The Cult of .... 'Fly Into Danger'
Fly Into Danger
Now this is what I call an obscure TV series? I'd never even heard of it until it appeared on the Network DVD release schedule. There was precious little information about the series on the net, but knowing Network's reputation for releasing hidden gems I chanced my arm on this 1972 series based around a smuggling operation perpetrated at a small airfield.
Fly Into Danger has more suspense and danger than you should expect from a drama aimed at at a teenage audience. The premise of the story is simple enough Chris, an 18 year old lad who has left school with seemingly not much going for him save a talent for working with machinery, an enthusiasm for aeroplanes, hopes to become a pilot one day. In a bid to get flying, he applies for a job at a small airfield as an apprentice mechanic. The boss of the airfield, Mr Ritchie, is impressed with the lads knowledge and enthusiasm, and keen to recruit another pair of able hands to the small mechanics department at the airfield, he gives him the job.
Chris is uneasy about Mr Ritchie's defensive manner, but needing the job, he puts any doubts to the back of his mind in order to take up his training. Ritchie leaves Chris in the hands of Susan, a secretary and pilot at the airfield. Susan helps find him living accommodation and her friendly, helpful demeanour allows him to enquire about Mr Ritchie, who assures Chris it is just Ritchie's manner.
Chris starts his training and before long he meets Jeff Strong, a local pilot who flies a lot of light-aircraft trips in and out of the airfield. Jeff finds out that Chris wants to be a pilot and takes him up on his first flight. When Ritchie finds out about this he takes Jeff to task and the tension between the two again raises his suspicions.
Through keeping his ears and eyes open during his working day, it is soon apparent that all is not as it seems at the airfield. Ritchie gets increasing jumpy and is often seen in serious conversation with Jeff. When Chris discovers a stowaway hiding and very frightened in the parts stores, he is determined to find out exactly what is going on at the airfield. But who is involved in the intrigue and who can Chris trust in trying to get to the bottom of the dangerous goings on at Chilford airfield?
Fly Into Danger, Directed by Matthew Wright-Miller, the director of another children's drama favourite The Jensen Code (as well as many other series - such as Blake's 7), is a cracking drama. It boldly mixes plenty of action (some wonderful flying sequences) with a large dose of intrigue and suspense (will Chris uncover the dodgy goings-on? will he get caught in the process?) with a generous dollop of edgy and dangerous subjects being portrayed (smuggling, people trafficking and the extortion / exploitation of illegal immigrants - the latter being particularly boldly tackled - subject matter that is ever more relevant today than probably would have been back when it was originally shown).
The main cast is impressive with the familiar face of Bernard Kay being the most notable, but well cast support includes an impressive performance from Sue Holderness (in a role about a million miles away from the role she is now most famous for - Marlene in Only Fools And Horses), and the usual fine supporting performance by Edward Peel (a face we know from his may supporting roles - Emmerdale Farm and The Comedians in the Play For Today series to name but two). There is also a small supporting role, in one of his first TV appearances, for future sitcom legend Jeffrey Palmer.
The only minor criticism I have of this otherwise splendid series is the ending. The whole series is very well paced throughout leading you skillfully holding you in suspense within the dangerous underworld Chris is getting drawn into, whereas the ending is both rushed and tied up just too neatly, too quickly. One can only assume this was due to budgetary / shooting time constraints, as all the loose ends from six and a half episodes worth of intrigue are wrapped up in about two minutes of frantic "summary" dialogue. This is then followed by three or four minutes footage, apropos of nothing, of a small aircraft flying around the airfield, before the credits finally start to roll - most odd.
It's a shame also that only two of the episodes in the series survive in colour, the rest are taken from black and white telerecordings (albeit very good quality transfers - presumably telerecordings made for the foreign TV market). The colour episodes do, unsurprisingly, capture the atmosphere better (especially in the flying sequences), but that is a minor grumble in an otherwise superb series, one that I am delighted that I took a chance upon.
Fly Into Danger is available exclusively on DVD from the Network DVD website, and again all credit must go to them for releasing a little known series on DVD.
Synopsis for Fly Into Danger episodes.
1. First Time Up- . Original ITV transmission: 31 May 1972
Chris Lomax has just started working at Chilford Green Aerodrome. Friendship soon develops between Chris and Sarah, a young woman who ferries light aircraft between Chilford and other airfields. Although he is slightly worried by a couple of incidents, Chris's training takes priority, and he is thrilled when head pilot and instructor Jeff Strong takes him for a trial flight - albeit with a terrifying surprise.
2. In A Spin - Original ITV transmission: 7 June 1972
Chris has ha his first lesson - learning not to panic! But he has other concerns: cash disappears, and strange noises are heard in the spares store Meanwhile, and Asian man, Bandara Lal, is searching for his missing son - and Chris finds the young boy hiding in the spares store. He tells Chris that he broke into the light refreshments box in search of food. Chris promises to help.
3. Grounded - Original ITV transmission: 14 June 1972
Having found Cham, Chris smuggles food into the store for him, although the boy refuses to give his father's name. Chris eventually finds Cham's father hiding in a ditch. Meanwhile, boss Ritchie has been alerted, emergency sirens sound and vehicles hare across the airfield. When Chris overhears Jeff and Ritchie refer to a 'snooping' intruder, he wonders what sort of trouble he is getting into.
4. Mayday! Mayday! - Original ITV transmission: 21 June 1972
Ritchie calls Chris a 'troublemaker' - and Chris sees yet more clearly that something is amiss. He pays a visit to Putapec, the company for which they are transporting goods, but when he sees the newly landed crate being opened, four cramped, bewildered Asian immigrants emerge. Chris now knows Chilford's secret, and hides in the back of a Putapec van to try and discover more.
5. Turbulence - Original ITV transmission: 28 June 1972
Chris, trapped inside a Putapec van, manages to escape when the driver is called away. Back at the airfield, Sarah tells him that Ritchie is on his trail, and Chris finds a badly beaten Cham hiding in his room; he tells Chris how he came to be at the airfield. Chris tells Sarah all he knows, and they discuss ways to try to stop the racket. While Lal tells an all to familiar story of extortion, Jeff is about to leave..
6. Forced Take Off - Original ITV transmission: 5 July 1972
Chris and Sarah, hidden in Jeff's plane, find themselves in Belgium, where Jeff is to pick up more 'cargo'. Determined to expose the racket, they board a Cessna. Sarah is forced to make the most dangerous take-off she has ever attempted as shots are fired; with Jeff in pursuit, they know that their landing back at Chilford will be more hazardous still. Ritchie, meanwhile, learns that Chris has been hiding Cham.
7. Final Approach - Original ITV transmission: 12 July 1972
Chris and Sarah land safely at Chilford, and the authorities know about the racket. The means by which Ritchie and his gang have consistently managed to beat Customs is revealed, and a Special branch detective, Farnwworth, searches Ritchie's office and finds his secret cache...
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