Cabin Pressure (radio series)

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Cabin Pressure
Cabin pressure from a to z.jpg
Cover of the definitive CD collection of Cabin Pressure, depicting cast. Left-to-right: John Finnemore, Roger Allam, Stephanie Cole and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Genre Comedy
Running time 28 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language(s) English
Home station BBC Radio 4
Starring Stephanie Cole
Roger Allam
Benedict Cumberbatch
John Finnemore
Writer(s) John Finnemore
Director(s) David Tyler
Producer(s) David Tyler
Recording studio RADA Studios
Air dates 2 July 2008 (2008-07-02) to 24 December 2014 (2014-12-24)
No. of series 4 (plus Christmas special and a two part finale)
Audio format Stereophonic sound

Cabin Pressure is a radio sitcom written and created by John Finnemore and directed and produced by David Tyler. It follows the exploits of the oddball crew of the single aeroplane owned by "MJN Air" as they are chartered to take all manner of items, people or animals across the world. The show stars Finnemore, Stephanie Cole, Roger Allam and Benedict Cumberbatch.[1] The series was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2008.[2]

Critical reception to the series was positive and four series have been broadcast, along with a special 2010 Christmas Day episode.[2][3] The fourth series consisting of six episodes was broadcast in January and February 2013.[4] The show's finale, entitled "Zurich", was broadcast as a two-part special on 23 and 24 December 2014.[5][6] The series' opening music is Mikhail Glinka's Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila.[7]


The principal cast, the 4-person crew, is the following:[8]

  • As part of her last divorce settlement, Carolyn Knapp-Shappey (Stephanie Cole) received a mid-size (16 seat) jet aeroplane nicknamed "Gertie" (a "Lockheed McDonnell 312",[9] registration G-ERTI). As a result, she founded her very own single plane charter airline, "MJN Air" ("My Jet Now"), which is crewed by an oddball mixture of characters who fly to cities around the world, encountering a variety of situations. Her company is perpetually on the brink of bankruptcy, and thus she strives to reduce running costs wherever possible and to find more high-value clients to keep the company going. As a former stewardess herself, she often pulls double duty as both administrator and cabin attendant, alongside her grown-up but childish son Arthur, whom she struggles to educate in proper customer care.
  • The airline's only Captain, Martin Crieff (Benedict Cumberbatch[note 1]), has wanted to be a pilot since he was six years old (before which he wanted to be an aeroplane). He suffers, however, from a distinct lack of natural ability in that department. He was rejected by at least one flight school, and had to put himself through the required coursework, barely qualifying for his certification – on his seventh attempt. He took the job with MJN for no salary at all, as long as he could be Captain.[10] He appears to have no outside interests beyond flying. He is a stickler for procedures and regulations, but is more prissy than pompous. At the end of series two he tells Douglas that he survives financially by running a delivery service using the van he inherited from his father (running two different jobs largely explaining the lack of hobbies). This was his only inheritance (apart from a tool kit and multimeter) because his father believed he would waste any money he received trying to become a pilot. He has two siblings, Caitlin, now a traffic warden and Simon, a council administrator who often frustrates Martin with his annoying superiority. This isn't helped by his Mother's constant admiration of Simon, often saying that "Simon knows best". According to Carolyn, he is the "safe pilot" in contrast to Douglas's "good pilot".
  • First Officer Douglas Richardson (Roger Allam) is, on the other hand, a quite competent pilot who worked for Air England – until he was fired for smuggling. He chafes at his subordinate position to Martin, and misses no opportunity to flaunt his superiority in the younger pilot's face. In later episodes, it is revealed that Douglas, ashamed of his second-rate job, dresses in Captain's uniform for his wife Helena's benefit, changing to First Officer's uniform before he gets to work, however this ends when his wife reveals her infidelity and Douglas divorces her, his 3rd divorce overall. Douglas is, however, something of a smooth operator who knows all of the dodges available to airline officers, and enjoys taking part in all of them. According to Carolyn, he is the "good pilot" in contrast to Martin's "safe pilot".
  • Carolyn's son Arthur Shappey (John Finnemore) is an eager and cheery dimwit aged 29, who is supposed to be the flight attendant but usually manages to get in everyone's way. He is half-English and half-Australian; Carolyn is his English mother, and Gordon, Carolyn's ex-husband, his Australian father (original owner of Gertie). Arthur is a relentless optimist, whose biggest claim to fame is being the inventor (or at least discoverer) of fizzy yoghurt (the recipe for which is yoghurt plus time). He also celebrates Birling day, Birling day eve, Gertie's birthday and Summer Christmas, and is a definite polar bear enthusiast and expert. He is very allergic to dragon fruit and strawberries, but frequently forgets, having eaten strawberry mousse on occasion. His cheerful mannerisms are however affected badly on the rare occasions that he sees his father, of whom he seems very afraid.

The flight deck crew frequently pass their time by engaging in word games, such as naming Brians of Britain (a pun on the classic quiz show Brain of Britain), making bets that Douglas always wins, playing a game of the travelling lemon (wherein a lemon must be hidden in plain sight among the passengers to be discovered by the next player), or playing "Simon says". All crew members also make humorous cabin addresses, inserting e.g. limericks or titles of Hitchcock films, generally when there are no passengers on board. The highlight of their flight is often the cheese tray, and they are angry to learn that before it is delivered to them, Carolyn eats the Camembert off it.

A recurring character from Series 3 onwards, Hercules Shipwright (Anthony Head) known as Herc, is a pilot working for Air Caledonia and a long-time acquaintance of Douglas. He often goes on dates with Carolyn, despite her claims otherwise, during which they tease each other. A source of ridicule is his vegetarianism and his phobia of sheep, to the extent that Carolyn flies to Ireland to purchase a stuffed sheep for his birthday present. He is fond of opera, much to Carolyn's dismay.

In the first, third and fourth series, the crew take Mr. Birling (Geoffrey Whitehead), a rich Welshman, to the Rugby Final. Birling is extremely unpleasant, but the crew put up with him due to his large tips. The annual "Birling Day" is always accompanied by Douglas trying to steal Birling's expensive whisky.


Writing in The Independent newspaper, Nicholas Lezard praised the first series highly, called "the writing and performances ... exceptional" and suggested that the show "deserves an award".[11] Gillian Reynolds of The Daily Telegraph called Cabin Pressure "one of the best written, cast, acted and directed comedies on anywhere."[12]

Partly due to the popularity of leading actor Benedict Cumberbatch [13] the show has a significant fandom, and its final episode received a record number of requests for audience tickets for a Radio 4 comedy recording — 22,854 requests for just 200 available tickets. [14]


Cabin Pressure was nominated for a Writers' Guild of Great Britain award in 2010.[15]

In 2011, John Finnemore won the Best Radio Comedy 2011, awarded by the Writers' Guild of Great Britain.[16][17]

It was nominated for the Best Scripted Comedy category at the 2012 BBC Audio Drama Awards.[18]

The series has won numerous Awards, voted for by readers of the British Comedy Guide. The series won the award for "Best British Radio Sitcom" for 2011,[19] 2013,[20] and 2014.[21] Also it was voted "Comedy of the Year" across TV and radio for 2014, making it the first radio show to be given the honour.[21]

Episode list[edit]

The episode titles follow an alphabetical sequence, beginning with the first episode, "Abu Dhabi", followed by "Boston" etc. In Series 2 and 3 episodes were broadcast out of the original intended order for various reasons.[22]

Cabin Pressure episode names (intercontinental)
Cabin Pressure episode names (Europe) (The fictional Fitton, home of MJN Air, is not shown)

Series one[edit]

No. Episode No. Title Original airdate
1 1 "Abu Dhabi" 2 July 2008

After a £7,000 diversion to Bristol, Carolyn forbids Martin to make any more diversions in the future. Partway to Abu Dhabi, however, Douglas realizes that, despite reminders about the cargo-hold heating, Martin has left a client's cat in the unheated hold. Martin must decide whether to divert or to let the cat freeze. Meanwhile, Arthur attempts to discover how aeroplanes fly.

Guest Cast: Ewen MacIntosh as Karl
2 2 "Boston" 9 July 2008

A stubborn passenger refuses to extinguish his cigarette and makes Martin cry. Arthur, on a mission, accidentally gives him a heart attack, forcing Martin to fly back and forth between Reykjavik and Boston in indecision. Meanwhile, Martin and Douglas play a challenging game of "Simon Says".

Guest Cast: Ewen MacIntosh as Karl, Kerry Shale as Hamilton Leeman, Matilda Ziegler as both the Paramedic and Shanwick ATC
3 3 "Cremona" 16 July 2008

MJN are flying an actress, for whom Arthur has a particular fondness and Carolyn not so much, to Cremona. Martin tries in vain to impress her but instead attracts her ire when she blames him for a horde of her fans showing up at her hotel. Douglas saves Martin from her anger with a dozen black shirts.

Guest Cast: Helen Baxendale as Hester MacCaulay, Rufus Jones as Percival, Robert Harley as Gawain, Ali Amadi as Lancelot
4 4 "Douz" 23 July 2008

MJN are stranded on the outskirts of the Sahara Desert. Carolyn refuses to pay a pricey bill and Martin quibbles over a firetruck. Douglas joins a Scottish team in an exciting match of topless cricket while Arthur takes some embarrassing photos.

Guest Cast: John Sessions as Yves Jutteau, Rufus Jones as Captain Jessop, Robert Harley as Lachlan, Ali Amadi as Habib
5 5 "Edinburgh" 30 July 2008

It's the annual Birling day, where MJN flies the wealthy Mr Birling to a Six Nations rugby match. Martin resents Birling's pompous ways and doesn't understand why Douglas and Arthur toady to him so much until he realizes that Birling gives huge tips to people he likes. Douglas and Carolyn are at war over a bottle of expensive Talisker whisky.

Guest Cast: Geoffrey Whitehead as Mr Birling, Adam G Goodwin as Philip
6 6 "Fitton" 6 August 2008

The crew are on standby at Fitton, waiting for an important client to call. Carolyn tries to keep them all sober in case the client calls; when she fails, drunk Martin must act as steward and sober Arthur has to pretend to be captain. In an attempt to return a gift, Martin discovers a shocking secret about Douglas.

Guest Cast: Adam G Goodwin as Mr Goddard, Melisande Cook as Helena Richardson

Series two[edit]

No. Episode No. Title Original airdate
7 1 "Helsinki" 17 July 2009

Carolyn and her sister haven't spoken for fifteen years so when Arthur books a fake trip to Helsinki with Carolyn's sister, her husband and her grandson, it is a little awkward. Kieran intimidates Martin and shows some exceptional karate skills, Arthur makes an imaginative cake and Douglas exchanges orchids for fishcakes.

Guest Cast: Alison Steadman as Ruth, Matt Green as Kieran, Simon Greenall as Milo
8 2 "Gdańsk" 24 July 2009

MJN is flying an orchestra to Poland. Carolyn is left to deal with a highly suspicious passenger who requests explanations for fractionally elevated arm-rests, broken glass-salt, 'Goofy,' and poisoned cheesecake. Douglas and Martin place bets over the cheese tray including a passenger derby commentated by Arthur, and Martin reveals a shocking secret to Douglas.

Guest Cast: Britta Gartner as Madame Szyszko Bohusz, Simon Greenall as the Conductor
9 3 "Ipswich" 31 July 2009

Carolyn, Douglas, Martin and Arthur are sent on an SEP course. Arthur struggles with his stupidity, Douglas struggles with his impatience with Mr Sargent and Martin struggles with a health issue, so Carolyn is forced to work hard to keep her crew from losing their jobs.

Guest Cast: Philip Davis as Mr Sargent, Alex MacQueen as Dr. Duncan
10 4 "Johannesburg" 7 August 2009

After an unsuccessful birthday treat for Douglas' daughter, Carolyn makes a bet with her pilots. However, a dodgy warning light means that Martin and Arthur must fetch the engineer in a baggage truck. Douglas scrapes €20 by washing the airfield manager's car, Carolyn relaxes on a deckchair and Arthur uses the engine exhausts to make boiling water which ends badly.

Guest Cast: Michael Fenton Stevens as Señor Quintanilla, Javier Marzan as Diego
11 5 "Kuala Lumpur" 14 August 2009

Martin discovers a secret, illegal airfield pub frequented by Douglas and other airfield staff and can't decide whether to report it, as duty requires, or to turn a blind eye, as surprisingly everyone at the pub seems to like him. Meanwhile, Carolyn tries to improve Arthur's stewarding skills.

Guest Cast: Paul Putner as Dave, Roger Morlidge as George
12 6 "Limerick" 21 August 2009
MJN are flying an insufferably long flight to Limerick with the comforts of an unpleasant-filled box, Arthur's spot-check method of learning the phonetic alphabet, Douglas and Martin's game of evil-sounding names and some creative limericks.

Christmas Special[edit]

No. Episode No. Title Original airdate
13 1 "Molokaʻi" 25 December 2010

It's Christmas aboard Gertie and Arthur is singing merrily. Carolyn is treating a yacht salesman, Mr Alyakin, on the trip to Molokaʻi, but he begins to doubt the airline's competence, while Martin and Douglas go to extravagant lengths in an attempt to make it Arthur's best Christmas ever, within seven minutes.

Guest Cast: Ben Willbond as Mr. Alyakhin

Series three[edit]

No. Episode No. Title Original airdate
14 1 "Qikiqtarjuaq" 1 July 2011

A Canadian passenger informs Douglas that he is not professional but Martin is, which infuriates Douglas and causes him to humiliate Martin. Arthur teaches the passengers all about bears and Douglas chases them. Carolyn and Douglas also play a game of "the travelling lemon" which ends badly when Martin has a go.

Guest Cast: Melanie Hudson as Nancy Dean Liebhart, Kosha Engler as Mrs Cook, Ewan Bailey as Mr Peary
15 2 "Paris" 8 July 2011

It's Birling Day again and Carolyn has put Martin in charge of ensuring Douglas doesn't steal the expensive whisky meant for their client. But when the whisky does disappear and the evidence seems to point to everyone except Douglas, Martin must become the Miss Marple of MJN Air and discover the real culprit.

Guest Cast: Geoffrey Whitehead as Mr Birling, Flip Webster as Mrs Birling, Ewan Bailey as Phil
16 3 "Newcastle" 15 July 2011

Martin has a soft spot for a Scottish first officer who is travelling with MJN for the day. However, Martin gets in a muddle and it all becomes a bit awkward. Carolyn meets a captain called Herc and everyone immerses themselves in exciting games whilst Martin applies a navigation-tail light onto the back of the plane. (Note: Martin is played by Tom Goodman-Hill.)

Guest Cast: Anthony Head as Herc Shipwright, Mark Williams as Eddie, Anna Crilly as Linda Fairburn
17 4 "Ottery St Mary" 22 July 2011

When Martin sprains his ankle and can't complete a piano delivery for his second job, Douglas and Arthur agree to help, but forgotten addresses, missing van keys, and Arthur's game of Yellow Car make the trip much more complicated than expected. Back in Fitton, Herc and Carolyn go out for lunch and an eventful dog-walk.

Guest Cast: Anthony Head as Herc Shipwright, Flip Webster as Mrs Laurel, Ewan Bailey as Mr Hardy
18 5 "Rotterdam" 29 July 2011

MJN are filming welcome and safety demonstration videos to make the airline look more professional. When no one on the crew is able or willing to deliver the lines, Carolyn appoints an actor called Martin, making the original Martin deeply jealous and paranoid. But a little competition from Herc might convince Douglas to do the video after all.

Guest Cast: Anthony Head as Herc Shipwright, Gus Brown as Martin Davenport
19 6 "Saint Petersburg" 5 August 2011

A bird strike takes out an engine, which could lead to the end of MJN Air, so Carolyn is forced to call in her ex-husband. Douglas and Martin entertain themselves with a game of "rhyming journeys" while Arthur is sure Douglas will sort the situation out.

Guest Cast: Timothy West as Gordon Shappey, Paul Shearer as Tommo

Series four[edit]

Finnemore announced a fourth series consisting of six episodes recorded in December 2012 and January 2013. It was broadcast from 9 January 2013.[4]

No. Episode No. Title Original airdate
20 1 "Timbuktu" 9 January 2013

MJN are looking forward to their day off when Mr Birling turns up demanding to be flown to Timbuktu to watch the Rugby World Cup on television so he can prove a point to his "awful wife". Martin discovers a slight problem with the planned destination, Arthur is reading a potentially problematic book and could this be the year that Carolyn steals the whisky from Douglas?

Guest Cast: Geoffrey Whitehead as Mr Birling, Steve Brody as Giancarlo
21 2 "Uskerty" 16 January 2013

The crew are in Ireland, where Carolyn is purchasing a birthday present for Herc, assisted by Martin. However, difficulties with heavy rain, stubborn taxi drivers, poor phone reception, angry bees and jewellery-eating geese ensue. Meanwhile, Douglas and Arthur enjoy the luxuries of an empty airport with an over-enthusiastic manager.

Guest Cast: Marian McLoughlin as Breeda, Robert Wilfort as Gerry, John O'Mahony as Farmer Fisher
22 3 "Vaduz" 23 January 2013

An incredulous crew escort the young King of Liechtenstein and Princess Theresa to England, the latter becoming fond of Martin, but encounter a misunderstanding with fuel. Meanwhile, Herc is eager to enjoy his holiday, but Carolyn refuses to return his affections.

Guest Cast: Anthony Head as Herc Shipwright, Matilda Ziegler as Princess Theresa, Kieran Hodgson as King Maximilian, Dan Tetsell as Otto/Karl
23 4 "Wokingham" 30 January 2013

Martin learns his mother has fallen ill, and so tries to juggle flying, his secret delivery job, and competing with his sister to care for his mother, eventually enlisting Arthur to help, but when his dominating brother Simon turns up, Martin is determined to prove himself. Meanwhile, Carolyn and Douglas challenge each other to speak in words of only one syllable.

Guest Cast: Prunella Scales as Wendy Crieff, Rosie Cavaliero as Caitlin Crieff, Justin Edwards as Simon Crieff, Dan Tetsell as Dr White
24 5 "Xinzhou" 6 February 2013

The crew must spend the night on Gerti but are distracted by uncomplicated word games, which Arthur cannot understand, and a constant alarm requiring trips out into the snow. Martin reveals his developing relationship with a princess, and Carolyn must make a decision about Herc.

Guest Cast: Lobo Chan as the Chinese ATC
25 6 "Yverdon-les-Bains" 13 February 2013

Martin goes to an interview with Swiss Airways, and must fight for a place as a professional pilot. Herc and Douglas battle for metaphorical control of the plane, and Arthur discovers his severe allergic reaction to dragon fruit.

Guest Cast: Nicholas Woodeson as Oskar Bider, Kate Duchêne as Captain Deroche

Show Finale[edit]

No. Episode No. Title Original airdate
26 1 "Zurich, Part 1" 23 December 2014[23]

Martin decides whether to take the job with Swiss Air, and Arthur is considering a new career himself.

Guest Cast: Anthony Head as Herc Shipwright, Dan Tetsell as Karl, Timothy West as Gordon Shappey, Matilda Ziegler as Princess Theresa, and Jonathan Kydd as the auctioneer.
27 2 "Zurich, Part 2" 24 December 2014[23]

The crew try to work out why Gordon is so desperate to get G-ERTI back, while Carolyn makes a big decision about Herc.

Guest Cast: Anthony Head as Herc Shipwright, Dan Tetsell as Karl, Timothy West as Gordon Shappey, Matilda Ziegler as Princess Theresa, and Gordon Kennedy as Bruce Fraser.


  1. ^ In series 3 episode 3, "Newcastle", Tom Goodman-Hill stood in for Cumberbatch, who had lost his voice. Goodman-Hill also recorded "Ottery-St-Mary" at the same session, but his scenes were not used as Cumberbatch was able to record them in a subsequent performance at the Shaw Theatre on 29 April 2011.


  1. ^ "Cabin Pressure". BBC. Retrieved 10 September 2012. 
  2. ^ a b John Lavalie (21 June 2012). "Cabin Pressure (a Titles & Air Dates Guide)". Retrieved 10 September 2012. 
  3. ^ "Cabin Pressure: Episode guide". BBC. Retrieved 10 September 2012. 
  4. ^ a b John Finnemore (14 November 2012). "Cabin Pressure IV – prepare for boarding.". Forget What Did. 
  5. ^ "Final episode of Cabin Pressure". 
  6. ^ Finnemore, John. "Prepare for final descent". Forget What Did. Retrieved 13 November 2013. 
  7. ^ "The Cabin Pressure Theme Music". Cabin pressure Fans. 27 November 2011. Retrieved 10 September 2012. 
  8. ^ "Cabin Pressure". Radio 4 Extra. BBC. Retrieved 5 February 2014. 
  9. ^ Newcastle
  10. ^ Gdansk
  11. ^ Nicholas Lezard (10 August 2008). "Cabin Pressure, Radio 4: Scratch the surface and there's a classic British sitcom beneath". The Independent (London). Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  12. ^ Gillian Reynolds (18 July 2011). "A strike and a scandal keep Radio 4 on its toes". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 20 July 2011. 
  13. ^ "John Finnemore on the joy of crafting radio comedy... and Benedict Cumberbatch". Radio Times. 9 January 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  14. ^ "John Benedict Cumberbatch fans go wild for actor's recording of the last ever "Cabin Pressure"". Radio Times. 23 February 2014. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  15. ^ "Guild Awards 2010 – shortlists announced". Writers' Guild. Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  16. ^ Writers' Guild Awards 2011 – winners
  17. ^ "Victoria Wood awarded top TV honour from Writer's Guild". BBC News. 17 November 2011. 
  18. ^ "Shortlist announced for first BBC Audio Drama awards". Ariel. 10 January 2012. 
  19. ^ "The Awards 2011". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  20. ^ "The Awards 2013". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  21. ^ a b "The Awards 2014". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  22. ^ John Finnemore (19 July 2011). "Newcastle". Forget What Did. 
  23. ^ a b "Good Omens and last ever Cabin Pressure confirmed in Radio 4 Christmas schedule". BBC Media Centre. 27 November 2014. 

External links[edit]