Friday 15 February 2013


[EDIT: Ok, now I feel guilty. It's ok! I wasn't really offended! And I exaggerated the responses I was getting for comic effect. Everything's fine!  But thank you for all the lovely comments - I'm really glad you liked it, and I hope the resolution justifies your trust… ]

…What? Why are you looking at me like that? Has something happened to annoy you in some way? 

Tell you what, this week, let's do Notes and Queries first:

'Finnemore, you evil bastard, I hope you rot in hell.' 

...Ok. Well, I appreciate your plain-speaking.

'What kind of an ending do you call that?'

I call it a cliffhanger ending. Do you like it? I sense somehow that you do not.

'Did you forget this is supposed to be a comedy?'

Ouch. But, no. Hence the jokes. 

'Why would you break my heart like that? I have wept solidly for the past 48 hours, and now there is no water left in my body and my tear ducts look like peeled grapes. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?'

Ok, this is the reaction that's really taken me by surprise. I predicted a certain amount of frustration about ending on a cliff-hanger, but I'm completely taken aback by the amount of crying I've apparently caused. Look, I don't mean to be an insensitive bastard, but… what's so sad? I mean… Martin got the job! He got 100% in the tech exam, and everyone at MJN gave him a great reference, and he got Oskar to stay in the room, and he did a big ol' hero's speech, and he got the job! Yes, now he has a big decision to make, and that decision has potentially sad consequences… but he hasn't made it yet, so we don't even know which potentially sad consequences to be potentially sad about. God help me, I actually thought it was quite a warm fuzzy episode. But apparently I've accidentally written King Lear.

Now then, for what it's worth, here are my rules about cliffhanger endings.

1) They're very powerful, but very annoying, so they should be used very sparingly, and only when there's a good reason. This is the first cliffhanger I've done in CP, and it seemed to me that the question of how Martin could manage to get a job offer from a major airline, given his particular strengths and weaknesses; and the question of what he would do if he got such an offer were both too big to be dealt with in a single episode. Plus, the issue of Martin's need to be paid to do the job he loves versus Carolyn and Douglas needing him to go on being unpaid in order to make MJN viable has become the central dilemma of the whole show (It didn't use to be, but the show has changed). It seemed like the question of whether and how that is resolved was worthy of a cliffhanger. 

2) You can't use a cliff-hanger instead of an ending. Some shows do, but I think it's cheating. Any episode that ends with a cliffhanger must also have a satisfying conclusion in itself. Ideally, the main question of the episode should be answered - but the answer should then throw up an unexpected larger question, which provides the cliff-hanger. So, for me, the question of this episode is 'Will Martin get the job, and if so, how?', and it's only when that's resolved that we're reminded that the bigger question is whether he takes it or not. 

3) The cliffhanger has to be an emotional one, or at least a direct dilemma for a central character or characters, not a physical or external one. The question left unanswered must always be 'What will he or she do now?' not 'What will happen to him or her now?' To take an example completely at random, a bad cliff-hanger would be 'The hero's been forced to jump off a roof! Will he survive?', but a good cliff-hanger is 'He DID survive! But how? And why's he hiding from his friend?' (Oh, but by the way, Steven Moffat is a terrific writer, and it's an honour to be compared to him. But he did not invent the idea of a cliffhanger ending. Writers have been doing it for really quite some time.) So, in this case, it would have been totally unfair to make the cliff-hanger 'Will they offer Martin the job or not?' firstly because it would break rule 3 above, but also because by then it's out of Martin's control. But 'He gets it! Does he take it or not?' seems to me fair game. Your mileage, of course, may vary... 

And most importantly of all:

4) A cliff-hanger is a promise to the audience. It's implicitly saying 'I'm withholding the gratification of giving you the answer now, but trust me, when you get it, you'll think it was worth the wait.' And if you're going to make a promise like that, you'd better be able to back it up, or at least think you can.  So, although I'm afraid I can't comment on the future of the show at the moment, partly because it's not only up to me, I will say this much, because to be honest I thought it was totally obvious, and I'm amazed there's any ambiguity over it:

It is not and never was my intention that Yverdon should be the last ever episode of Cabin Pressure.

I mean, come on guys, give me some credit. A to Y?


Cut purely for reasons of time, from just before 'Can you think of a time you were in conflict with someone professionally?'

DEROCHE                 Alright. Let’s talk about your experiences as a pilot. Can you give me an example of a time when it was necessary to break the rules?

MARTIN                       Er… Er… [BEAT] Er… No. I don’t think I can.

DEROCHE                 Well, bend the rules, let’s say.

MARTIN                       …still no. I would if I could, I just literally, can’t think of one.

DEROCHE                 …Fine. Can you give me an example of a time when you successfully handled issues of cultural diversity in the work place?

MARTIN                       Right.  Um… I think Arthur, I think our steward, a member of our cabin crew is half Australian, but, not in a way that’s caused any major cultural… I mean, it’s not like he celebrates different holidays or anyth- well, I say that, actually he does: Birling Day, and Birthday Eve, and Gerti’s Birthday, and Summer Christmas, but I don’t think that’s to do with his… Australian heritage, as such. 

Tuesday 12 February 2013



I am no longer in Cuba. I'm not home either (so still no pictures), but I'm on my way home - I'm in Mexico. Some people might point out that Mexico is further away from my home than Cuba is. To those people I say simply this: Shush.

Anyway, Xinzhou. I like it now, but it was one of those episodes where there were times during the writing of it when I simply didn't see how I could possibly get it right in time for the recording. The other ones this happenes with were Limerick and Fitton... all the ones, in other words, where it's just the main cast on the plane, and there doesn't appear to be a plot. Because those little buggers are always three times as hard to write as a normal episode, but because I am an idiot, I always forget that, and think: well, it's just them mucking about without a plot, that'll be easy. But it's not, because of course there has to be a plot, because if no-one wants anything, there's no stakes, and if there's no stakes there's no story; and if there's no story then the audience, even if they don't realise it, start thinking 'yeah, but why are you telling me this?', lose interest, and wander off to do the ironing. So, you have to write about people being bored without being boring, and you have to not only work out a plot that will keep the audience interested, but then hide it from them.  Plus, these tend to be the episodes where the characters unbend and actually talk to each other about stuff, so you've got to try to do that justice. All of which is far harder than sticking Martin and Carolyn out in the Irish countryside and then putting obstacles between them and the airport. Not better, necessarily, but definitely harder. And one day maybe I'll learn that.

But I didn't learn it this time, so the writing, or rather the rewriting and rewriting and rewriting; and then at the last minute more or less throwing it away and starting from scratch, and then rewriting that, was scarier than it's been for a while. All the episodes owe a huge amount to that prince among producers David Tyler, but this one more than most. Not least (though also not most) because a large amount of it was written in his house, whilst drinking his coffee, eating his cheese, and taking three minute breaks to play with his dog. This is not a service all producers provide...

Anyway, enough whining - it did get written, somehow, and the reward was that it was one of the most fun episodes to record - especially, as you might imagine, the ancient and noble game of Fizz Buzz Have A Banana.

What with being abroad I haven't been able to hear this one go out yet, so I'll do Notes and Queries and Deleted Scenes when I get back, and I'll put up a notebook photo too. Or possibly, for this episode, just a photo of a waste paper basket full of screwed up post-its.

Bye for now - by the next time I write, I'll be back in Britain, and we'll all have been to the charming Swiss town of Yverdon-Les-Bains. Hope you enjoy it...

Saturday 2 February 2013


Just the way she likes it.

This was a tricky one. One thing I was sure of when I started exploring ideas for a 'Martin's family' episode was that I didn't want any of them to be out and out villains. Carolyn's sister in Helsinki and Arthur's father in St Petersburg both turned out to be pretty nasty pieces of work, and I thought it would be stretching it a bit to have three members of the crew related to monsters. But of course, there has to be some source of tension and conflict, or there's no story. And so, eventually, I came up with Wendy's genuine, non-manipulative, yet still fantastically annoying compulsion not to be a bother to anyone. Similarly with Simon: he's brash and insensitive, but he's also genuinely fond of Martin, pleased to see him, and is even quick to praise him, in his own condescending way. Basically, we all fall back into our old roles when we visit our families, and for Simon, Martin will always be nine. Anyway, as often happens when you set yourself more or less arbitrary extra restrictions in writing, good things came out of it - Arthur as the perfect Wendy-neutralising force, for instance; and the chance to play a little at the end with the possibility that Martin was actually being a bit hard on Simon….

And then we only went and got Prunella Scales to play Wendy! I mean, Good Lord. As if it wasn't comedy-royalty-amazing enough (and it really is) that I get to play scenes every episode with Stephanie Cole, now it turned out I had written a two-hander scene I would play with actually Prunella genuinely Scales! (If you don't know what all the fuss is about, then I'm pretty sure you're not from Britain. That's fine, it's not your fault, poor thing. But do Google her. And Stephanie.)

What else? Oh yes: this episode contains I think quite a good example of what I mean when I say sometimes that it's actually very easy to do visual jokes on the radio. The example I usually give is the unfilmable last scene of Douz, but this is a subtler version. It's when the doctor meets Martin and Caitlyn in the hospital, and says he's sorry they had to come away from their party, to which Martin, after a moment's puzzlement, replies: 'Oh… no, these are actually our jobs.' The radio listener has to think back to make sense of this, and recall that we've been told Martin is a pilot, Caitlyn is a traffic warden, and Wendy's chided them both for coming straight from work, in their uniforms. So the realisation of what the doctor saw when he came in hits the audience in one moment, and also functions as a call back - the audience race back through what they've heard so far to make sense of the line. On television, we'd see the uniforms constantly, so although the line would still make sense, it wouldn't be as funny, because the audience would have to do no work to get the joke - and oddly, having to do a bit of mental work tends to make jokes funnier. 


'Hang on… doesn't Douglas lose the one syllable game in his cabin address?'


'Yes he does! He says 'hour', and that's two syll-

No he doesn't. Of course he doesn't. Why would you make up such a silly lie?

'He does! He definitely says 'hour'! Go back and listen, he-'

I don't need to listen. There's no way he says 'hour'. And even if he did, which he didn't, Carolyn didn't notice, so he didn't lose. And anyway, I did that deliberately, to, er, to demonstrate that… er… …for reasons you wouldn't understand. Next question. 

Why is Caitlyn pronounced 'Kate-lyn' in Limerick and 'Cat-lyn' here? 

She was always 'Kate-lyn' growing up, but then when she was 17, she announced she preferred the 'Cat-lyn' pronunciation. The rest of the family do their best to remember, but sometimes they slip back, especially when she's not there.  

I mean… technically, given that it was radio, Justin didn't have to physically pick Benedict up for the 'He's flying!' bit. But, well… he did.
I am helpfully holding the script for them. And I am also standing next to Prunella Scales. Oh yes.