"Oh dearie me!"
Oh, there were times when I thought I'd imagined this show. Nobody else seemed to have heard of it. Even references to it on teh interweb are hard to come by.
Written by and starring Alan Cumming and Forbes Masson, The High Life was a short-lived BBC Scotland sitcom focussing on the antics of archly camp air stewards Sebastian (Cumming) and Steve (Masson).
The inseparable pairing formed the core of the cabin crew aboard a particular aircraft of the fictional airline Air Scotia, under domineering battle axe Shona Spurtle (played with much gusto by Siobhan Redmond), all trusting their lives to the more-than-somewhat erratic mental state of their pilot, Captain Duff (Patrick Ryecart).
In-flight antics at the expense of the passengers provides most of the fodder for day-to-day comedy, but the sheer brilliance of the show is in the high camp performances by Cumming and Masson, expressions turning in an instant, punchlines delivered in stereo, and occasional catchphrasery such as the descending cadence delivery of "Oh dearie me!". It's a tip of the bunnet to the previous generations of Scottish vaudevilleans, pulling the anachronistic style into the comparatively "modern" world of airliners, management training weekends and Eurovision.
From the introductory credits, we know what to expect of the show. The crew send up the 50s and 60s idealism of airline travel with a dated synchronised dance routine in uniform and harmonised singing that's straight from a Broadway musical. If there wasn't a Pan Am advert in the 50s that looked exactly like it, I'd be very surprised.
If you're feeling kinda tedious,
And life is seriously mediocre,
Here's how to get that adrenaline flowing,
Just get aboard a Boeing going... aaahhhh!
(Ba ba ba, ba ba ba ba ba...)
We're living the high life,
We're living it well.
We're living the high life
Where everything's swell.
We're up in the sky,
We're flying so high,
Oh my oh my!
We're living the high...
(ba ba, ba ba ba ba ba)
(ba ba, ba ba ba ba ba)
The high life!
The show only ran for one series, aired on BBC 2 in early 1995, consisting of six episodes, all titled with a single-syllable Scottish word that bears very little relevance to the actual episode other than appearing somewhere in the episode.
Steve and Sebastian apply for positions with the 'Long Haul' division of the airline to see more of the world than the Prestwick to London shuttle run allows them. The boys try to guess which passenger is the "Inspector Incognito" sent to check them out, but the "Inspector" they find turns out to be a police Inspector ferrying Shona's estranged father to his trial. Hilarity ensues.
Judged to be incompetent, the boys and Shona are sent to a retraining weekend run by one Gretchen Betjeman, half headmistress, half Nazi camp guard. The two least competent at the end of the weekend will lose their jobs, and the highest scorer on the written exam wins a £1,000 bonus. While Shona aims for the top prize, the boys connive to keep their jobs. Hilarity ensues.
Sebastian returns from a holiday in Florida to find Shona and Steve getting on.... a little too well... Hilarity.... uh, yeah, you get it.
Bitter at not being selected as the Face of Air Scotia for a promotion video, Sebastian is devastated to learn that Shona was chosen instead. Not bitter at all, he proceeds to sabotage the in-flight shooting of the video, Shona struggles to deal with the lecherous director, and Steve attempts to reclaim his clackers from a passenger who stole them from him when he was eight years old.
The crew ferry a rock star and his 9-year-old daughter's birthday party through the skies, while Sebastian persuades Steve to help him live out his Eurovision aspirations...
"Hello kiddies. This is Duff the Magic Captain here. Well, we've filled up Bertie Boeing's tum-tum, and he tells me we're ready to go off up into the white fluffy clouds..."
Industrial espionage, kidnapping, and biscuits. A grand adventure sparked off by the discovery of a 3.5" floppy disk containing a... secret formula. Every cliché in the book gets savagely rewritten. Hilarity ensues...
The entire series is available on DVD, happily enough a region 0 one, also including the pilot episode. Yum. Well, except for the fact that the quality of the DVD transfer is without a doubt the worst I've come across so far.