One traveller in Norman Hull's entertaining documentary for True Stories (C4) recalled encountering their pilot at a pre-flight cocktail party. "I'll just have four," he said, when offered a drink, "then we'll have to go." Other pilots confessed to the odd fortifying airborne toot as a way of coping with stress - understandable if you're about to land a plane made in a Russian factory. And the film began with an image of four pilots, sweating it out in the steam bath and drinking large slugs of stress-relieving tonic: "To Russian pilots," one said, raising his glass, "to clear skies... to soft landings." It seemed quite possible that they were sitting in the air-crew's pre-flight lounge.
At first, "Airplaneski", as the title suggested, seemed content to milk the subject for laughs, offering you an anthology of deliciously appalling traveller's tales. One man recalled bribing the pilot to make an "emergency" landing at Sheremetevo, so that his colleague wouldn't miss a connecting flight; another remembered being asked by a greasy-handed mechanic to contribute to a whip-round - the plane needed a spare part before it could fly and the pilot had refused to pay for it. Even the airlines' attempts to improve their standards are fraught with hazard: not so long ago they didn't offer in-flight meals, whereas now unappealing lumps of boiled chicken issue from a kitchen in which the only health inspectors appeared to be cats.
Then the film's attention began to wander, conscious that anecdotes alone wouldn't fill out the hour. At first it turned to the taxi-drivers outside the airport (Mafia-controlled and terrifyingly unresponsive to need) before transforming itself into another film altogether, the touching human story of one particular pilot, grounded for health reasons after a lifetime of flying. In a wretchedly sentimental conclusion, he was filmed buying a caged bird and releasing it in woods near the airport (where it presumably stood a fair chance of being sucked into an Aeroflot jet intake). "How the hell did we get here?" you asked yourself. Then again, it was rather appropriate that, having embarked for one destination, you should find that you had arrived somewhere completely different.
One of the biggest laughs in The Likely Lads (BBC2), returning for a rerun of the 1964 series, went to the line "Har, har, bloody har!". Perhaps in the early Sixties there was something anarchically liberating in seeing Rodney Bewes being impolite, but I think it is fair to say that standards in comic scorn have climbed steeply since then: Men Behaving Badly, obviously genetically related to the earlier series, offers graduate-standard sarcasm as well as an opportunity to see how far we have come. The comedies share a great deal - their broadly affectionate take on the idiocy of men, the dynamics of girlfriends and sexual rivalry - but you would have to be blinded by nostalgia not to recognise that Men Behaving Badly is better - more inventive in its writing and more subtle in its performances. This is what The Likely Lads grew up to become, even if the main characters haven't grown up at all.Reuse content