1 9 8 8 (UK)
6 x 50 minute episodes
LWT’s major serial of 1988, Piece of Cake, about the young pilots of Hornet Squadron during the first year of World War II, and based on Derek Robinson’s controversial book, failed to be the triumph they had hoped for.
Because the RAF and the Ministry of Defence refused their cooperation, and the right planes (Hurricanes) weren’t available – those which survived are now priceless antiques – it almost didn’t get off the runway at all.
War veterans were outraged that Robinson’s pilots – led by flamboyant new Squadron Leader Rex – weren’t patriotic heroes but ill-prepared immature boys often cruel to each other and usually frightened out of their wits.
Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris, chairman of the Battle of Britain Association, was among many angered to learn the serial would be made. “This is not a warts-and-all portrayal, but a warts-and-nothing-else” he said.
But a six-part serial was made, at a cost of £4.6 million, using five spitfires, a few other planes unearthed in unusual places (a Heinkel 1-11 was found in bits in a Cambridge coal yard) and some replicas.
Months of planning went into the flying scenes, daredevil swooping under bridges and other potty missions, notably the enemy’s dropping of a chamber pot from a Messerschmitt onto a British base.
In such aircraft the cockpit and windows are tiny, so only a small object could be used.
It also had to be light, because a heavy object might damage the tailplane and the Civil Aviation Authority expressly bans the dropping of dangerous objects.
Eventually, a two-ounce potty of ping-pong ball plastic was made, approved by both the pilot and the Authority. The chances were it would float away, but miraculously as the cameras rolled it hit the ground on the spot marked ‘X’.
Yet, despite wizard flying sequences and dashed good performances from Tim Woodward, David Horovitch, Richard Hope and others, there was too little romance, the comedy was too black and, as each twisted and unpleasant young man bought it, it was hard to shed tears.
Squadron Leader Rex
Christopher Hart III
Air Commodore Bletchley