You know how some people get when they have a fabulous new boy/girlfriend? They can’t stop telling you how brilliant said person is. They tell you the funny things they say All The Time. If they could clone them so everybody could have a boy/girlfriend as great as theirs they would. Well, I am currently that person – except I don’t have a boy/girlfriend. I am a late but enthusiastic arrival to the Cabin Pressure party.
Just when I had begun to fear my sense of humour was fading, I have found something that has literally made me spit out my grapefruit juice (luckily I was next to the sink) with laughter. I am to be found, earphones in and MP3 player on, giggling in the aisles of Sainsbury’s. I am utterly enthralled and addicted. I even traded in existing Audible books in order to gorge on all four series (plus a Christmas special) in less than a fortnight when I ran out of credits. If I had a pencil case and/or rough book, it would have Cabin Pressure quotes (Brilliant! The lemon is in play. Yellow car. etc) encased in hearts scribbled all over it.
Why have I fallen so spectacularly for this Radio 4 sitcom about MJN, a teeny charter airline (or airdot – you can’t put one aeroplane in a line as MJN CEO Carolyn Knapp-Shappey once remarked)? Firstly, because it is really, really funny. (See previous paragraph.) I honestly think the last sitcom to make me laugh this much was Blackadder (on its first airing).
It’s also extraordinarily well-written by John Finnemore. He has a way with callbacks that is astonishing. You think a line is perfect and funny and 25 minutes later he turns it upside-down, gives it a polish, and makes it even funnier. But it’s not his fabulous plotting or genius comedy that makes me love his writing so utterly – it’s the heart that it has. For all the turmoil he puts Carolyn and her crew through at 35,000 feet, the deep affection he has for them, and writes into every line, is what makes Cabin Pressure special.
That and having an astonishingly talented cast, of course. Stephanie Cole, Roger Allam, Benedict Cumberbatch and Finnemore himself are the core as Carolyn, First Officer Douglas Richardson, Captain Martin Crieff and steward Arthur Shappey.
Carolyn is the alpha dog trying to keep her business afloat and her crew in order. She could be an awful harridan, but Cole never lets that happen.
Martin is the hapless Captain, desperate to be taken seriously and generally suffering at the hands of Douglas and/or his own ineptitude. Again, there is a real danger that he could turn into a whiner – but that’s never going to happen while the fantastically talented Benedict Cumberbatch is wearing Martin’s heavily braided Captain’s hat. Also he convincingly conveys the impression that Martin is both a good deal shorter than his own six-footedness and deserving of our sympathy. Then there’s Paris (series 3, episode 2) in which his own success in Sherlock is beautifully subverted. (Martin: But the thing is, we’ve taken away all the things that can possibly have happened, so I suppose the only thing that’s left, even though it seems really weird, must be the thing that did happen, in fact. Douglas: Snappily put.)
Then there is Douglas. He might only be the first officer but he oozes the confidence and authority that Martin would give a year of his life to have. Once described by Carolyn as being like Stephen Fry’s favourite uncle. Always has at least see seven ulterior motives for doing anything. King of the laconic putdown. Roger Allam is simply superb. Douglas may be a sky god, but Roger is a radio god. I’d join his marathon-running team in a heartbeat (once you have listened to Vaduz – series 4, episode 3, you will know what I’m talking about).
Last, but in no way least, is Arthur the eternally optimistic but dimwitted steward (and Carolyn’s son). Arthur thinks pretty much everything is brilliant and even I might enjoy flying in his company.
Now, here is a link to Cabin Pressure on Audible, who will even refund you if you don’t like one of their books. You have nothing to lose (except your drink over the nearest surface, the ability to ignore yellow cars and the inability to say “Brilliant!” without sounding like Arthur).
Existing Cabin Pressure fans may also love this lovely video done in the style of the Nikon ads.
I could rave for hours, but the jokes are really best experienced firsthand from the professionals, so I’m off to listen to Ottery St Mary for the fourth time (Yellow car).
Posted by Jo the Hat