The lives and loves of the men of RAF Hornet Squadron who are transferred to France at the outbreak of World Wat II in September 1939. For the most part the men are competent fliers but there is little action in the first several months. The men wile away their time with some engaging in dangerous stunts while others woo some of the local lasses. The phony war comes to an end in April 1940 and the Battle of Britain begins. By September that year, few of them are left and despite their success, few see themselves as heroes. Written by
I've read several conflicting reports about the accuracy of Derek Robinson's novels. Some veterans claim that the pilots of the RAF never behaved in such a loutish manner, while others say that "Piece of Cake" is closer to the truth than most people would like to admit. Robinson researches all his books, and states that everything in them actually did happen at some point, and that he only dramatized reality by putting all the characters and events into one story. Characters like the cad Moggy Cattermole, the unbalanced Flash Gordon, or the abjectly terrified Pip Patterson are the same kind of people you'd find in an English public school -- just like the real pilots of the Royal Air Force. Robinson's artistic license places them all in the same squadron, but I don't doubt that men like them did exist in the war.
The behavior of Hornet Squadron's pilots on the ground does not diminish their heroism in the air; the fact that they held off the Luftwaffe is proof enough that they deserve our respect, regardless of what they were like in person. The flawed humanity of its characters makes the sacrifice of the real pilots much easier to understand than if they were portrayed simply as selfless heroes, even if we would be more comfortable remembering them that way.
The flying scenes in this series are definitely above average and should be enough to recommend it to aviation enthusiasts. A few clips here and there come from 1969's "Battle of Britain", but for the most part the scenes of Spitfires taking off and landing or flying in formation are all brand-new, including some low-level stunts involving bridges. These were real stunts performed by a real pilot -- they found the longest single-span stone bridge in the country, and flew a real Spitfire under it. It's a hell of a scene.
Apart from all that, the series is very well done. The acting is great all round, particularly Neil Dudgeon as Cattermole and Richard Hope as Skelton. The script is funny and extremely quotable. After the squadron adjutant reads Churchill's speech out loud -- "Never was so much owed by so many to so few" -- one pilot asks, "Does that mean we can go home now?"
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