Like Downton Abbey but thought it could do with more aeroplanes? Then this is the show for you. Wings was produced by the BBC in 1977 and was given a second series the following year. The first series followed the exploits of a young blacksmith named Alan Farmer who has dreams of flying aeroplanes even though his father was killed in a plane crash a few years earlier.
With the outbreak of war he joins the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) befriending the mischievous Charles Gallion (whose name gets twisted in to “Gay Lion”) who comes from a distinguished military background but is more suited to the more casual RFC. The two of them are trained to fly by the stout and battle hardened Captain Triggers who eventually becomes their Flight Commander.
The story takes place in 1915 on the eve of the impending “Fokker Scourge” – the arrival of the Fokker Eindecker fighter that decimated the RFC’s lumbering biplanes. The series is a very intimate look at life in the RFC, mostly concentrating on the pilots but a number of the groundcrew get their characters fleshed out also, showing the benefits and the danger compared to the trenches.
Very quickly we learn just how deadly military aviation was in 1915 and how their own aircraft were as much a threat as the Germans. The series goes in to great detail to show how the air war evolved with the main characters initially limited to reconnaissance and then explores the efforts made to arm their aircraft for so-called “forward action”. A great deal of effort went in to making this series authentic and it shows. The footage of the BE.2 flying will endear anyone with a love of aviation while at the same time giving you a taste of just how vulnerable these aircraft were.
Anyone looking for a story of glamorous pilots fighting the “Hun” should look elsewhere however. At times this is a brutal series with some genuinely chilling scenes. There is one scene that will stay with most people who have seen the series involving Captain Triggers at a train station talking to a wounded officer who reveals something horrifying to him regarding his thoughts on the RFC (no spoilers here in order to not ruin the effect).
There are a number of themes that are prevalent in the series such as class differences, post-traumatic stress disorder, the complete ignorance of the British Army command to the situation in the air and the effect on people at home. Regarding the home front a great deal of the first series is dedicated to Farmer’s family and the story there revolves around a love triangle between his mother, his father’s brother who has lost an arm in the war and a storekeeper. For those with an interest in military aviation these scenes tend to distract from the story of the war but aren’t uninteresting.
Finally, the quality of the acting in the series is of the highest degree. While the story revolves around Tim Woodward’s Sgt. Farmer the star of the show is without a doubt Nicholas Jones’ portrayal of Captain Triggers – a character clearly inspired by the real life World War One ace Major Lenoe Hawker. Triggers is a powerful force and Jones delivers every scene with energy and charisma. A number of secondary characters come and go the purpose of which is to emphasize the casualty rate in the RFC.
If you have a few hours to spare then a binge watch of the series is highly recommended. It does not disappoint and to watch them together helps you pick up on many of the little things that were included that come together to create an incredible account of the war in the air above the trenches.
Below is the first episode but you can view the entire series list by CLICKING HERE