This is a comedy first aired on BBC Radio 4 about the trials and tribulations of charter outfit MJN Airways. With a single aircraft, and economically forced to take various unappetising charters, the resulting encounters with criminal ground crew, insane regulations and unsavoury passengers provide the basis for the 30 minute episodes (6 on 3 discs in this first series).
That introduction may not appeal, but it is the quality of the acting and writing that sets this apart as one to enjoy. Stephanie Cole is on wonderfully acerbic form as the proprietor Carolyn who carries on (almost) regardless having obtained the aircraft in her divorce settlement. She is gifted some great lines, delivered in pompous matriarch style ("we are not an airline - you cannot put one plane in a line - we are an air-dot"). Matching her is Roger Allam as Douglas, the co-pilot with years of experience, an Arthur Daley approach to rules and regulations, and Olympic medals in sarcasm and sardonic one liners. The tone and timing of Allam's put downs is superb.
Pitted against Carolyn (and generally against Douglas) is one of the worlds least experienced captains, Martin, who took seven attempts to qualify as a pilot, but remains senior to Douglas for reasons undisclosed. Benedict Cumberbatch (of "Sherlock" fame) plays a great second string role here as the naive idealist trying to punch above his weight and getting mercilessly put down by Carolyn and Douglas.
The fourth regular cast member is Arthur, Carolyn's idiot son, who is the cabin staff because he cannot be trusted with anything else, and who is played by John Finnemore. Arthur's childlike simplicity is also the root of some great comedic dialogue: after a running question through one episode where Arthur wants to know how planes fly, and Douglas and Martin have various generally inept or obscure attempts at explaining it, culminating in the explanation that it is due to the shape of the wings, the simple (and perfectly timed) question "so is that why planes can't fly upside down" from Arthur goes some way to explaining why parents shout at their children.
Despite playing the idiot, John Finnemore (as the writer) has created a hugely enjoyable series, with some extremely clever plotting to both drop the cast in, and rescue them from, some bizarre but all too plausible situations.
This doesn't get the full five stars because Cole and Cumberbatch's characters don't properly develop until the later episodes (and Series 2 is even better). However, if you like sharp, sardonic wit (think "Porridge" between Fletcher and McKay) this will be for you.