Cabin Pressure, Radio 4
Scratch the surface and there's a classic British sitcom beneath
Sunday 10 August 2008
I gave the show a brief mention a few weeks ago, but now its run has finished, it's time to give Cabin Pressure its due. Its first episode was, I said, flawless. Nothing can be flawless for ever but the writing and performances in this tight comedy have been exceptional. Let me put it like this: this is the only programme that has kept me close to a radio at 11.30 every Wednesday morning. Never mind Listen Again (for more on which, see below) – you want to catch this as soon as you can.
The setting might be novel – a charter plane, with its skeleton crew of misfits – but the writing obeys pretty much all the necessary rules of classic British sitcom writing, which are simple. In fact, students of the art form would do well to listen to it and take notes. You need little more than an inverted class relationship, a sense of failure, an idiot, and a scary authority figure. What writer John Finnemore has done as well is to add, without tilting things off balance comedy-wise, some depth to the characters.
So the dragon of a boss, played by Stephanie Cole, is revealed to be scared of becoming a "little old lady"; and the wonderfully supercilious Jeeves/Sergeant Wilson figure, the man who should be Captain but isn't (a perfect performance by Roger Allam), is shown to have weaknesses of his own. The show deserves an award.
Incidentally, I wonder if anyone else has been having the same kind of problems as I have with the BBC's "Listen Again" feature. This has recently been changed, in order to make life more difficult for computer-using listeners. Gone is the display listing all the available programmes; in comes an "iPlayer" which, particularly when listening live, stops for minutes at a time, sometimes slows the voices down to subsonic groanings, and generally makes one curse the BBC internet boffins with all the vigour at one's command.
Today I wanted to listen again to Cabin Pressure for both pleasure and work reasons. The iPlayer wouldn't let me because "there was an error". Too bloody right there was. Don't tell me it's my computer's fault. It's not. Listen Again is an increasingly significant (and some might say unfair) weapon in the BBC's armoury – and a wonderful idea. So you would have thought it was pretty important to get right, wouldn't you?
Radio Moment of the Week: Julie Burchill and Chas Newkey-Burden plugging their new book about hypocrisy on the Steve Wright show (Radio 2, Thursday). Asked if they had ever done anything hypocritical themselves, Burchill shot back immediately with "yeah, we sold the rights to the Daily Mail".
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