Just nine hours to put Spitfire pilots in a tailspin

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Spitfire Ace

Channel 4

Little Britain


A dandy in aspic, Brendan O’Brien has clearly been preserved from another era. All Home Counties consonants and inexorable jollification, the raffish pilot’s brazen blouson and audacious cravat spoke of a life of empire-era splendour; his every plum-shaped pronouncement hinting at continents claimed, Courvoisier quaffed and, very probably, countesses conquered. As such, he was the perfect sidekick for Spitfire Ace - a rather stuffy fellow whose staid demeanour and obsession with the technical minutiae of Royal Air Force machinery suggested, in marked contrast, one too many evenings spent immersed in war comic Victor.

Roped in to add a splash of pre-Second World War pizzazz to proceedings, Brendan took to his task - the Spitfire training of four young pilots - with the gentlemanly candour of the Effortlessly Posh. Only said upstarts stood between this time-defying flying ace and the Ultimate Prize (his own show on Living TV; or at least a guest spot on Richard and Judy, in which he pretends to be amused when Richard Madeley, weeping with self-congratulatory laughter, compares him to Biggles).

Luckily, said youngsters were cut from similar cloth, their university education and double-barrelled surnames providing a shield of sorts against his fruitier comments. Together, striding along the RAF concourse in snug-fitting khaki jumpsuits, David, John, Ben and one with highlights whose name I didn’t catch looked rather like Blue, were well-educated, sensible boys with futures in the air-force, rather than fluff-headed popsters with futures in the hotel catering industry (if they’re lucky). While the "lads" busied themselves by lying on the grass and playing with their helmets, Spitfire Ace told us about the history of Britain’s fighter planes - a chronicle that was, like Brendan’s description of the interior of the Spitfire, long and ruddy complicated.

Still, we managed to pick up the odd useful titbit from the wreckage. Named after the tearaway daughter of one of the aircraft’s engineers (a title that designer Reg Mitchell deemed "bloody silly"), the Spitfire was the successor to the cumbersome Hurricane. Thanks to its elliptical wing arrangement, "24 litre beast" of an engine and eight machine guns, the slim-line, flirtier plane was instrumental in crushing Germany.

In order to mark themselves out as worthy of the honour of flying "Britain’s most iconic fighter plane", David, John, Ben and the one with highlights whose name I didn’t catch had to prove their mettle to Brendan. After nine hours of training (the same number that was accorded to the 3,000 pilots "lucky" enough to find themselves actively engaged in the Battle of Britain), the young bucks were ready to rock.

Up, up and away they went, as Brendan and his cravat looked on approvingly from the back seat. "Jolly good show!" he whooped, as runner-up David looped the loop. "Shit!" he screamed, as David unlooped the loop and, for a second, looked to be resolutely in the soup. "Make love to the sky," he barked at John, later; evidently still rattled. "Do not," he frowned, "SHAG IT." This was clearly the key to success with the Spitfire.

While the others had barely got past first base, John’s technique - all gentle encouragement and whispering reassurance - had her purring like a contented kitten. Was it a coincidence that John’s surname was Sweet? No. Further sauce flowed like HP at a Little Chef. Before boarding the Spitfire, would-be pilots were routinely blindfolded and encouraged to feel the craft’s "tits and bits".

"We stroked it," remembered a former ace, smiling saucily. "I fell in love with it," said another, moustache misting up at the memory. Dr Stephen Bungay - a tiny-eyed historian with a prodigious line in inappropriate sexual analogies - upped the ante by banging on about "the power of Eros" and how the Spitfire was "a sophisticated cat-walking glamour girl."

Talking of shameless tarts, Vicky Pollard, Little Britain’s least comprehensible teenager, has lost her baby. The social worker wanted to know where it had gone. Turns out she’d swapped it for a Westlife CD. Best thing for it, really.

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