I’m not spoiling the first episode of Bluestone 42 when I say that the action starts in a Chinook helicopter (one of those massive ones). I say ‘action’ but the scene is actually just soldiers talking. Or, more accurately, yelling. And in some ways, this scene illustrates all of the joys and nightmares of military research and how it collides and colludes with comedy and drama.
Why are they in a Chinook? Well, it looks great, obviously – especially with the set that Harry Banks’ creative cohorts put together. A Chinook is an exciting place to start a TV comedy. It’s the first scene of the first episode and it screams loud and clear that this is not a show set in a laundrette or a failing video store. We have a bunch of soldiers on their way to a mission.
But that’s not the only reason. Richard and I put them in a Chinook because people we talked to say they used Chinooks in Afghanistan all the time to get around – because the roads are, unsurprisingly, quite dangerous. So for accuracy, we wanted them in a Chinook.
The problem is that this conflicted with a different piece of military advice we had which ran along these line: ‘If you’re doing a TV show about soldiers there’s only one thing that really annoys soldiers (apart from BBC’s attempt to get an actor to wear a beret in a convincing way). The most annoying thing is having people talking to each other in a Chinook. Those things are so loud, you really can’t hear a thing.’ Ah.
And so we began the show already sitting on the horns of a dilemma. We wanted to show Bluestone 42 on their way to an operation but if we did it in the mastiff (the big personnel carrier) we’d be going against one bit of advice that ‘they fly everywhere’. And if we did it in a Chinook, we’d have them talking - when in reality, they don’t even bother trying. Either way, we might look like we hadn’t done our research.
We wrote this scene over two years ago, and occasionally re-set the scene in a Mastiff before putting it back into a Chinook and having them yell at each other. After all, we’re making a comedy for the public – who will believe you can yell at each other in a Chinook, even when you can’t. Once we’d committed to that, we were also told ‘they don’t fly everywhere because they don’t have enough choppers, or it’s just not practical.’ And then when we showed the first episode to an Ammunition Technical Officer, I said “I know that people don’t talk in a Chinook. Sorry about that.” He replied, “I know you can’t really hear, but it never stops me trying.”
Ah well. We tried.