Cabin Pressure Transcript: Interview with John Finnemore
This is a transcript of the interview which appears on the boxset of all 27 episodes of Cabin Pressure. I hope it may be helpful to people whose first language is not English and who struggle with people speaking English on audio only.
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MARTIN: Ah, hello. Right – my name is Captain Martin Crieff. I’m the captain. I am the captain. I have wanted to be an airline pilot since I was six years old, and before that I wanted to be an aeroplane. Everyone told me I’d never make a pilot. They told me that I didn’t have the coordination, that I didn’t have the temperament, that I’d fail my Instrument Rating again. But I proved them all wrong – eventually – and now I’m not just a pilot, I’m a captain. I am a captain; and, incidentally, Douglas here is not a captain. Whatever he tells you, he’s not.
DOUGLAS: Well, thank you for that, Martin. In point of fact, this is Captain Douglas Richardson speaking. Well, First Officer Richardson now, but formerly Captain Douglas Richardson of Air England. Sadly we parted company a few years ago over a slight difference of opinion – specifically whether being caught in-bound from Hong Kong with a dozen silk kimonos stitched into the linings of one’s jackets indicated one was a smuggler, or a lovable eccentric. I could have just retired but I have my wife to provide for and my two beautiful little ... ex-wives, so I went looking for a firm desperate enough to employ me and, lo and behold, I found Carolyn.
CAROLYN: Good evening! I am Carolyn Knapp-Shappey. Mr Shappey left me, with – on the credit side – an aeroplane but – on the debit side – a really silly name, though marginally preferable to Carolyn Shappey-Knapp. Anyway, when I decided to use that plane and my experience as a stewardess to set up my own air charter firm, my plan was simple: only employ the best. The thing is, it turns out the best are really expensive, so this is Plan B. Well, actually, it’s Plan Q, but anyway ... You know, my thinking is, I’ve got one man I can more or less trust, and one man who can more or less fly a plane, so put together they make about two-thirds of one decent employee. But if you add in my youngest son Arthur, it brings them down to half a man.
ARTHUR: Thanks, Mum! Hello. I’m Arthur Shappey. Hello. I’m a bit like the skipper, actually. I always wanted to be a pilot as well, and everyone told me I couldn’t do it, as well, and so I’m not one. But I am a steward now, which is brilliant! Um, Mum sent me on a training course and everything, and it’s a good job she did because before, I was just talking to passengers in my normal voice! (Putting on his ‘work’ voice) But, er, you’ll be pleased to know I am now fully familiarised with the correct manner in which to stress a sentence, and the vocabulary I will be utilising to ensure maximum satisfaction to yourselves today. (Back in his normal voice) Brilliant, isn’t it?! Well, er, that’s all of us, so on behalf of the whole crew, thank you for choosing Cabin Pressure as your sitcom tonight. We hope you enjoy the show!
(The show’s opening music begins and Benedict starts the standard intro. Fade-out.)
DAVID: Hullo! My name’s David Tyler and I’m the producer of Cabin Pressure. Now, I’m assuming that, if you’ve listened this far to all 27 episodes, then you’re vaguely interested in the show – unless you simply bought the boxset because you’d run out of novelty coasters. Anyway, what you heard just then was a little sort-of prologue from the very first recording back in 2008, and we did it then to tell the studio audience who all the characters were. I’m not sure we even realised at the time that we were actually recording it. It’s never been heard before; and we thought it would be fun to play you some other never-heard-before bits of Cabin Pressure, and also to tell you a bit about some of the in-jokes and references in the scripts and odd facts over the show’s run. And to do that, I’ve got with me John Finnemore, the writer and the Arthur of Cabin Pressure.
JOHN: Hello, in my writer’s voice, and (high-pitched and excited) Hello! in my Arthur voice.
DAVID: Now, what was all that in the prologue about Arthur being Carolyn’s youngest son?
JOHN: Yes! I’d forgotten until we heard that just a few days ago, but he originally had a elder step-brother; and the other thing I’d forgotten until I was looking back over my notes for when I was first coming up with the dynamics of the show was that, for a while, I was toying with Martin and Arthur being half-brothers, and Carolyn employing both her sons, by different fathers, in the airline, but thank goodness I didn’t go with that complication.
DAVID: That’s extraordinary! Wasn’t there – at one point – a draft where Carolyn was Polish?
JOHN: Oh, for a long time, yeah!
DAVID: Polish for a long time?!
JOHN: Yeah, no, she was Katazina for a ...
DAVID: Like the war?!
JOHN: Indeed! I think even the script that the BBC bought, she would have been Katazina at that point. It was only after, in the revisions, that I suddenly wondered whether that might get a bit stale over the course of the whole series.
DAVID: So that’s the other, never-heard-before Cabin Pressure about a Polish woman with two sons.
DAVID: Okay, now I’m gonna get John to tell you some of the little tricks and traps he put in the script over the series, and he’s got a question for you which you can ponder, see if you can get right.
JOHN: Oh yes. This wasn’t deliberate, but it’s a lovely coincidence. There is one actor – male or female – who was at the very first recording and the very last recording apart from the four main cast. Who was that?
DAVID: Okay, so talking about the last show. Okay, I’ve got a thing that I loved about Zurich which was, in the final scene, the new crew of Our Jet Still Airways, they fly off into the sunset and you just hear the destination they’re going to, and there’s a little twist with that.
JOHN: Er, yes, there is, a bit. They’re going to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, which is another “A” and so I hope that listeners will think that they are preparing to go round the alphabet again, but not just an “A” but a double-“A”, so they can go to Addis Ababa this flight, and then perhaps Baden Baden, and Chipping Camden, and onwards.
DAVID: Chipping Camden, that well-known glamorous airport venue! My daughter came to the recording – she did notice it, she picked that up. I hadn’t actually realised – and this is true – that they were alphabetical at all until the second series.
DAVID: No, I gen... I gen...
JOHN: I know!
DAVID: I genuinely hadn’t, because I’m an idiot! Okay, but I’ve got one that I slipped into Zurich which is Carolyn’s ringtone. When she gets a call – she’s in Herc’s car and she gets a call from Theresa, and her mobile ringtone ... did you spot this?
JOHN: I did not spot this, no.
DAVID: What it is – in an earlier draft of the script, there was a bit where Herc took Carolyn to Rigoletto, so I made the ringtone Questa o quella which is an aria from Rigoletto.
DAVID: I know nothing about opera, except that. I now know six notes of Rigoletto. ... So the idea is that John has picked some bits that had to be cut from the show that went out for time, because they’re very strict on Radio 4 – it has to be 28 minutes, otherwise you bump into The Archers, so he’s winkled out some clips and one of them is actually about the opera and Carolyn and Herc.
JOHN: Er, yes, it is. It’s from Uskerty when Carolyn is explaining to Martin about why she’s bought the sheep that she knows that Herc will hate. We cut it for time but I like it because it bridges the gap between when Carolyn first talks about opera in Newcastle when she absolutely despises it, and then we hear later in Xinzhou that she’s clearly planning to go to the opera even though Herc can’t make it; so something’s changed in her attitude and this clip explains what happened. And because it’s from Uskerty, there is rain throughout.
MARTIN: So you’ve gone to a great deal of trouble, and expense, to get him the worst possible birthday present you can imagine.
CAROLYN: Exactly! Isn’t it – isn’t it perfect?
MARTIN (hesitantly): In ... in a way.
CAROLYN: Well, don’t look at me like that. It’s what we do. Last Christmas, he bought me tickets to Glyndebourne.
MARTIN: But I thought you said you quite like opera now.
CAROLYN: Yes! And I also said that is a deep dark secret and you mustn’t ever tell him.
MARTIN: Why not?
CAROLYN: Well, firstly, because I’m not giving him the satisfaction of thinking he was right about me liking it if I tried it ...
MARTIN: But he was right about it.
CAROLYN: No he wasn’t! And secondly, because as long as he still thinks I hate it, he’ll keep buying me tickets for it, but secretly I’ll be enjoying it, so I win!
MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah. You win the relationship.
DAVID: Now, actually, Uskerty ... UsKERty? USkerty? UsKERty.
JOHN: We were calling it ‘USkerty,’ weren’t we, and then John O’Mahony, we asked him how he thought it would be pronounced, and he told us ‘UsKERty.’
DAVID: He played the farmer ... what was the farmer’s name?
JOHN: Farmer Fisher.
DAVID: He played Farmer Fisher ...
JOHN: Which is a reference to a picture book I had when I was a little boy, called Farmer Fisher ...
“Farmer Fisher, he had a farm yard truck.
You couldn’t see the colour for the farm yard muck.
In the front was a rabbit and a chicken and a duck
On the way to market.”
DAVID: I wondered what it was going to rhyme with, and I panicked!
JOHN: It was a children’s book, David.
DAVID: Yeah, I know, but, you know, we were a lot more liberal in the seventies! So, actually, the recording of Uskerty was rather long, John, so it was a bit of a panic and we actually had to cut the whole of the last scene.
JOHN: Yeah, that’s right. It was a sort of Gordian Knot decision, because we were cutting out bits like the one you just heard, and more and more little bits that we really liked, and then eventually we decided, better to lose the final scene and, you know, hope that the listener would assume that Martin would eventually find the ring; but I’ve always slightly missed it and so it’s nice to be able to play it to you now.
ARTHUR: Aaand Contestant 21!
(Sound of a goose squawking and flapping its wings)
MARTIN: Okay, well, so it has to be this one, then.
DOUGLAS: Always the way when you lose something, isn’t it? It’s always in the last goose you look.
CAROLYN: You are sure the goose swallowed it, are you?
MARTIN: I was sure. All right, come here.
(Sound of Martin grunting, and the goose squawking and fussing)
FARMER FISHER: Hold her underneath!
MARTIN: I’m trying!
ARTHUR: Contestant 22!
GERRY: There it is! That’s her!
CAROLYN: Now for God’s sake hold on to her!
FARMER FISHER: You can have that one for fifty Euros.
MARTIN: Oh, okay. Er, let me see ...
CAROLYN: I’ll get it, Martin.
MARTIN: No, you don’t have to do that.
CAROLYN: Well, I’ve already spent 85 Euros on a dead sheep today. I may as well stand you a live goose as well. Now, Gerry, I don’t suppose there’s any way you can still clear us to leave?
GERRY: Carolyn, I’m sorry. I really can’t. They’d have me licence off me.
CAROLYN: Yes, I know. Well, then, it looks like we’re here for the night.
ARTHUR: Oh, brilliant! And Douglas and I can teach you a brilliant game with the security gate.
GERRY: And the bar’s open as long as you want it. Er, can I get you anything now, in fact? Carolyn?
CAROLYN: A large gin and tonic.
MARTIN: A small red wine.
GERRY: And gentlemen: two shots of the usual?
DOUGLAS: Thank you, Gerry. Oh, and Gerry?
DOUGLAS: Leave the carton.
End credits begin.
DAVID: The carton of pineapple juice! It is rare to lose a whole scene, it must be said, but we do have to cut little bits and ... Now, what’s the bit you most regret?
JOHN: Well, there aren’t many times when I’m writing when I make myself laugh. I remember laughing when I wrote, from Uskerty, the line about “Between the dames and the horses, sometimes I don’t know why I put my hat on.” And I also remember laughing when I wrote this little bit in which Arthur grapples with the concept of a Secret Santa.
DAVID: This is from the Christmas ...
JOHN: The Christmas special, which was Molokai, and Martin has proposed a Secret Santa, and Arthur is very excited despite being a little vague on what the hell it is.
MARTIN: Oh, we could do a Secret Santa!
ARTHUR: Oh, great! Can I be the Secret Santa? Oh, no, that gives it away. I mean, if-if someone is the Secret Santa, which I’m not saying they will be, can I ... No, that doesn’t work. Um ... oh, I know: I-I definitely don’t want to be the Secret Santa, if you know what I mean. (In a whisper) I do really!
MARTIN: Do you even know what a Secret Santa is, Arthur?
ARTHUR (excitedly): I’m hoping it’s me!
DAVID: Now, this is something I wanted to ask you about. In Molokai there’s a little reference to Mr Alyakhin, who’s the Russian guy they have to transport everywhere – there’s a little reference to a Mitchell and Webb sketch that you write as well.
JOHN: Oh, yes! Now, I wrote this sketch about telesales for Mitchell and Webb in which three billionaire brothers are perplexed as to why all the people they ring up out of the blue refuse to be excited by their gifts of massive yachts.
DAVID: Is that the one where they’re all saying, “It’s a massive yacht!”?
JOHN: Yeah. “Hello! You may already have won one of our massive yachts in our Wednesday draw!” It’s that sort of thing. And so when Mr Alyakhin turned out to be a yacht broker, I thought that the yachts he sold might as well be massive ones.
DAVID: Yes, ’cause you actually slip quite a few references in – or, as I like to say, “past me”! Any others? Now’s the time to confess.
JOHN: Let me see. I try to make sure that the references don’t get in the way, so things like character names, they’ve got to be called something, so if I’ve got a plot where the whole crew are spending the whole episode waiting for a passenger to turn up, I might as well call him Mr Goddard, as in Waiting for Godot, as anything else.
DAVID: Ah, I didn’t know that. Beckett, that massive humourist and friend of sitcoms Beckett, yes!
JOHN: In Gdansk when they are doing the bet at the beginning about whether the passengers will eat more strudel or cheesecake – that was originally whether they would have more red or white wine, and then I decided that puddings were funnier, and if you’re going to do a bet about puddings, you might as well use the puddings that they make a similar bet on at the beginning of Guys and Dolls.
DAVID: Oh, right!
JOHN: Yes, Sky Masterson and Nathan Detroit have an important bet on whether the customers of a diner will eat more cheesecake or strudel, so there’s a vague reference to that.
DAVID: Oh, so you’ve channelled ... who is it?
JOHN: Damon Runyon wrote the original stories.
DAVID: Oh, right. So Beckett, Runyon, obviously a high literary canon writer, and Farmer Fisher!
DAVID: Obviously aiming very high! Now, there is one I did spot but you’d have to be a radio aficionado or a hundred and seventeen to know about this one. It’s in Douz.
JOHN: Oh yes! This was in the first series and, given that I was writing a show about the crew of a vessel, you know, you need to make some reference to a show called The Navy Lark which was hugely successful in the sixties and seventies? Fifties and sixties, maybe?
DAVID: 1831, I think!
JOHN: With Leslie Phillips and Jon Pertwee and ...
DAVID: Ronnie Barker! Ronnie Barker was the stoker or something.
JOHN: Yes, and indeed he was Able Seaman Johnson, and there’s a sketch in my sketch show, John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme, in which an errant sailor is given the name Able Seaman Johnson, so that’s a second reference to The Navy Lark.
DAVID: So what’s the actual reference?
JOHN: Well, one of the catchphrases in The Navy Lark was the commanding officer to the helmsman would give him directions by saying, “Right hand down a bit, Number One,” and so when they are steering their way out of Douz, that’s what, I think, Martin says to Douglas. And I think, in my head, he is deliberately quoting it, because that’s another category of reference – sometimes the characters know what they’re quoting. So Carolyn does this a lot – she quotes all kinds of poets. You know, she loves poetry and so she quotes things like, “Ring out wild bells in the wild sky,” and also things that ... I was very embarrassed that people sometimes give me credit – when Douglas tells her about the Secret Santa, she says, “What fresh hell is this?” which is how Dorothy Parker used to answer the telephone, and Carolyn likes Dorothy Parker and is quoting her deliberately, but of course people think I came up with that line! So I’d like to, yeah, publicly renounce that and give credit to Dorothy Parker. Oh, similarly in Kuala Lumpur as well. Arthur does it; Arthur actually ...
DAVID: Arthur quotes Dorothy Parker?!
(John cracks up laughing.)
DAVID: Intriguing! Arthur – the well-known wit of the Algonquin Round Table – hounding Robert Benchley into the dust with his ready wit! What does he say?
JOHN: He doesn’t quite quote Dorothy Parker, but you remember when he’s doing the, um ... Carolyn’s trying to train him up and putting him under pressure by doing lots of different voices and one of them is a Scottish old lady, and Arthur christens her Mrs Badcrumble because Arthur – like myself – was a fan of Eddie Izzard, and Eddie Izzard does a Scottish piano teacher called (in a Scottish accent) Mrs Badcrumble, and Arthur’s very fond of her.
[Transcriber’s note: Eddie’s Mrs Badcrumble was actually his recorder and clarinet teacher.]
DAVID: Oh, excellent! So we’ve got Damon Runyon, Eddie Izzard and The Navy Lark. “Right hand down ...” Presumably when they said, “Right hand down a bit,” on The Navy Lark just before they were about to bash into a bridge or something – that was probably every second plot.
JOHN: Yes, they did crash quite a lot, didn’t they, yes. Which is at least something that our lot don’t do. We’ve only had one bird strike in the whole 26 episodes.
DAVID: Yes, that is one essential difference between this and The Navy Lark.
JOHN: Yeah, it has actually always been important that this is basically a safe aircraft and a safe airline, yes. Martin isn’t a naturally gifted flier but, as Carolyn says, what with him and Douglas, the plane is safe and so, when something goes wrong, as in St Petersburg, or in Douz actually, not only do they both deal with it professionally but in St Petersburg, of course, Martin lands it, and lands it perfectly adequately.
DAVID: Well, there is a scene we had to cut in St Petersburg ... We didn’t have to cut it in St Petersburg ... We didn’t go there to cut it.
JOHN: Yeah, we always record on location! Qikiqtarjuaq was a bugger, wasn’t it?!
DAVID: That was an effort, wasn’t it?! Cold, with it! But this was a scene that was in St Petersburg and, again, it’s unusual, it’s never been heard before and it’s a whole scene which is sort of about the complicity between Martin and Douglas when they have a quiet moment after Martin has indeed landed the plane.
MARTIN: Poor old Arthur. Imagine feeling like that about your own dad.
DOUGLAS: I thought you felt like that about your dad.
MARTIN: No, not at all!
DOUGLAS: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you told me once he wasn’t terribly supportive about you wanting to be a pilot.
MARTIN: What, the van thing? No, no, no. The thing is, he actually really was supportive, for ages, but it kept not happening for me and I ... well, I can see it from his point of view. I mean, everyone always says you have to believe in your child, no matter what, but what if your child wants you to believe he can do something you know is impossible? Like, I dunno, um, turn invisible or ...
DOUGLAS: ... fly?
MARTIN: Well, yes, exactly. (Wistfully) Wish he could have seen me land it today. (He pulls in a breath.) Don’t imagine you had that trouble with your dad.
DOUGLAS: No. He always believed I could do anything.
MARTIN: As, of course, do you.
DOUGLAS: I merely go by the evidence before me.
DOUGLAS: Although that did mean he – and you’re not going to like this, Martin – but he was rather disappointed I ended up as a pilot.
DOUGLAS: I told you you wouldn’t like it. He was a doctor, you see, and he always assumed I’d become one too.
MARTIN: That’s so unfair. Why should he think that?
DOUGLAS: To be fair to him, I did study medicine at Oxford. I can see how the confusion may have arisen.
MARTIN: Did you?
DOUGLAS: Yes! I’ve told you that, haven’t I? For two years – until the day came when they wanted me to touch someone’s brain. At which point I decided a joke was a joke, but this one had gone too far and called it quits.
MARTIN: Just because you didn’t want to touch a brain?
DOUGLAS: Not while the chap was still thinking with it, no.
MARTIN: Eurgh! Was he?!
DOUGLAS: Oh yes. Not very well, presumably, or they wouldn’t have popped open the bonnet to take a look at it, but in his way.
MARTIN: Couldn’t you have been another sort of doctor? They don’t all have to touch brains, do they?
DOUGLAS: I don’t believe so, no, but it all boils down to gloop and gunk of various consistencies in the end, doesn’t it? So I made my excuses and left, and Dad took that a little personally.
MARTIN: Well, what about your mum? Was she more sympathetic?
DOUGLAS: Ah, well, you’re referring there, of course, to Dame Penelope Richardson, first female Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. So, not noticeably, no.
JOHN: It’s funny – I’ve had it in my head for ages, this thing about Douglas’ parents being doctors and being a bit disappointed with him being a pilot, and I didn’t find the chance to use it until St Petersburg and then of course it didn’t go out, so it’s never really been mentioned. That whole little idea I had just bubbled away for four series and never ...
DAVID: It went into the other show with the Polish woman with two sons!
JOHN: Yes, exactly!
DAVID: The Polish mum and the failed doctor, the hilarious ...
JOHN: We could call it ... I think my first idea for a title for the show was Jetlag, so maybe that show is called Jetlag.
DAVID: Oh! Well, lots of people call it Cabin Fever.
JOHN: Oh, yes, including – on at least two occasions – continuity announcers!
DAVID: No, really?!
JOHN: Yeah, not when they’re introducing it, but when they introduce Souvenir Programme they often say, “From the writer of Cabin Fever, it is ...”!
DAVID: When the show was up and running, you often get notes from agents saying, you know, recommending their actors if they want to be in it, and it’s always very, very sad when someone would say – and I did get this – “They really want to be in the show. They adore ‘Cabin Fever’!” At which point I get all prudish and go, “Well, then, they can be in Cabin Fever, some other show about which I know nothing and care less.” But while we’re talking about casting, St Petersburg was interesting, ’cause that was the first appearance of Timothy West, playing Arthur’s dad.
JOHN: The loveable Gordon.
DAVID: The loveable Gordon and his unexpected Australian accent, which we sprung on him!
JOHN: Yes! We cast him before I decided that Gordon was Australian. I remember, I think, texting you with a “By the way, Gordon is Australian now”!
DAVID: And I’m telling this venerable more-or-less Knight of the acting realm, “Er, we’d love you to. Yeah, nothing’s changed, but can you do an Australian accent?”
JOHN: Which he can! And did brilliantly!
DAVID: He didn’t bat an eyelid.
JOHN: No, it was superb. I just really ... because Australian is such a naturally friendly accent, I think the idea of a villain, you know, basically someone as unpleasant as Gordon ...
DAVID: Yeah, like Rupert Murdoch, you know, the friendly Australian! Normally they’re gorgeous, aren’t they?! And there’s a weird family connection which was completely coincidence. Timothy West, playing Arthur’s dad ...
JOHN: And then, yes, by the time we got to Wokingham, and we had a major role for Martin’s mum, we managed to get Prunella Scales, to my joy and disbelief, who is of course Timothy West’s wife.
DAVID: Presumably you could never cast them in the same thing, ’cause they couldn’t get a babysitter, I assume! While we’re talking about casting: Karl. We have to talk about Karl!
JOHN: Yes! Yes, Karl is a regular in the show – he’s practically the fifth part, really, in terms of how many episodes he’s in. The only thing about him is he’s never played by the same actor twice!
DAVID: This is the air traffic controller at Fitton.
JOHN: Yeah, that’s right. And he’s got a proper sort of character to him: he’s a bit, you know, lackadaisical and enjoys winding Martin up by not using the proper phrases.
DAVID: The thing is, because Karl often only has two or three lines, by the way the show is written, we often ask one of the actors who’s playing another main regular part to chuck in their Karl.
JOHN: And I think by the time we’d done that two or three times, and Karl was beginning to grow as a character, it was sort of too late to say to one of them, “Oh, well, you play it every time,” so we made a bit of a thing of having a different actor every time.
DAVID: “You can be a Karl, but you’re not allowed to be the Karl.”
DAVID: I cut together a very quick thing of ... This is my Best of Karl mix tape!
JOHN: Oh, excellent!
KARL: Golf Tango India.
KARL (different voice): Golf Tango India.
KARL (different voice): Golf Tango India.
KARL (different voice): Golf Tango India.
KARL (different voice): Golf Tango India.
KARL (different voice): ’ello, ’ello!
MARTIN: Fitton Tower, please confine air traffic communications to standard phraseology.
KARL: Sorry, Martin.
JOHN (laughing): Fantastic!
DAVID: They were, in order: Ewen MacIntosh, Paul Shearer, Simon Greenall, Dan Tetsell, Roger Morlidge and Steve Brody; and Steve Brody’s one never got to say, “Golf Tango India.”
JOHN: Although the sounds ... I’d forgotten ... from the sounds of it, Steve Brody’s Karl was northern, which Karl generally isn’t!
DAVID: Yeah, who knows?! I think Karl can be anyone.
JOHN: Oh, absolutely!
DAVID: He can be Polish or something. That’s the mystery of Karl solved, for those of you who couldn’t sleep for thinking, “Who are the different Karls, and why?” Time, I think, for another bit that you will never have heard before. What’s another bit that got cut that you really like?
JOHN: There’s a bit from Gdansk which is the episode in which Martin and Douglas are compulsively betting on various cheeses in their cheese tray, and I don’t think we included the bet in which poor Martin loses the crackers.
(Flight deck door opens.)
ARTHUR: Coffee, gents?
DOUGLAS (enthusiastically): Ah, Arthur! Welcome!
MARTIN (equally enthusiastically): Arthur! How are you?! Nice to see you!
DOUGLAS: And you’ve brought coffee! Good chap!
MARTIN: Great stuff! Coffee! Well done, Arthur!
ARTHUR: Yeah, hallo! Coffee is great, isn’t it? (Sound of him putting the cups down.) Er, here you are, Douglas, and er ...
MARTIN (in a disappointed voice): Ohhhhhh!
DOUGLAS: Aaaaand there go the crackers!
MARTIN (reprovingly): Arthur!
ARTHUR: What did I do?
DOUGLAS: Martin and I had a little bet on about to whom you would give their coffee first.
MARTIN: I’m the captain, Arthur! I get the coffee first. Read up your Standard Procedures.
ARTHUR: Sorry, Skip. Will do, Skip. Sorry.
DAVID: Now, Arthur is always coming in with teas and coffees for the crew, into what I’ve learned is called the flight deck, not the cabin or the cockpit ...
JOHN: Cockpit, that’s what you mustn’t say. Cockpit is on a fighter jet; flight deck is on any sort of commercial airliner.
DAVID: Right, see, I’ve learned a lot of jargon over the three years, like ‘plane’! I had no idea what that was called.
JOHN: ‘Aircraft’ is the sort of preferred word, ’cause that can refer to anything.
DAVID: Oh! There you go. So, well, Arthur is always coming into the flight deck bearing beverages. This is from Yverdon-les-Bains when something very unfortunate has happened to his voice – you’ll know about that if you know the episode. Here it is:
[Transcriber’s note: this clip is almost impossible to transcribe in a way that does justice to Arthur’s dragonfruit-induced lisp, so I’ll simply transcribe how it would have sounded without the lisp and you’ll just have to buy the boxset to hear it properly!]
(Flight deck door opens.)
ARTHUR (very muffled and lisping): Hello, chaps. Teas and coffees.
HERC: Hello, Arthur.
ARTHUR (muffled): Oh, that’s funny.
ARTHUR (muffled): Well, you know how sometimes for a joke I swap the letters round and instead of ‘teas and coffees’ I say ‘keys and toffees’? Well, that time I was saying ‘teas and coffees’ but you can’t tell if I was saying ‘teas and coffees’ or ‘keys and toffees’.
HERC: You do have fun up here, don’t you?
DAVID: Now whenever we’re rehearsing the show before the audience come in, we always have – coincidentally – teas and coffees and biscuits and a fruit bowl and, for the last show, Katie – my assistant then – filled the fruit bowl with references from the show. We had lemons – unhidden lemons – and we had cashews, and dragonfruit!
JOHN: Yes, we did, and I think Ben tried some, didn’t he, and wasn’t that impressed.
DAVID: He did, although what he hadn’t realised is that they’re actually horrible.
JOHN: Yes, I think he discovered that!
DAVID: So we all had dragonfruit, about which we discovered two things: (a) they’re horrible and (b) they’re massively expensive, but it was all very jolly, and then I suddenly panicked because I thought, “What if someone is genuinely allergic to dragonfruit? We’re recording in about two hours’ time,” and as it had taken about six months to get everybody together in the same room ...
JOHN: And it is a sort of thing that one might plausibly have never had before and could find out one’s allergy on that very day! Imagine if it had been me and I actually did the recording with my ...!
DAVID: So if you’re ever checking in the producer’s manual, on page 2 it says, “Never feed your cast anything highly allergic and unusual, moments before a recording”! There was an extraordinary moment in Yverdon-les-Bains, which is the end of Series 4 and it’s sort-of the cliffhanger and there was an extraordinary moment in the studio ...
JOHN: Yes. Well, it was just ... I don’t think I ever really thought about how the audience would react to Martin saying, “They’re going to let me know,” and then the music coming up, and they reacted in quite a vocal way, it turned out!
DAVID: This is what actually happened on the radio – if you were listening – this is what you would have heard:
CAROLYN: Tell us! Did you get in?
MARTIN: ... They’re going to let me know.
(The end credits music starts.)
BENEDICT: That was Cabin Pressure by John Finnemore ...
DAVID: But that was after I’d sorted it out in the edit. What actually happened on the night was this. This is from the rushes; this is actually what we recorded.
MARTIN: ... They’re going to let me know.
(The end credits music starts. Lots of members of the audience let out a range of anguished cries of, “Ohh!” They still haven’t fallen quiet by the time Ben starts his outtro.)
BENEDICT: That was Cabin Pressure by John Finnemore ...
DAVID: It was two hundred people going, “That can’t be it!”
JOHN (laughing): Yeah, yeah. “At least you’re not going to leave us for two years before you reveal the ... WHAT?!!”
DAVID: So we’ve talked about the audience reaction. Of course what the audience love best but you never get to hear is when something goes wrong. It’s an incredibly skilful job standing up there as an actor with a script you’ve only really seen that morning. You’ve had a couple of hours to rehearse; you’ve had to wade through a bowl of dragonfruit and there you are, suddenly doing it in front of an audience. Of course sometimes things go a little wrong.
JOHN: Yes, and of course it’s particularly difficult if you’re deliberately given a tongue-twister to say; and for some reason I usually give these to Stephanie. She tends to be the victim; she’s the one who has to say ‘Madame Szyszko-Bohusz’ seventeen times, and who it’s made a point of how well she can pronounce ‘Qikiqtarjuaq’ and that sort of thing. But this one went to Anthony Head, playing Herc, who was asked to deliver the line, “It does sound a bit like a soft-s-shoe shuffle.”
DAVID: You couldn’t do it just then!
JOHN: Even I can’t do it! It’s very difficult to say, as you will now hear!
ANTHONY: Yeah, see what you mean. It does sound a bit like a sho... Oh.
(Laughter and applause from the audience.)
STEPHANIE: I’m sorry – you’ve caught it from me!
ANTHONY: Yes, see what you mean. It does sound a bit like a soft-shhhoe shuffle.
ANTHONY: Yes. I see what you mean. It does sound a bit like a soft-shhoo. Oh, f...
ROGER (smoothly): Shall I say it for you?
JOHN: See, that is the thing about Roger, that while we’re doing the recordings he does sort of become Douglas! Or possibly I’ve written Douglas to be more and more like Roger Allam, I don’t know, but they kind of meld into one!
DAVID: So we had to do a re-take of that again.
JOHN: Yes, we did, and so naturally the rest of the cast were very understanding and, you know, tried to help Anthony out as much as possible by, for instance, gathering around him – I seem to remember – with our hands on our knees going, “Come on, Anthony! You can do it! Come on! Come on! ‘Soft-shoe shuffle’ – go for it! Go for it!”
DAVID: You were also praying, I think, at one point.
JOHN: Yes, yeah, I believe a couple of us got down on our knees and ...
DAVID: Very relaxing for the actor!
JOHN: Anything, anything to put him at his ease and make sure he didn’t feel under any pressure at all(!)
DAVID: Which is one of the many reasons we don’t record the show live!
JOHN: I wonder if people listening to it realise how physical we sometimes get in the performance of it. I was just thinking then of us all gathering round him and cheering him on, but there were ... doing my bow in Vaduz, Arthur’s complicated bow – that was fully performed.
DAVID: It was! You nearly gave yourself a hernia!
JOHN: Absolutely! And, um, in Wokingham as well, where Justin Edwards as Martin’s big brother who picks him up and whirls him around and says, “He’s flying, he’s flying.” Now, on radio, there’s no reason why the actor would actually have to do that ... but they did!
DAVID: “There’s no reason ...” I think that’s pretty much what Ben said to Justin Edwards who was doing it: “There is no reason to be doing this!”
JOHN: No – as he spun through the air with the greatest of ease!
DAVID: With the greatest of difficulty, if memory serves, actually! Now, the other thing we do to publicise the series on Radio 4 is trails, which are sometimes very unpopular and people think they’re boring, but we made a couple of specially-recorded trails with the cast that – unless you happened to be at home listening to your radio at quarter to eleven on a particular day in 2010 or something – you will never have heard this. So here it is:
STEPHANIE: Hello, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Stephanie Cole and, before the new series of Cabin Pressure, some brief safety information. Roger Allam and Benedict Cumberbatch are located here ...
STEPHANIE: ... and here.
STEPHANIE: ... and in the unlikely event of an emergency, John Finnemore can be found under your seat.
JOHN (muffled): Hi!
STEPHANIE: Finally, we do recommend you keep your radio switched on for the duration of the show and remain listening until the programme has come to a complete stop. Thank you!
BENEDICT: Cabin Pressure, due to arrive on BBC Radio 4, 11.30 a.m. tomorrow morning ... unless there’s fog over Woman’s Hour.
DAVID: Very impressive. I would say John wrote that – it wasn’t just a spontaneous outburst of trail competence amongst the cast. And there’s another one as well:
ROGER: Hallo, ladies and gentlemen. This is your First Officer speaking, to welcome you aboard Radio 4 and to let you know about the imminent arrival of the new series of Cabin Pressure. We’re currently cruising at around 92 megahertz, possibly climbing to 96 later, and with a good tail-wind and avoiding the squalls over P.M., we expect to arrive on your radio at around 11.30 a.m. Tea and coffee are available if you make them yourself, but try not to rattle the cups over the punchlines. Thank you.
BENEDICT: Cabin Pressure, arriving on BBC Radio 4, 11.30 a.m. tomorrow morning. This is your final call.
DAVID: One of the things I loved about that was how we made Benedict Cumberbatch just do the bit at the end.
JOHN: Yes, that’s right!
DAVID: And that also happened with the credits. It wouldn’t be right if Douglas’ character did it, and it was odd for John Finnemore to read out the bit that says, “Written by John Finnemore,” so I asked Ben to do it, and he gave me a slight look and said, “Well, all right,” and then, as the series progressed ...
JOHN: Yes, the first few, actually – Abu Dhabi, Boston, and so on – are very straight-laced and staid ... (in a calm BBC voice) “That was Cabin Pressure and der der der der der ...” whereas, by Series 2 and 3, he’s giving it all he’s got and it always ends with ... (in his best Benedict impression) “That was a Pozzitive production for the BBCeeeeee!”
DAVID: And that became quite a thing; and then he did one in French, I seem to ...
JOHN: Yes, I think so, and wasn’t there a Spanish one as well?
DAVID: Probably! Oh yeah, no there was! Yes, Johannesburg. ’Cause it is true that Ben – you know, when we first started, he was a really really good actor that we knew in a few things like the Stephen Hawking film and so on, but it was only when he was doing the second series, we were recording Ipswich and Phil Davis was in Ipswich playing Mr Sargent, and Phil and Ben knew each other.
JOHN: Oh yes, that’s right. They had just been doing the first pilot of Sherlock, and many of our listeners, I suspect, will know that there were two pilots of Sherlock and we recorded Ipswich between the two of them, so they were talking about how it had been going and, “Oh, I think they’re going to get us back and we’re gonna re-do the whole thing!”
DAVID: No, I think they were quite peevish about it.
JOHN: Well, a little. Sort of “I wonder why that’s necessary,” and then, um, yeah.
DAVID: At the risk of sounding very ‘lovey’, we were in the bar after the show and Ben – I said, “What have you been up to?” and he said, “I’ve just done this show called Sherlock - it was a modern-day Sherlock Holmes,” and I went, “Oh, yeah, that sounds dead good. Who are you in it?”
DAVID: And he went, “Oh, er, er, Sherlock.” And in fact you spent some time in Paris, in the Paris episode ...
JOHN: Ah, yes. I’d been meaning to do a whodunnit episode. It had been in my notebook of ideas pretty much since Series 1, and now of course we have an actor who is suddenly famous for playing detectives, and it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. But also I didn’t want to continually be harping on about it, so we made it the rule that we never actually said “Sherlock” or “Holmes” or “elementary” or anything else. We just talked quite a lot about Miss Marple.
JOHN: And I definitely got a fairly hard stare from Benedict when he first had to deliver the line, “I wanted to be Miss Marple”!
DAVID: Okay, tell us about another bit that had to get cut.
JOHN: Yes, this is a bit from Helsinki and it’s from when Kieran – who is Carolyn’s obnoxious horrible little nephew – is grilling Martin on what it’s like to be a pilot.
MARTIN: Yes, well, er, outside flying, as I say, I spend a fair amount of time brushing up on the flight simulator.
DOUGLAS: I’m not sure that counts as ‘outside flying.’
MARTIN: Walking – I like to walk.
DOUGLAS: Oh yes: plane to terminal, terminal to plane. Quite the rambler.
MARTIN: And, er, you know, normal things. Going to the pub, having a drink.
KIERAN: Right. So your interests are walking and drinking.
MARTIN: Er, look, I don’t think you understand just how dedicated real pilots have to be. Real pilots don’t have outside interests. Real pilots eat, sleep and breathe aviation.
KIERAN: What are your outside interests, Douglas?
DOUGLAS: Cricket, opera, tennis, painting, sailing, jazz, cookery ... and close harmony singing.
DAVID: Now when we started talking, John, you asked us all a question, and now it’s time for the answer, please.
JOHN: Oh yes, of course. So who was the only actor to have been both in the first recording and the final recording, and the answer is Matilda Ziegler, who plays the American paramedic at the end of Boston but also plays Princess Theresa, princess of Liechtenstein, Countess of Sponheim and Protector Extraordinary of the Cantons of Nîmes.
DAVID: Now, before you cry ‘foul play,’ I ought to explain that we record the shows in pairs – we do two at every recording, so she was at the first recording because Boston was the second show we recorded the night we recorded Abu Dhabi, so there was Matilda right at the start and right at the end.
JOHN: And now I come to think of it, I think – because actors often play more than one part within those two episodes – I think she was also the Irish ATC who said, “I’ve got nothing better to do than bounce you across the Atlantic Ocean all the live-long day.”
DAVID: So if you ever need an actress to do an American, an Irish, or a Liechtensteinian accent ...
JOHN: ... or pretty much any other accent!
DAVID: ... it turns out, I think you know what programme to reference! And also, her name begins with a “Z”, which probably means we have to finish, ’cause you always have to finish on “Z”.
JOHN: Yeah, that is my unbreakable comedy rule!
DAVID: But there’s just time for one last clip.
JOHN: Yeah, so let’s not finish with a “Z” at all; let’s finish with a “Q”. This is a very short clip from Martin’s speech in Qikiqtarjuaq where Douglas has forced him to pose as a former member of the French Foreign Legion.
DOUGLAS: Remind me again: who were the French fighting in Alaska?
MARTIN (in his appalling French accent): I’m afraid zhis information is still classified.
End music – with no voiceover!
Transcripts of all episodes of Cabin Pressure can be found here.