Cabin Pressure (radio series)
|Running time||28 minutes|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|Home station||BBC Radio 4|
|Syndicates||BBC Radio 4 Extra|
|Created by||John Finnemore|
|Written by||John Finnemore|
|Directed by||David Tyler|
|Produced by||David Tyler|
|Recording studio||RADA Studios|
|Original release||2 July 2008– 24 December 2014|
|No. of series||4 (plus Christmas special and a two part finale)|
|No. of episodes||27|
|Opening theme||Ruslan and Lyudmila overture by Mikhail Glinka|
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 eccentric 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.
The programme was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2008. Four series have been broadcast, along with a special 2010 Christmas Day episode. The show's finale, entitled "Zurich", was broadcast as a two-part special on 23 and 24 December 2014.
The story takes place at MJN Air, the world's smallest airline, consisting of just one 16-seater plane: a "Lockheed McDonnell 312", registration Golf Echo Romeo Tango India (G-ERTI), and thus nicknamed "Gerti". The company name derives from when owner Carolyn Knapp-Shappey (Stephanie Cole) was awarded Gerti as part of her divorce settlement with her Australian husband Gordon Shappey (Timothy West) and thus proudly proclaimed that Gerti was: "My Jet Now". The company is so small, with Carolyn joking that rather than an airline MJN is more of an "airdot", that everything is run on a tight budget and they are willing to take on any job to keep the business going. The company is based in the fictional Fitton Airport, located somewhere in the Midlands.
Each episode is named after a different city (often a destination for MJN in the episode) each beginning with successive letters of the alphabet. The episodes were not broadcast in alphabetical order, but The Complete Cabin Pressure: From A to Z collection does play the episodes alphabetically.
The story follows the day-to-day working life of MJN Air and its crew of four: Carolyn (Stephanie Cole), the owner and stewardess; First Officer Douglas Richardson (Roger Allam), an experienced pilot formerly at Air England until he was sacked for smuggling; Captain Martin Crieff (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose love of flying and planes is let down by his lack of natural ability; and Arthur Shappey (John Finnemore), Carolyn's overexcited and idiotic (but well-meaning) son who works as a steward.
Much of the plot revolves around the relationship between Douglas and Martin. While Martin is the captain, Douglas is more experienced, and most people consider Douglas to be superior to him in almost every way. When meeting both men most guests mistakenly believe Douglas to be the captain rather than Martin. Carolyn refers to Douglas as the "good pilot" and Martin as the "safe pilot". Also, while Douglas gets paid, Martin does not because Carolyn cannot afford it. Thus Martin also has a second job with his own business, Icarus Removals, using a van he inherited from his late father, and lives a life of poverty.
Douglas, meanwhile, has to do his job in order to pay two different alimonies, and tries to keep secret from his third wife Helena that he is not a captain. It is later revealed that Helena is having an affair. Douglas is also a recovering alcoholic, having been sober for a period of several years at the time the story begins, although he tries to prevent anyone else from knowing about it, fearing it will tarnish his image.
Much of the time on the flight-deck is spent with the crew playing various games to pass the time such as "People Who Aren't Evil But Have Evil Sounding Names", "Brians of Britain", "Books That Sound More Interesting with the Final Letter Knocked Off" (e.g. Three Men in a Boa, Of Mice and Me) and "The Travelling Lemon", in which the crew try to hide a lemon in plain sight of the passengers without anyone complaining. This is the origin of the phrase "The lemon is in play," used by Douglas in the episodes Qikiqtarjuaq and Zurich Part 2.
Though MJN squabble among themselves, in several episodes the crew unite to combat a common enemy or problem. A recurring antagonist is Gordon Shappey (Timothy West), Carolyn's ex-husband and Arthur's father, who resents Carolyn obtaining the jet in the divorce and frequently tries to reacquire it through fair means and foul. Other recurring characters include Mr Birling (Geoffrey Whitehead), who every year hires the plane to take him to see the final match in the Six Nations Rugby Union tournament. On "Birling Day", the crew toady to Birling in the hope that he will give them all large tips. Every Birling Day Douglas attempts to steal Birling's whisky and sell it on while Carolyn and the rest of the crew try to stop him. In addition, Douglas and Martin, despite their personal differences and mutual animosity towards each other, also prove to be an effective and highly cooperative duo in some of the more dangerous situations. For example, in the episode 'St. Petersburg', when one of G-ERTI's engines fails, they successfully work together to pull off an emergency landing, thus saving Carolyn and Arthur's lives as well as their own, although Carolyn is typically less grateful than the two pilots would prefer.
Another recurring character is Captain Hercules "Herc" Shipwright (Anthony Head), a former colleague of Douglas who now works at Scottish airline Air Caledonia. Herc is an occasional rival to Douglas and a love interest to Carolyn, though she is reluctant to reciprocate Herc's affections.
Princess Theresa of Liechtenstein (Matilda Ziegler) appears in the final season, first appearing when she hires MJN to take her younger brother and ruling monarch King Maxi to Fitton so he can return to school. She and Martin begin a romantic relationship.
In the two-part series finale Martin is given a paid job at Swiss Air, which means MJN has to close down and Gerti has to be sold. However, when Gordon tries to purchase Gerti, Arthur puts in a gigantic bid to stop his father from buying the plane. Douglas suspects that there is something valuable hidden on the plane and MJN manage to buy back Gerti. His suspicions prove correct when he discovers that Gordon had replaced the wiring of the plane with gold, not expecting that Carolyn would get the plane in their divorce. Martin concludes he is a more skilled pilot than he thought, having been struggling in the past years with a poorly weighted plane, and the solution to Carolyn's financial problems has been right under her nose all along. Carolyn uses the money to secure the company's future, renaming it OJS Air ("Our Jet Still"). Martin takes up his new job securing paid employment and living close to Princess Theresa, Douglas is promoted to Captain, and Herc — who accepts a downwards career move due to his affections for Carolyn — is hired as the new First Officer. The series ends with OJS flying to Addis Ababa, bringing the alphabetical progression of cities full circle.
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". Gillian Reynolds of The Daily Telegraph called Cabin Pressure "one of the best written, cast, acted and directed comedies on anywhere." Tom Eames of Digital Spy said "Finnemore should really be a household name by now. Not only does he play a hilarious character brilliantly, but his scriptwriting is up there with some of the best British comedy writers of all time." Jane Anderson of Radio Times called Cabin Pressure "the comedy series where the writing and acting are so tight they’re in danger of cutting off your blood supply."
Partly due to the popularity of leading actor Benedict Cumberbatch, 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. It has been argued that this is an example of the Odagiri effect occurring in western media.
Cabin Pressure was nominated for a Writers' Guild of Great Britain award in 2010. In 2011, John Finnemore won the Best Radio Comedy 2011, awarded by the Writers' Guild of Great Britain. It was nominated for the Best Scripted Comedy category at the 2012 BBC Audio Drama Awards. The series has won numerous Comedy.co.uk Awards, voted for by readers of the British Comedy Guide. The series won the award for "Best British Radio Sitcom" for 2011, 2013, and 2014. 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.
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. The episodes however are listed in alphabetical order in The Complete Cabin Pressure: From A To Z collection, and Finnemore has stated that the series was always meant to be heard alphabetically.
|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 the passenger 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 (as much as £6,000 when his team wins). 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
|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 a Safety and Emergency Procedures 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.|
|No.||Episode No.||Title||Original airdate|
|13||1||"Molokaʻi"||25 December 2010|
It's Christmas aboard Gerti 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
|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||"St. 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
|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 he is allergic to dragon fruit.Guest Cast: Anthony Head as Herc Shipwright, Nicholas Woodeson as Oskar Bider, Kate Duchêne as Captain Deroche
|No.||Episode No.||Title||Original airdate|
|26||1||"Zurich, Part 1"||23 December 2014|
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|
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.
In 2018 and 2019 John Finnemore toured a live stage version of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme. One sketch was an interview of Arthur Shappey in which he outlines the post-Cabin Pressure futures of the show's cast. These include Herc and Carolyn being married, Douglas remaining captain, and Martin and Princess Theresa's continuing relationship. Arthur is still working as cabin crew, but pretends in the sketch that he is studying and riding polar bears in Kuala Lumpur.
Between March and August 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Finnemore again revived the character of Arthur Shappey for a one-man online YouTube spin-off series called Cabin Fever! which takes the form of a 26-part online vlog by the character in quarantine and later lockdown. The other main Cabin Pressure characters are occasionally mentioned.
|Cabin Pressure: The Complete Series 1||5 July 2012|
|Cabin Pressure: The Complete Series 2||3 August 2012|
|Cabin Pressure: The Complete Series 3||6 September 2012|
|Cabin Pressure: The Complete Series 4||2 May 2013|
|Cabin Pressure Zurich||29 January 2015||Final two-part episode|
|Cabin Pressure: The Collected Series 1-3||1 November 2012||Includes Christmas episode|
|Cabin Pressure: A-Z||5 February 2015||Includes all episodes|
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- Finnemore, John (19 July 2011). "Newcastle". Forget What Did. Blogspot.
- ER (27 November 2014). "Good Omens and last ever Cabin Pressure confirmed in Radio 4 Christmas schedule". BBC.
- "Cabin Fever!". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
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