The ``few'' to whom Sir Winston Churchill said never had so many owed so much are the subject of a fascinating new six-part drama, ``Piece of Cake,'' which begins on PBS' ``Masterpiece Theatre'' at 9 p.m. Sunday on KCTS-TV and 8 p.m. Monday on KTPS-TV.
If you're not a World War II buff, what Sir Winston was referring to were the young men of the RAF - the Royal Air Force - the heroes in the air Battle of Britain, which many believe was one of the turning points of the war.
Movies about the flying heroes of World War II are not unusual. In both the U.S. and Great Britain, as well as Germany, fliers were considered the aristocrats of the service, the most dashing members of the armed forces and many a wartime film glorified the fliers and their derring-do.
``Piece of Cake'' isn't interested in just repeating those movies, although it often explains why myths grew up around these young fliers. This London Weekend TV production, one of the most expensive done in England, serves notice of that in the first episode when the leader of the Hornet fighter squadron that is the central focus falls off his plane, upon landing, suffers a concussion - and dies, thereby making one of the other fliers, played by Australian actor Tom Burlinson, temporary C.O.
While the squadron appears, at first, to be the kind of cross-section of personalities and types so dear to filmmakers' hearts, the script by Leon Griffiths, drawn from a best-selling novel by Derek Robinson, soon proves ``Piece of Cake'' is more interested in a three-dimensional portrait of the early days of the war.
The series opens in September 1939 as England declares war on Germany, and while everyone expected the worst, the first few months were soon tabbed ``the phony war'' because there was very little action. Soon, however, the squadron moves to France, where it is billeted in a chateau, flies practice missions and waits, not always in vain, for ``Jerry'' to make his appearance.
The scenes on the ground reinforce that most RAF fliers were very young - their off-duty hijinks often seem like college antics. The script also subtly records the snobbery and class consciousness prevalent in England at that time. The kind of patriotic emotion that marked films and novels of that period is surely present in ``Piece of Cake'' but so is a kind of brittle cynicism on the part of some of the young men, especially, a bright young officer like ``Skull'' Skelton, splendidly played by Richard Hope, who engages a blustering officer in a sharp, funny discussion of the Poles and democracy.
The acting is first-rate throughout, especially Tim Woodward as the snobbish and wealthy Squadron Leader Rex (although he doesn't appear until the end of the premiere episode), along with his wretched dog, Reilly. Neil Dudgeon is a standout as the mean-spirited, crafty ``Moggy'' Cattermole and American actor Boyd Gaines (a Tony winner for his performance in ``The Heidi Chronicles'' on Broadway) is excellent as a Yank in the RAF. (Don't worry about not being able to differentiate among all the characters and their nicknames in the first episode - it gets easier as the story goes on.)
What made ``Piece of Cake'' so expensive were the flying sequences - five RAF Spitfires were reconditioned and used for the film and the aerial scenes are sure to delight plane buffs, especially one involving a bridge, making ``Piece of Cake'' a period piece with action - and a welcome addition to summer viewing.
Project: ABC has announced it will film a TV movie in Seattle, starting in a couple of weeks - no exact date yet. Titled ``I'll Take Romance,'' it will star Linda Evans and Tom Skeritt, who both have homes in the area. She'll play a TV weathercaster involved in a contest to pick the most romantic man in Seattle.
Harry Sherman will produce and Piers Haggard, whose ``Pennies from Heaven'' begins a repeat on KCTS-TV next week, will direct. It will also have roles for about 24 Seattle actors. It's Evans' first role since ``Dynasty.''
Video notes: KCTS-TV preempts ``World of Ideas'' at 7 tonight to air ``Asia Now,'' pilot film for a newscast about Asia. . . . Remember 1981's revival of ``Bret Maverick'' and the 1983 series, ``Yellow Rose''? NBC is bringing them back on Friday nights starting at 8 and 9 tonight on KING-TV. . . . NBC is also moving ``Midnight Caller'' to 10 p.m. Fridays, starting tonight on KING-TV. . . . KTPS-TV begins airing ``American Patchwork,'' a five-part series on American music hosted by folk music expert Alan Lomax, opening at 8 tonight with ``Jazz Parades'' . . . One of the subjects of ``Patchwork'' will be Cajun music, which is also featured in a special, ``Cajun Country,'' on cable's Nashville Network at 5 tonight, with a repeat scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday.