Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Farewell Bear Facts - St Petersburg

The original St Petersburg blog, with deleted scene and notebook pictures, is here. 

When I'm asked which episode of Cabin Pressure is my favourite, my stock reply is to say (truthfully) that it changes all the time, but at the moment I'm very fond of… Wokingham, or Ipswich, or Douz, or whichever it happens to be. But it has to be said that the one that comes up most often when I do that is St Petersburg. It's probably not the funniest, and it would be a terrible place for someone to start listening to the show, as it's quite unrepresentative; but it has the highest stakes of any episode, and I do love the plot, and the ending. It's also another episode that marks a change in the dynamics of the show - just as the central relationships are different before and after Fitton, they're altered again by St Petersburg.

- This episode was also the most daunting for me as a actor, because for once I actually had to do some acting. Mostly, Arthur sails along on a cloud of equal parts optimism and clottishness, and as an actor I can sit back and watch Stephanie, Benedict and Roger do all the heavy lifting. I had a little bit of something more complex to do in Fitton, and then again in Helsinki; but now here was an episode in which everything was far from Brilliant for Arthur, and I actually had to carry some of the emotional burden of the show, for once … and do so whilst playing opposite, not just my ridiculously over-talented friends and colleagues in the regular cast, but the great Timothy West, into the bargain. Sheesh.

- The emergency drill when the goose strike happens is a little cut-down, but otherwise (I hope) accurate. In this bit:

DOUGLAS: Engine fire check list number two engine Captain. Number two thrust lever?
DOUGLAS: Closed. Number two fuel control switch?
MARTIN: Yes, yes!
DOUGLAS: Number two fuel control switch to cut off, number two fire handle check?
… the meaning of Douglas' questions is 'Do you agree, Captain, that this thing I've got my hand on is  the number two thrust lever; because if in the heat of the moment it turns out to be the number ONE thrust lever, then when I close it I'll be shutting down our one remaining good engine, and that's a decision we might possibly come to regret.' And Martin's replies mean 'Yes, First Officer, that certainly looks like the number two thrust lever to me, so let me encourage you to pull it with no further ado. Seriously, as quick as you like.' 

Another bit I like is 

DOUGLAS: Fire is out Captain. One two four decimal two is selected. Martin, do you want me to land it?
MARTIN: No, I’ll do it.
DOUGLAS: Okay.  

In switching from 'Captain' to 'Martin' for the last question, Douglas is saying: 'It's obviously your job to land it, but, point-scoring aside, we both know I'm a better pilot, shall I take over?' Martin's reply means: 'We do both know that, and I'm not taking offence; but it is my job, and I'm confident I can do it safely.' And Douglas' 'Okay', means 'Yes, I'm confident you can too.' If this had happened in series one, and possibly two, Douglas would not have been confident of that, and would simply have taken control, by force if necessary. (The hydraulics failure in Douz was nowhere near as serious as this, obviously.)

I'm sorry I haven't in general been able to answer the questions put to me in the comments sections so far - as those of you who've suffered through the placeholders know, I have my hands full just doing these daily posts. However, one Stephen Buxton has been particularly dogged in his posing of a question about this episode:

When you wrote the episode, did you have a moment in mind when Douglas realised that he might be able to scam Gordon Shappey out of an engine, or at the very least, the money for a new engine? If so, at what point was that?

Answer: Douglas is just as baffled as he says he is for most of this episode- it's only in the taxi that he twigs that Gordon's trying to steal Gerti, not buy her. And I think as soon as he realises that, the mighty and well-practised scheming centres of his brain come up with the whole frozen control column / gin / blackmail thing pretty much instantaneously.


Christen said...

How was the dress rehearsal though! Place holders are easily forgiven this week and we can provide poetry!

The Pink Lady said...

But you made it before midnight! My hero!

The Pink Lady said...

St Petersburg

All chaos was set on the loose
When Gerti was hit by a goose
Old Gordon was bad
It all looked quite sad
But Douglas, he schemed up a truce.

Anonymous said...

Well timed, sir.
Don't worry. We'll wait. :)

womble42 said...

You and the rest of the cast were just brilliant in The Diary of a Provincial Lady tonight John, so you are certainly forgiven for not putting your blog entry up as you're so busy with the show!

I know St Petersburg is one of your favourites (one of mine too - the plot is so clever!), so I'm sure it'll be well worth the wait to hear what you want to say about it.

Thanks for all your CP advent blog entries, they've been so interesting!

Warren Terra said...

It's placeholders all the way down!

Jessica Marie said...

You Madame are my hero!

Jessica Marie said...

Dear John,
Cabin Pressure has already given us so much pleasure that you could simply put a smiley face or "hello" as an entry and we'd be content :)

MartinPic said...

Plus you already gave a very full account of St Petersburg when it first aired, so just a picture of a bowl of grey would do just fine.
Or a soggy brown thing.
An Orange platter would be good to see also, of course.
But perhaps not a goose smoothie.

Good to see you're keeping yourself busy:)

Anonymous said...

I am due for carpal tunnel surgery on 24 December and plan to have my portable radio with earphones with me at the hospital so I can hear the last-ever episode of CP.

I broke left elbow in 2012, and then the right elbow in October of this year--now I have a matched pair. When discomfort of cast prevented sleep I played episodes of CP repeatedly so that with the distraction of laughter, I needed less codine.

John Finnermore, you are a sovereign pain-killer --thanks.

"Aunt Raven"

Kate said...

My favorite episode of the series hands down, at least so far. Martin being a great pilot, Douglas doing something clever, Carolyn throwing Gordon off of Gerti, Arthur's delightful Australian accent, and Gordon getting his comeuppance. I love when the crew pulls together.

Stacy said...

It all went awry
With a goose in the sky
But Martin landed on one
And Gordon did see his son
Yet as a Dad he was bad
And a poor thief to boot
When Douglas and ice caught him out with the loot
Then Carolyn did say
On that cold Russian day
You're mean and you're vain

*Favorite episode ever*

Unknown said...

I'm surprised you didn't wait a couple of minutes, and then post Wednesday's placeholder at the same time!

Really looking forward to hearing the final episodes, Cabin Pressure has been (and still is) a great companion on long journeys.

Unknown said...

A placeholder... so still a chance that my question could be answered!

Here's a question in advance of the St Petersburg episode, as I hope you might be able to answer it then.

When you wrote the episode, did you have a moment in mind when Douglas realised that he might be able to scam Gordon Shappey out of an engine, or at the very least, the money for a new engine? If so, at what point was that?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Finnermore. Before you do a single solitary other thing, turn off the computer and go sit down on something soft and squashy in a comfy way. Have a cup of tea and at least two biscuits. The good kind. Then have a nap. Then, and only then, and only if your schedule and energy level allows, come back and fill in your placeholders.

We`ll still be here once you`ve had a chance to breathe. Take care of yourself.

Philippa Sidle said...

I've listened to St Petersburg probably more than any other episode, simply because my one and only piece of Cabin Pressure fan fiction (I kind of came out of fanfic retirement to write it) featured Gordon, and I listened to StP repeatedly to be sure of catching the character's 'voice'. And I never grew tired of it! It's just such a perfect gem of plotting and characterisation. One of the most re-listenable-to episodes in a series that's the very definition of... that.

The 'engines on fire' scene gets me every time. Such an unexpected drop into a few moments of serious drama, oddly sexy!

Alex G said...

St Petersburg, now that episode is more than alright, it's brilliant. An exciting plotline during which everybody gets a moment to shine.

Was there an intention to get somebody even more famous than Timothy West to play Tommo? (Speaking of which, it's only just now occurred to me that Arthur's dad is played by the husband of Martin's mum!)

The Pink Lady said...

Alex G - Paul Shearer is a pretty big coup in his own right, given that his utterances as Tommo barely amount to a line! And he did a turn as ATC. Comedy royalty gracing CP, as befits this very special show.

Laetitia said...

This is also one of my favorite episodes. It is nice to hear the bad guy get his comeuppance and I'm sure that, by the end of the episode, Arthur's dad wishes he was somewhere else.

Or, as they say in Limerick...

Gordon Shappey, sitting in the flight deck,
Should have kept his bas attitude in check,
'Cause now he's lost Gerti
And grumbles furiously :
"This wouldn't happen in Vychni Volochyok!"

Tealin said...

I can only respond to this in the way I respond to the episode as a whole:


Thank you.

Roo said...

I don't think we've suffered through the place holders, Mr Finnemore! They've been fun, especially all the comments people leave! They are fun to read! You are brilliant, thank you for doing all these brilliant posts every single day!

BradyB66 said...

St Petersburg contains one of my favorite CP scenes - the whole "nice hot cup of coffee" scene. And Mr. F, you hold your own beautifully amongst the rest of your stellar cast! Thank you for graciously taking time out of your busy schedule to sate our voracious appetites for insider info!

John Finnemore said...

Tealin - How would you feel if I went back and posted your CP illustrations from this month into each of the corresponding blog entries here? Please do feel entirely free to say 'Thanks, but I'd rather you didn't' - I appreciate that this is your job, and you shouldn't be expected to give it away for free. But they are gorgeous, and would cheer up these slabs of blank text wonderfully.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the even-more-brilliant-than-usual FBF's regarding this episode! It's not one of my very top favorites, but again it's among the mass of fun and excellence following right behind the Top Two. Te dramatic bits were as cool as they were unexpected, and the guy playing Arthur did a fine job :-)

Oh, and re: Arthur... I realized this a while ago and have been laughing about it ever since, particularly as I listen to this episode: Of course Arthur is sure that everything will be all right - it's Arthur who writes this show!

(Incidentally, if it wasn't Arthur writing Arthur as well, I might have bigger issues with the stuff that is said and done to him from time to time.)

Anonymous said...

I love this episode. When I first listened I totally wasn't expecting the bird strike and I jumped horribly - the first time a sit-com had ever made me truly fear for the characters.

I think that's what's so genius about the writing of Cabin Pressure. The fact that you managed to make a hilariously funny program, but still have me on the edge of my seat :)

Anonymous said...

A question you probably won't have time to answer, but just in case: was there ever a bit in the plans of this episode where Carolyn hears that it was Martin, not Douglas, who landed the plane? Naturally, we listeners are supposed to fill some stuff in in our own heads at this point, and this is where I can practically hear Douglas shooing her away with something to the effect of "Yes, it was Martin, now let's go have a look at the engine and leave him alone for a bit to calm down, why don't we?"

Lothiriel said...

Thank you so much for explaining the meaning of the emergency drill dialogue, both on a technical level and from the characters' point of view. I love it that in such a dramatic moment Douglas trusts Martin to land the plane safely, and that Martin gets the chance to prove that he's a competent pilot in spite of everything.

I would also like to thank you for creating such a brilliant sitcom. Cabin Pressure is literally the only thing that can make me smile even when I'm at my lowest - not to mention that it's the perfect thing to make my trips by car fly on gilded wings (and I really, really hate driving).
You, Sir, have definitely discovered the secret of true cheeriness - and whatever Douglas would say about it, I can tell from experience that sometimes it's the closest to happiness one can get. Thank you.

Unknown said...

St. Petersburg is another episode that wears the laurels of excellence.(Or whatever foliage great humor wears--maybe sprigs of a shrubbery?) The justice Gordon receives is beautifully equivalent, drawing naturally on the strengths of each crew member of MJN Air. It's perfect and it feels perfect.

On behalf of me, and probably every one of us, thank you for these postings. They are helping us get through the sadness of leaving behind characters--no, people--that we now care about. They're a generous gift. Wreaths of holly and happiness to you, John.

Dominic C. said...

1) Your placeholders have been fantastic, and if it can be said that we are "suffering through them", we should all be so lucky to suffer like that more often.

2)As it turns out, Fitton, Helsinki, and St Petersburg are my three favourite episodes, So I'd say you did a phenomenal job adding a little complexity to the role of Arthur.

3) Seriously, thank you for taking time out to write these posts.

Anonymous said...

I for one have no hesitation in deeming St. Petersburg my favourite episode. And you're being to hard on yourself as to its funniness - it's up there with the funniest of them, with some excellent lines ("you can have sushi when you land it on no engines", "this is aggravated not telling us", "do you find you have rather sticky fingers?").

I know I asked this before, and you may have good reasons for not wanting to, but could you possibly post the two deleted dialogues you mentioned in your previous St. Petersburg post (well, you mentioned three, but you posted the other one at the time)?

Anonymous said...

Favourite episode so far, that is - six days to Zurich...

Tealin said...

Now that I've recovered breathing –

I would be over the moon if you posted more of my drawings on your blog! If I had problems with giving them away for free, I wouldn't have posted them online. Please, feel free to do with them as you like – they owe their existence to you, after all. They're an expression of gratitude and happiness, so if they can be part of an infinitely recursive happiness generator then all the better!

You do your 'slabs of blank text' a disservice, though; I've enjoyed them all thoroughly. Thanks again for posting, especially when so busy already!

Inigo said...

This is by far my favourite episode, I thought the gin was an inspired touch with Gordon rejecting it and regretting it massively! I also found tom very funny with his monosyllabic lines! For once I thought Douglas and Martin being in agreement and equilibrium when the goose strike happened as they are so often at each other's throats (in a joking way of course)

Philippa Sidle said...

I had never thought of your perspective as an actor, having to do the more emotionally intense scenes in St Petersburg. That's a really interesting insight.

And I'd probably never thought of it because I completely believe that Arthur is Arthur, when I listen to it. I remember someone once posted that they'd explained to their child that you were the author, and the response was incredulity. "What? The stupid one writes it?"

Kelsey said...

Oo, it's interesting to know the translation of the emergency tech-talk. Thank you for that! (And for everything.)

Anonymous said...

St. Petersburg is my favorite episode. After so many episodes that made me grin and laugh out loud (every single time), those few moments of actual, serious drama when the engine catches fire made me genuinely terrified for the characters, and in the moment I had no idea if they'd survive it. It was just that captivating. The dialogue was excellent and in just a few short lines you captured so much characterization BRILLIANTLY. It was absolutely fantastic. So emotionally intense. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the clarification of what was happening exactly in the cockpit, I wasn't quite sure, but that hasn't stopped this being one of my favourite episode, nor stopped it from being damned exciting.

I remember exactly the first time I listened to it while walking, and the explosion happened. I stopped dead on the sidewalk and commenced having a minor panic attack since at the time as far as I knew, it was the last episode of the series. I might even have whimpered. I spent the rest of the episode terrified it literally was the end. What can I say, I'm very suggestible.

Anonymous said...

Oh, another question (that you probably won't find time to answer), since no one else ever seems to ask this one: what was it that Martin was about to suggest rhymed with Peterborough when the goose struck the engine? (I suppose it might have been St Petersburg?)

Anonymous said...

"it would be a terrible place for someone to start listening to the show"

No, it's not. It was my first episode and I instantly loved it. Somehow I knew from the start what kind of characters Douglas, Martin etc. are and I literally fell in love with each one of them. Listening to the previous episodes after St.P. didn't alter the fun.

And I can't walk past Gordon's Gin and Tobleone without a grin.

Anonymous said...

I loved this episode so much, I feared it might be the last one ever - because the crew working together as a team, against a man so villainous he'd not only steal GERTI but also make Arthur unhappy, was a total delight. Seeing them as a family was heart-warming. And I may have punched the air when Gordon got his come-uppance..

Anonymous said...

Yes! Douglas saying "Okay" to Martin landing the plane is one of the most resonant lines I've ever heard. So vulnerable and trusting. No joking between them.

Paul B said...

I loved Arthur getting stuck to Gerti. His "cold isn't it" was a delight

Fuesch said...

Ah, thanks for clarifying! I always thought Douglas was listing the things to do and the yesses were when Martin executed these things and that Douglas only said the following reduntant-seeming things to make them clearer for the flight recorder. Finally it makes sense to me!

PS: From Rostock to Vladivostok.

Anonymous said...

Backing up what your other fans already say... I was formerly in aviation before having my kids. To hear a depiction of such a stonking bit of CRM between two people that know each other backwards and whose relationship has come so far was very exciting and moving. This effect was amplified by the shock factor. From the nuances of Douglas's choice of vocatives as he perfectly supports Martin in the capt/'pilot flying' role, to understanding that Martin was keeping the plane under control while confirming Douglas's control selections and therefore his workload was particularly high - but that he was coping, I found I was actually feeling proud of these fictional people! My goodness, it was perfect.

So perfect, in fact, that it reminded this member of your audience how much she loves flying and set in train a chain of events leading to getting my licence back – something I had been certain I was not going to do. I’m only an instructor, so no ‘sexy’ multi-crew work, but all the same this scene played a significant role in steering one life in a different direction… what it’s like to change the lives of people you’ve never even met I can’t imagine, but thank you!

As for seeing the usually impervious Arthur anxious, I felt genuinely tense and sad on his behalf. I also enjoyed that, on this occasion, the pilots were with us, the audience, and providing the reaction. And that bit was funny, too. “He’s… all right.” “God, he must be awful”. :)


Anonymous said...

St. Petersburg is by far my favorite episode so far because:
1) all four main characters are strong,
2) the situation is fantastic with turns and surprises,
3) the main characters must pull together against their antagonist, and
4) the episode is regularly punctuated with some of the funniest lines in the series. Bravo!!

Anonymous said...


I hope John sees that, you've made this random anon tear up. Well done you. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Random Anon. :) I was torn between wanting to say thanks and not wanting to look like an attention seeker, so I'm glad other people understand what I was trying to say.


Anonymous said...

I seem to compulsively re-listen to the bird-strike bit these days. I hope that makes JF proud of his work (the episode and these FBFs both). It's awesome how the episode jumps from the usual flight-deck word games to high drama in an eyeblink - and it's particularly awesome that there was none of the "foreshadowing" that fiction so often insists on. Kudos!

Unknown said...

Thank you thank you thank you! I'm as happy as an Arthur on Christmas morning!

Rach Cherryade said...

I love St. Petersburg (of course, it's an episode of Cabin Pressure so that goes without saying!) but it isn't one of my favourites as I prefer the more cosy, low-key episodes, but nor is it one of my least favourites as it as an astonishingly plotted piece of work, and probably the most dramatic episode yet. It also contains some truly wonderful lines such as Arthur's valiant attempts to promote the coffee and Douglas' quote about Martin failing to notice that there was an Arthur stuck to the plane during his quick walk round! One thing I particularly enjoyed about this episode was the way it showed that Arthur is a fully rounded character like the others. It proves that he is not permanently cheerful, he is most of the time because he is surrounded by people he cares about and trusts whereas in this episode he has to face his father who obviously makes him extremely unhappy and anxious. I think this is always worth remembering in episodes where the teasing of Arthur seems to reach potentially uncomfortable levels as he doesn't appear to take any real offence at these comments and seems completely at ease a completely contrast to the way he reacts to the mere mention of his father's visit!

gaelic lupin said...

As almost everyone above does: I love St.Petersburg. The cosiness, the excitement, the baddy and his come-uppance, and lovely, lovely one-liners.
What ALWAYS astonishes me though, is that none of the life audience seemed to find Arthur's 'Glad you came back!' funny; whereas it catches me out everytime.

Anonymous said...

I love St. Petersburg so, so much. Firstly, when disaster strikes our word-gaming pilots immediately snap into, well, professionalism. Then Douglas calls Martin "captain" in a completely serious manner (not unheard of in previous episodes, but certainly rare), and that quick who's-landing-the-plane exchange is one of my favorite moments in the entire series even though nothing about it is funny.

Arthur's actually my favorite character. I do always get a kick out of the very last line because here's Arthur, who happens to be played by the guy who wrote the show, pointing out that he knew it would all work out and "I wish you lot would listen to me sometimes!" To steal a phrase, brilliant.

Other things I love: Arthur revealing volumes about both himself and Gordon with the simple description of "not brilliant." The moment when Douglas is halfway through his speech about the control column, mentions leaving it out in the -19 degree cold, and you can hear the live audience catch on to EXACTLY what the plan was. The way MJN spends the rest of the scene subtly-yet-not-subtly remind Gordon that being genuinely mean to Arthur is Definitely Not Cool. (It's really quite astonishing how awful Gordon is and how much of an effect it has on Arthur, given that his clottishness is lampshaded and/or poked fun at by someone in almost every episode.)

And of course, "GET OFF MY JET NOW!" which... well, are you familiar with the phrase "crowning moment of awesome"?

...anyway. I love this episode. Thank you, Mr. Finnemore.

Henry said...

Thanks for explaining the Martin/Douglas conversation as they do the emergency checklist. I'd never consciously picked up on the "Captain"/"Martin" difference, but it's a beautiful subtlety; re-listening, the power and control is so clearly established without signposting. You're a writing master.

Moony said...

I Love this episode so for all the character development Arthur gets. Even if he's a cheery one 99% of the time, even he needs a good kick or two sometimes.

Also, I love the image of Douglas's plan just popping to mind instantly after he realises Gordon's plans. He must have file folders of schemes in that brain of his!

Justine Lark said...

Thanks for the exegesis of that first flight deck exchange during the emergency, because I didn't get what it was about.

I have always been so glad of that moment when Douglas says "Okay." That it wasn't just that Martin did it, but Douglas endorsed him to do it.

Reaper said...

Amazing series. We have competitions between us where we will quote a tiny bit and see if they other person can guess the episode.

Anyway, I've always been curious if you had checked out if 3 hours to attach a new engine was reasonable and also are they inter-changable or standard enough to get a replacement in time?

alaa omran said...

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alaa omran said...

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alaa omran said...