content, the circumstances of their composition – in the luxury of a Berlin hotel suite denied even to a Nazi bigwig like Admiral Doenitz, a regular hotel guest – made them tasteless in the extreme.

“The Nazi aspects of the Adlon [the hotel],” writes McCrum, “ which was adjacent to the ministries of the Reich, was one of its least attractive features.” Horrid Haw-Haw himself was often there.