Last night's viewing - The Real Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines: a Wonderland Film, BBC2; Party Paramedics, Channel 4

 

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The Independent Culture

“You're putting your life in the hands of what is essentially a chain saw attached to a deck chair,” said Antony Woodward at the beginning of The Real Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.

Antony was describing a microlight, not an aircraft for nervous flyers, and a form of transport that had already had one good go at grounding Antony permanently, about six feet down. Inauspiciously, he opened this delightful study of microlighting enthusiasts by revisiting the site of a crash in Lockerbie in Scotland, which occurred after Antony and some high-voltage cables had an unscheduled meeting during a Round Britain rally. Now, many years on, he was planning to lay the ghost of that event by taking part in the same event again.

Even Antony didn't think he was well qualified for this adventure. "I have no instinctive feel for how a plane flies, I have no spatial awareness for getting it down and I am utterly untechnical," he explained cheerfully. He'd only taken the sport up, he said, to pull girls, but while his wife conceded that there was something a little romantic about the aviator spirit she didn't seem entirely convinced that Antony possessed the right stuff. "I wish he wouldn't faff around," she said nervously as Antony and his fellow-pilot Will went through their pre-flight preparations. It was a good thing she couldn't see him five minutes after take-off, fruitlessly trying to read a paper map in a 60mph wind. After 15 minutes, he conceded he was hopelessly lost and they had to start all over again.

Mikey, the 16-year-old son of an Irish microlight enthusiast called Paul, absolutely does possess the right stuff, I think. He was virtually sick with terror before he and his father set off across the Irish Sea to join the start of the race, and yet he mastered his fear and made it. Courage isn't being too stupid to be frightened in the first place, after all, it's coping with the fright when it comes. Meanwhile, back in England, Richard Meredith-Hardy was rummaging through what looked like a rural junkyard to get his own aircraft ready for the race. Richard is something of a star in the world of microlighting, having flown all the way to Australia in one and over the top of Everest too. "Flying a microlight is no more dangerous than driving your car down the road," he said a little impatiently – a statement put into perspective by the sight of him struggling to refuel his aircraft in mid-flight. Landing slows you down, you see.

"Landings are impossible," if you believe Antony, who uttered this worrying remark as he was on final approach. He then bounced and hopped down the length of a field big enough to take a jumbo jet, before finally coming to a stop. Happily, though, Antony did get his mojo back, because (a little belatedly for the documentary's purposes) we learned that his passion for flight was probably a response to a childhood spent caring for a wheelchair-bound mother. "You feel this cage has descended over your life," he said, "and flying is the supreme antidote to that sort of claustrophobia." Agoraphobics and acrophobics are seriously advised to seek alternative treatment.

If you're trying to follow the Government's advice to ease up on the alcohol, Party Paramedics might help, with its grim reminder of just how unflattering inebriation can be. Then again, virtually anybody would be likely to think of themselves as abstemious after watching this portrait of Colchester in party mood. "Renowned for its lively night life," said the voiceover, over footage of local youths knocking seven bells out of each other. A clue to a possible cause for this unlovely bacchanal came when one patient was asked how much he'd had to drink. "A lot," he slurred back, eyes swivelling wildly, "probably about £8 worth."

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