I wanted to fly Chinooks

When I was a kid I wanted to join the RAF.

I have always loved that big bird – the Chinook helicopter – and really wanted to be a pilot. Instead, I ended up in a regular office job.

RAF Chinooks on deployment in Afghanistan:

chinook helicopter 04

chinook helicopter 03

chinook helicopter 02

chinook helicopter 01

chinook helicopter 05

I’ve been watching the documentary series Air Force Afghanistan on Five which I quite like (though The Guardian is quite condescending), set at Kandahar airbase. It’s a  follow on from Warzone which was on earlier in the year. I like these kinds of documentaries set on warships, airbases, etc; always have.

Photos of Chinooks in Afghanistan, serving in the RAF in Helmand Province, Afghanistan (2009).

RAF photo gallery of Chinooks.

Review: Occupation (BBC1)

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I watched the first episode which aired on BBC1 this evening. Powerful stuff. Following a high octane start, this modern day war drama focuses on three British servicemen who, following a violent tour of duty in Basra, struggle to return to normal life back in the UK. Their inability to ‘fit back in’ – something that is so often the case – sees them return to Iraq in different capacities.

As dramas go this is rather intense and episode one was just the beginning. I am not, generally speaking, James Nesbitt’s greatest fan – but he is very good in this, playing the lead role as a medic who returns to his wife and children in the north of England – but only after having met and slowly fallen in love with an Iraqi doctor during his time in Iraq.

I liked the nuanced depictions and the lack of cliché. It captured the dysfunction of the return and the total inability of those ‘back home’ to have any kind of true understanding or empathy of that which the soldiers have come from. Drug abuse, mental and family breakdowns – all ensue.

The script has been penned by the renowned screenwriter Peter Bowker, who also wrote the BBC’s Blackpool and whose new adaptation of Wuthering Heights will be seen on ITV1 this autumn. In preparing to write Occupation, Bowker worked with the charity Combat Stress, and spoke at length to members of the British military who had served in Iraq. The resulting script, says Murphy, is “really human, and incredibly accessible and engaging”.

Nesbitt agrees. “There’s bound now to be a glut of dramas about Iraq – there had to be a little grace period before the stories could start to be told,” he says. “I love the notion of our three interwoven stories, and of the terrible impact this experience has on these men and their lives.”
(Source: Telegraph).

It’s on again both tomorrow and Thursday night. Has had good reviews in the press including in The Guardian and The Telegraph.

Well worth watching.


I’ve now seen all 3 parts. Wow. Incredibly powerful stuff, especially the final part. The pretence that war is somehow heroic or exciting is so strongly quashed. It may start like that. But the sacrifices – personal and mental – are very much in evidence and I think the storyline in this was top notch – as was the acting.

The drama also strongly served as a reminder that in war, there really are no victors, nor is there a good side or a bad. In this, the British and Americans had just as much to answer for as the Islamist militias. So much immorality and inhuman behaviour on both sides – the human condition at its worst.

Box of delights (aka what I’m watching on TV this week)


I’m not actually a big watcher of TV. That said, I was looking through the tv guide showing what’s on over the next 7 days and there is a lot that caught my eye. Namely:


South Pacific

Sunday 14 June
8:00pm – 9:00pm

6/6 – Fragile Paradise

Documentary series. The South Pacific is still relatively healthy and teeming with fish, but it is a fragile paradise. International fishing fleets are taking a serious toll on the sharks, albatross and tuna, and there are other insidious threats to these bountiful seas. This episode looks at what is being done to preserve the ocean and its wildlife.

I’ve watched most of this series since it started and have really enjoyed it.


The Secret Life of the Airport

Monday 15 June
9:00pm – 10:00pm

1/3 – Preparing for Take Off

From the makers of the hugely enjoyable The Secret Life of the Motorway, this three-parter explores the history of civil aviation. Nowadays, airports are steel and glass behemoths with art installations and fancy cafes, but Britain’s first was more spartan. Forgetting the teeny-tiny matter of runways, excitable architects wanted to build slap-bang in the centre of London. Although in the end it was to Croydon that pioneering toffs (flying was the preserve of the wealthy in the 20s) trooped to be weighed alongside their baggage. Crammed full of archive footage and quirky anecdotes, this should be shown in airport lounges, so disgruntled travellers can be grateful they’re not in tents – as Heathrow passengers were for the first decade of its existence. Oh yes, and again last year: during the disastrous opening of Terminal Five.

I am a big BBC4 fanboi and love their interesting documentaries on subjects that wouldn’t get airtime on the terrestrial channels. This will be good.

Goodbye London Aerodrome

Monday 15 June
10:00pm – 10:35pm

Glyn Worsnip presents a history of RAF Hendon. Originally called London Aerodrome, this extraordinary airfield has been an RAF station since 1918. Current and former pilots talk about their memories of Hendon.



Tuesday 16 June
9:00pm – 10:00pm


A word to the wise: you’ll need to take a deep breath before sitting down to Occupation, which runs nightly until Thursday. Peter Bowker’s visceral drama about British soldiers struggling to cope with life during and after the invasion of Iraq is shattering. We’re immediately pitched into the hell of combat in an unbearably tense sequence that introduces us to the characters at the heart of Occupation: Sergeant Mike Swift (James Nesbitt), Corporal Danny Peterson (Stephen Graham) and Lance Corporal Lee Hibbs (Warren Brown). As the men enter a hospital, there’s a grenade attack that leaves a girl grievously injured. Swift becomes a media hero when he returns to Britain with the child, who is treated at a British hospital. For entirely different reasons, all three men’s ties with Iraq are complex and deep: Swift has a strong romantic and emotional bond, Peterson needs the buzz of war and Hibbs wants to do the right thing for his country. All three central performances are towering and Bowker’s superlative script grips right from the start. Make no mistake; this is an important, unmissable piece of drama.

The BBC have been airing a lot of adverts for this. Major 3 part drama about soldiers in Iraq – before, during and after the invasion. Looks like it will be powerful stuff and not for the faint hearted.

Personal Affairs

Tuesday 16 June
9:00pm – 10:10pm

1/5 – A Decent Proposal

BBC3’s big new summer series wears its Sex and the City colours proudly, even giving it a cheeky namecheck. Office quickies, dream sequences, filthy innuendo…they’re all here, dappled with crazy bits of animation. The attention-seeking opener introduces us to willowy Grace, gobby Lucy, fame-mad Midge and catty Nicole, and their romantic entanglements, while the male characters are the kind who are barely visible when they turn sideways. It’s a mad storm of different styles, but it may just capture the Carrie Bradshaw crowd.

This looks interesting. Kind of a UK ‘Sex and the City’. It clashes with Occupation, but everything is repeated so I’ll just record it. The thing to remember about BBC3 is most stuff on this channel is deliberately quirky and off the wall. Take Being Human, for example. Was like a humourous horror.



Wednesday 17 June
9:00pm – 10:00pm


All three of Occupation’s soldiers have returned to Iraq in the second part of Peter Bowker’s stunning drama. Their reasons for going back differ, but each has an overwhelming need to be in the crumbling, chaotic country. For tiny, restless scouser Danny Peterson (the brilliant Stephen Graham), it’s simple: “The madness here – I get it.” He is, you feel, a man on his own private road to hell. For Mike Swift and Lee Hibbs (James Nesbitt and Warren Brown, both memorable) there are more complicated emotional reasons. Hibbs needs a sense of purpose – that he’s doing something useful. Swift needs to find the love of his life. Around them, Iraq is awash with coalition money supposedly for rebuilding, yet the cash never seems to get to where it’s needed the most. More dangerously, the insurgency is gathering momentum, which has appalling consequences for one of the trio. Be prepared for a heart-rending, harrowing climax to the episode.

Henry VIII: Patron or Plunderer?

Wednesday 17 June
9:00pm – 10:00pm


Architectural historian Jonathan Foyle explores the paradoxes of Henry VIII’s cultural life, which looked back to medieval chivalry, but also took in the new humanism of the Renaissance. Foyle is good at the detailed examination of Henry’s buildings such as King’s College Chapel in Cambridge and extends into looking at tapestry and the paintings of Holbein. What gives it all a distinctive twist is that this journey into Henry’s past progresses against the backdrop of contemporary London.



Thursday 18 June
9:00pm – 10:00pm


The searing effect of Occupation is cumulative, as anyone who has watched the first two episodes will know. So the tension and the pervading sense of a world spinning out of control are heightened as we reach the final instalment. It’s December 2005, but there is no Christmas cheer for Danny, Mike and Lee (Stephen Graham, James Nesbitt and Warren Brown, a trio of actors for whom no praise can be high enough). Emotions – ours and the soldiers’ – are ratcheted to breaking point as catastrophe piles upon catastrophe and lives are fractured for ever. This is a very adult drama about the terrible reality of the Iraq invasion and its aftermath, so there can be no happy endings and Peter Bowker’s script is grown up enough to leave its characters, and its audience, weighed down with sadness.


Thursday 18 June
10:00pm – 10:30pm


The League of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton join forces once more as writers and stars of this weird, black comic drama…and at this point it would be handy to give a plot precis but, frankly, I have no idea what’s going on. A handful of apparently unlinked, disparate people in different parts of the country are sent wax-sealed letters bearing the words “I know what you did”. But what did they do? No idea, though the recipients include a barmy midwife obsessed by the doll from her childbirth classes (Dawn French), a telekinetic dwarf, and a wildly inappropriate children’s entertainer, Mr Jelly (Shearsmith) – a cross between the evil clown from Stephen King’s It and the League of Gentlemen’s infamous creation, Papa Lazarou. There are some funny bits, the gothic atmosphere is very Royston Vasey-ish, and the cast is stellar, but I suspect Psychoville will take a wee while to get going properly.

I’m not a huge watcher of comedy but this kind of highly eccentric stuff I’ll probably like. I always found League of Gentlemen and Little Britain very watchable.

Crude Britannia: The Story of North Sea Oil

Thursday 18 June
11:30pm – 12:30am

One of the most momentous events in the UK’s postwar history has to be the discovery of large reserves of oil and gas in the North Sea. A country saddled with balance-of-payment problems was able to reap many benefits from the windfall, but what has been the impact on today’s economy? This three-part doc promises a fresh perspective on the origins of the find 40 years ago and a look at how the tide has ebbed in recent years, beginning with the story of risk-taking and technical innovation that brought the oil ashore.


The Fallen: Legacy of Iraq

Friday 19 June
12:30am – 1:10am

Don’t miss this updated re-showing of Morgan Matthews’s extraordinarily moving film from last year, for which he rightly won a best-director Bafta. It commemorates the 300-plus British troops lost in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, one by one, through frank interviews with their surviving family members – the parents, siblings and (most heartbreakingly) children of those who died. The result is a remarkable portrayal of the way grief can shred families. It’s a giant mosaic of bereavement and loss, every piece of which is powerful in itself. That may sound grim but there are moments of humour and wisdom here too. Yes, at times The Fallen is almost too much to bear, but if you don’t feel up to the full four hours, it’s worth watching as much as you can handle.

This is the update to the 3 hour documentary I blogged about last year. Immensely powerful. Whether you like it or not, these people are fighting (and dying) in our name. Ordinary people whose deaths will shatter the families, friends and communities they leave behind.

Leonard Cohen Live in London

Friday 19 June
9:00pm – 10:00pm

When the Canadian singer-songwriter and poet started performing again last year after five years in seclusion as a Zen Buddhist monk and the disappearance of his retirement fund, he received rave reviews. If you haven’t seen this performance, catch it now and marvel at his spare lyricism. Live in London is a parade of old and recent favourites, delivered with authority, tenderness and humour. It’s followed by a 1973 BBC film combining an interview, biography and concert footage plus there’s also a tribute show featuring famous fans.

Leonard Cohen – Songs from My Life: Omnibus

Friday 19 June
10:00pm – 11:10pm

Portrait of Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist Leonard Cohen, originally recorded in 1973. Featuring interviews, archive film and live performances from London, Paris, Athens and New York.

What Leonard Cohen Did for Me

Friday 19 June
11:10pm -11:40pm

A celebration of the career of Leonard Cohen, one of contemporary music’s most revered singer-songwriters. The Canadian poet and novelist has gradually transformed over the years into an international star. Contributors include Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright, Ian McCulloch, Arthur Smith, Kathryn Williams and Paul Morley.

Source: All listings from The Radio Times website.

The Fallen

I wonder if anyone else watched this. It was a 3 hour documentary which looked at the families left behind by the British dead who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last 7 years. One’s views on the rights and wrongs of war are irrelevant – this documentary was about the grief and loss of those left behind. The group of people behind the headlines whose lives are smashed into a thousand pieces. This documentary is their story, and of how they cope (or don’t cope).

It was probably the most powerful documentary I’ve watched in recent years. Absolutely heart-rending. And from a documentary perspective it was a work of art – all classes, all types of people shared their loss ranging from the upper classes to the very poorest of Britain’s working class; the sniper’s bullet doesn’t discriminate. The names of all 300 British war dead were highlighted, interspersed with personal stories.

I missed it last night but watched it today on BBC iPlayer. Yes, it’s 3 hours long, but the director quite rightly didn’t cut corners with so important a subject.

Devastatingly poignant on so many levels. It has left a lasting impression on me.

A powerful and poignant film in which families and friends of those who have died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq talk openly about their loved ones and their grief. Epic in scale and spanning seven years of war, this landmark three-hour film gives a rare insight into the personal impact and legacy of this loss.

Alongside intimate testimonies from families who have lost loved ones, The Fallen names every single serviceman and woman who has died while serving with the British Armed Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001.

Made by acclaimed filmmaker Morgan Matthews, The Fallen takes us across Britain and into the homes of those who have lost loved ones. The film also uses cherished personal home movie footage featuring those who have died as well as archive footage, leaving a lasting impression of their lives both inside and out of the armed forces. Source: BBC

Read more about it on The Times website.

Watch it on BBC iPlayer (UK residents only).

PS As I write this with the BBC news on in the background, there is a story of another British death in Afghanistan today. Another family’s life destroyed…