Antoine Saint-Exupery: Radio Drama

This page contains details of plays by and about the most famous writer-pilot of WW2.

I was made aware of the existence of this remarkable man by Alex Ferguson, who knew him.


18 Oct 10. BBC notes: The autobiographical tale of Antoine de Exupery's plane crash in 1936 and his miraculous survival, dramatised by Rod Wooden. When Antoine his co-pilot crashed in the Libyan Desert while attempting to break the record for the Paris-Saigon flight in 1936 the odds were stacked against them. Miraculously they survived the impact - and while the plane didn't catch fire or explode the fuel and water tanks were ruptured and supplies were minimal. With only half a litre of coffee, a little white wine, a few grapes and an orange they only knew they were stranded somewhere in a square of inhospitable desert whose sides measured 400km. Exupery ..... Paul Rhys, Prevot ..... Adeel Akhtar, Bedouin ..... Sean Baker. Producer: David Hunter.

25 Dec 99, rpt 29 May 02. By Antoine de Saint-Exupery, trans/dram Bonnie Greer. An aviator believes he is alone in the Sahara Desert until he meets an unusual space traveller - a wise little boy. The child - the Little Prince - has fantastical tales to tell about his amazing interplanetary journey. With Robert Powell and Garrett Moore. Producer: Pam Fraser Solomon. An earlier version was broadcast on 13.4.1974 starring Nigel Stock and Gwyn Guthrie.

First broadcast 22nd May 1998 (the 58th anniversary of the flight); rpt 30 July 1999. [1942, French title: Pilote de Guerre] BBC notes, supplemented by GL: by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, trans/dram Rod Wooden. In this story of a single, essentially suicidal reconnaissance flight over German-occupied France, Saint-Exupery rises above the clouds, the cold and the bullets.

    >>On 22nd May 1940, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry set off on a reconnaissance operation from Orly over Nazi-occupied France to Arras. It was a pointless mission, since the Armistice was only weeks away, but still so dangerous that he was not expected to survive it. That journey and his return home are recorded in "Flight to Arras", a profound and passionate meditation on mortality and war as Saint-Exupery transcends the gripping experience of the flight itself to reflect on why men fight and how they feel in the presence of death. With David Threlfall [Antoine de Saint-Exupéry], Peter Kenny [Lieutenant Dutertre], Robert Harper [The Gunner], John Rowe [Major Alias], Christopher Wright [Captain Viza], Ewan Thomas [The Lieutenant], Jenny Lee [The Nurse], Alison Pettit [The Child], and Brian Parr [The Village Man]. Producer: David Hunter.

      The book "Flight to Arras" was written in 1942, it recounts Antoine St-Exupery's role in the French air force as pilot of a reconnaissance plane during the Battle of France in 1940. Saint-Exupéry is widely considered to be the greatest author-pilot of all time.

      The book condenses months of flights into a single terrifying mission over the town of Arras. Saint-Exupéry was assigned to Reconnaissance Group II/33 flying the twin-engine Potez 637. At the start of the war there were only fifty reconnaissance crews, of which twenty-three were in his unit. Within the first few days of the German invasion of France in May 1940, seventeen of the II/33 crews were sacrificed recklessly, he writes "like glasses of water thrown onto a forest fire".

      Saint-Exupéry survived the French defeat but refused to join the Royal Air Force over political differences with de Gaulle and in late 1940 went to New York where he accepted the National Book Award for "Wind, Sand and Stars". He remained in America for two years, then in the spring of 1943 rejoined his old unit in North Africa. In July 1944 "risking flesh to prove good faith" he failed to return from a recon mission over France.

      'The most important book yet written about this war . . . a magic text, at times almost Biblical, of why men fight and how they feel in the presence of death' - Time, February 1942. <<


R4: Classic Serial. Broadcast: Sunday 26th January 1997 @ 2:30 p.m. Set over one night in 1931, "Night Flight" tells the story about the brave men who piloted night mail planes from Patagonia, Chile, and Paraguay to Argentina in the early days of commercial aviation. Night flights were a new service offered to improve speed though it was incredibly dangerous to fly at night, even in the best weather, in their tiny open planes. And on the night this story takes place, a storm is coming - a cyclone.

At Buenos Aires, Rivière, the head of the mail service, is pacing the airport. Torn between the potential devastation of losing any of his pilots and his duty as operational director, Rivière maintains a stern exterior while keeping his concerns internal. He is viewed as severe and even heartless by his men, whom he must continue to send out on night flights to deliver mail in order to keep the mail service running.

Fabien, along with his wireless operator, is flying at sunset, bringing the mail from Patagonia to Buenos Aires. Two other mail planes, one from Chile and one from Paraguay, are also headed for Buenos Aires, where another plane was to take off, at about midnight, with a cargo of South American mail intended for Europe. As Fabien's plane prepares to land in San Julian for ten minutes to pick up mail, his wireless operator, receiving bursts of static on his radio which would would indicate thunderstorms ahead, asks Fabien if they plan to stay in San Julian for the night. When he is told the reports from the airfields ahead are telling them the sky is clear and there is no wind, Fabien decides to continue the journey to Buenos Aires....

Dramatised by Ray Jenkins from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's award-winning second novel, "Vol de nuit", published in 1931, which had been translated into English in 1932 by Stuart Gilbert as "Night Flight". The book is based on Saint-Exupéry's experiences as an airmail pilot and as a director of the Aeroposta Argentina airline, based in Argentina. The characters were also loosely based on people Saint-Exupéry knew in South America. Notably, the character of Rivière was inspired by Didier Daurat, operations director of the Aéropostale. More details can be found in Saint-Exupéry's 1939 memoir, "Wind, Sand and Stars".

With Ronald Pickup [Rivière, the Head of the Mail Service in Buenos Aires], Sean Baker [Fabien, the Pilot of Plane from Patagonia], Alex Lowe [Pellerin, the Pilot of Plane from Chile], Keith Drinkel [Robineau, the Running Inspector at Buenos Aires], Janet Maw [Simone, Fabien's Wife of Six Weeks], Kim Wall [The Europe Pilot], Adjoa Andoh [The Europe Pilot's Wife], and Ioan Meredith [The Narrator].

Other parts were played by Chris Pavlo, Joanna Monro, Alice Arnold, Christopher Scott, and Mark Bonnar. Music by Wilfredo Acosta. Producer: Janet Whitaker. Re-broadcast on Friday 31st January 1997 @ 2:00 p.m. 60m.


Compiled by Nigel Deacon / Diversity website, with thanks to Jim and Greg

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