Martin Kemp: The Battle of Britain (1/6)

Beginning this week on Five is a new six-part documentary series that sees famous dads and their sons embarking on exhilarating adventures. In the first episode, actor Martin Kemp and his 15- year-old son, Roman, learn to dogfight in World War II-era planes.

Based on the bestseller ‘The Dangerous Book for Boys’ by Con and Hal Iggulden, this new series sends celebrity dads and their sons on thrilling escapades inspired by British heroes from the past. Other famous faces taking part in the series are Jim Moir (aka Vic Reeves), Todd Carty, Bradley Walsh, Lord Brocket and Darren Campbell.

In the opening instalment, former ‘EastEnder’ Martin Kemp and his teenage son Roman are set the challenge of mastering Second World War fighter planes. They will then face each other in a dogfight reminiscent of the Battle of Britain. Martin is thrilled with the assignment and admits that he has a special interest in the war. “My mum and dad lived through it. They talk to me about the Blitz and how the houses around them were bombed,” he reflects. “For me it’s real, but for Ro it’s kind of unreal. It’s that generation too far.” Whilst Martin has his own worries about piloting a plane, he is especially concerned that Roman may not be able to overcome his fear of flying. “I think it’ll be a real challenge,” he adds.

Having only practised their aerial skills on a desktop flight simulator, father and son are now introduced to the vintage Tiger Moth biplane in which they will train. They also meet Geoffrey Wellum, a World War II veteran who was one of only two pilots in his squadron to survive. Geoffrey, who was 19 when he began flying, explains that the pilots had just 50 hours of training in the Tiger Moth before being sent into battle. “It was not an easy aeroplane to fly,” he warns.

After a brief tutorial in aerodynamics with instructor Bruce Hutton, Martin and Roman take turns to fly in the biplane. In the event, Martin is even more anxious than his son. However, both of them pass the test and quickly knuckle down to some serious training. After learning how to fly straight, they try out a few basic dogfighting moves to familiarise themselves with the G-forces.

As the training progresses, the boys reflect on what it must have been like to be one of the young recruits in World War II. In 1940, there were twice as many Nazi aircraft as RAF planes. In the rush to recruit pilots, many novices were killed in their first battle. Geoffrey reveals that most airmen simply did not have time to consider their own mortality. “One accepted it. And you were young enough and, in my case, not intelligent enough to realise how dangerous it was!” he recalls.

Martin and Roman now switch from the biplane to World War II training planes. This is the closest they can come to real fighter planes, as, unlike the single-seater Hurricane and Spitfire, the training aircraft have two seats. Their new instructors, Pete and Rob, teach them that the essential tactic in a dogfight is to get behind the enemy long enough to shoot them down. Martin and Ro get a taste of this by riding around on bicycles fitted with miniwings. The exercise may seem comical, but it was an actual technique used by the RAF.

With Pete and Rob at the controls, Martin and Ro then enjoy a full-blown dogfight simulation – leaving them exhilarated and inspired. “I tell you what, that was the best fun I’ve ever had!” says Martin. But the tension mounts as the pair prepare to pilot themselves. Of course, they will not risk their father-and-son bond by actually shooting each other down. Instead they must put their aerial prowess to the test by locking on to each other’s plane long enough to make a hypothetical ‘hit’. Having started this adventure together, how will Martin and Ro fare as rivals in the air?

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