A host of stars and a top British television production team will be in the Lisbon area shortly to begin filming ‘Planespotting’, a two hour drama for ITV1. The programme tells the story of the Greek honeymoon from hell, which shocked a nation and landed 14 plane enthusiasts in jail for espionage. For obvious reasons, it was not possible to film the drama in Greece, so Lisbon and the surrounding coastline was chosen as an ideal alternative.
The plot revolves around actors Leslie Sharp and Mark Benton, who play Lesley and Paul Coppin, the British newlyweds at the centre of the infamous case. The show will re-tell the story of a group of harmless British aircraft enthusiasts who were arrested as suspected spies during a ‘plane spotting’ trip to Greece. Caught in a minefield of regional politics, the 14 Brits were arrested for behaving suspiciously at an air base in remote Greece. Their protests of innocence fell on first bemused and then incredulous ears. Surely the telescopes, radio scanners and notes on aircraft serial numbers could mean only one thing – that they were Turkish spies!
What started out as an extraordinary farce soon became extremely serious when the spotters were held in squalid Greek prisons. The Coppins, the couple who had organised the trip as a belated honeymoon, were separated and Lesley, the only woman and ‘non spotter’ among them, was left alone and terrified in a different prison.
Diplomatic intervention only served to stir up Greek national pride and, after spending three months locked up awaiting trial, the group were sensationally convicted of spying and given three year suspended prison sentences. Back home, facing mounting debts for legal bills and bail money, the outlook for Lesley and Paul looked bleak. Their business, their freedom to travel in the future and their marriage seemed under threat. To clear each and every spotter’s name, they had to appeal. And that meant returning to Greece and prison if the appeal failed.
‘Planespotting’ was written by Neil McKay and will be directed by Christopher Menaul. Francis Hopkinson and Lisa Gilchrist are producing and Jeff Pope is executive producer. ‘Planespotting’ is a Granada Production from Andy Harries’ Drama and Comedy Department and he is also executive producer on the film.