Prepare for Takeoff: BBC Radio 4 Rebroadcasts ‘Cabin Pressure’

{All images used courtesy BBC Radio 4}

Note: all quotes come from Wikiquote.


The BBC Radio 4 sitcom, Cabin Pressure, is currently being rebroadcast from the beginning. But hurry up – the first episode of series 1 only has five more days.

If you’re unaware of this lovely piece of comedy writing, the basic story is of an airline company … well, make that an airplane. “I don’t have an airline. I have one jet. You cannot put one jet in a line. If MJN is anything, it is an air dot,” as the head of the company, Carolyn Knapp-Shappey (Stephanie Cole) states in the first episode, “Abu Dhabi”.

Having gotten the jet in a divorce, Carolyn sets out to run a private charter company. Accompanying her on this is her not-so-bright son Arthur (played by the show’s creator and writer John Finnemore). She has two pilots: “I have a good pilot and a safe pilot; and the safe pilot’s in charge of the good pilot,” as she says in “Ipswitch”. One of the pilots – the good one – is First Officer Douglas Richardson, played with smarmy fun by Roger Allam (V for Vendetta and the original Javert in the London Les Misérables). The safe pilot is Captain Martin Crieff, played with comedic incompetence by some actor named Benedict Cumberbatch (not sure if you’ve heard of him, or anything: it’s not like he’s been getting any roles lately).

While the show is primarily the four of them, there are the occasional guest stars, including later in the series a recurring spot for Anthony Head (known as Anthony Stewart Head here in the states) as a sometimes dater of Carolyn.

Photo from the last recording session.

Directed and produced by David Tyler, it started in 2008 and ran for four series for a total of 27 total episodes. Each episode is named for a different city (well, the last two is actually a two-parter, “Zurich”) and – outside of a minor glitch in series 2 – goes in alphabetical order.

Finnemore’s writing is crisp, smart, and everything I love about British comedy. His father was an airline pilot, so everything on that end is up to terms for a sitcom set up, and even has a few extra bits thrown in for those who geek out about that kind of thing. The show received high praise from many critics and fans alike. As this Bleeding Cool review writes, the Amazon reviews of the Cabin Pressure A-Z box set you can buy are all five stars. All 105 of them as of today.

At first, it’s just a fairly standard sitcom, with outrageous plot lines involving safety training, rude customers, and dealing with family.  However, throughout the four series, the characters deepen and become more than your traditional stock sitcom characters. We learn that Douglas is a recovering alcoholic on the outs with his third wife, Carolyn’s using of the jet is proof that she can handle life on her own, Martin is actually not getting paid to be Carolyn’s pilot because he is so desperate to fly, and Arthur – well, Arthur is just a brilliant ray of optimism no matter what the situation.

As mentioned, you have five more days to listen to the first episode. Head on over to BBC Radio 4, where you should be able to listen regardless of what country you’re in. And when you’re done, head on over to the first four episodes of the sixth series of one of Finnemore’s other shows, John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme, a sketch show which deserves a whole different recommendation (and mentioning that I was lucky enough to not only go to a recording of one in 2014, but to go to two ‘tryouts’ as well).

If you like comedy that is smart, silly, and engaging, you won’t be disappointed.

“No. I’m sorry, Carolyn. I carried the sheep for you. I climbed the tree. I rode the back of the truck. But now I have to X-ray these geese.” – Martin, in “Uskerty”

Angie also posted this on her website, Contents May Vary.

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