Cabin Pressure is a radio situation comedy series written by John Finnemore. Its first series was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2008. The show 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 Stephanie Cole, Roger Allam, Benedict Cumberbatch and John Finnemore.
Critical reception to the series was positive and three series have currently been produced, the most recent broadcast in July, 2011, along with a special 2010 Christmas Day episode. Cabin Pressure will return for a fourth series in 2012. The theme tune of the series is the Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila by Mikhail Glinka.
As part of her last divorce settlement, Carolyn Knapp-Shappey (Stephanie Cole) received a mid-size jet aeroplane named “Gertie” (a “Lockheed McDonnell 312”, registration G-ERTI). As a result, she founds her very own single plane charter airline, “MJN Air” (“My Jet Now”), which is crewed by an oddball mixture of characters who fly to various cities around the world, encountering a variety of odd situations.
The airline’s only Captain, Martin Crieff (Benedict Cumberbatch – except for series 3 episode 3, in which Tom Goodman-Hill stood in for Cumberbatch), 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 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. 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 because his father believed he would waste any money he received trying to become a 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. 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.
Carolyn’s son Arthur (John Finnemore) is an eager dimwit aged 29, who is supposed to be the flight attendant but usually manages to get in everyone’s way. 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).
The cockpit crew frequently pass their time by engaging in word games, such as naming Brians [sic.] of Britain, making bets that Douglas always wins 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.