Under Pressure

Thursday 01st May 2014 by theWeather Club

The story of British Royal Air Force meteorologist Group Captain James Stagg may not be as well known as many war heroes but now the story has been made into a play, called Pressure, which has its world premiere at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh in May.

In 1943 Stagg was given the rank of group captain and appointed the chief meteorological adviser to Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the projected Allied invasion of northern France. Stagg headed the committee of meteorologists who forecast weather conditions in the English Channel in the weeks leading up to the D-Day landings. These landings were projected for any day between 5-7 June, but the first days of June saw low-lying rain clouds, high winds, and stormy seas that would disrupt an amphibious assault across the Channel and ground the Allies’ air cover over the invasion beaches. With the invasion forces already having embarked from the Channel ports, the weather was still so poor on the morning of 4 June that Eisenhower postponed the landings from 5 June to the following day. At this point the prospects for the invasion’s actually taking place looked as bleak as the weather. On the night of 4 June, however, Stagg informed Eisenhower that a temporary break in the weather might allow the invasion to go ahead on 6 June. The following morning Eisenhower decided to proceed with the landings on 6 June. As it happened, weather did not seriously disrupt the D-Day landings, though the poor conditions had lulled the German defenders into thinking that an Allied landing was impossible that day.

The story of how Stagg's forecast helped carve out history forms the backbone of Pressure, a new play by actor and writer David Haig at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh from 1-24 May before transferring to Chichester. Haig takes on the lead role of Stagg and the action is compressed into one room in Portsmouth, where Stagg, Eisenhower and Eisenhower's lover and confidante Kay Summersby are holed up during a four-day countdown to D-Day.

As an actor, Haig has been seen in Four Weddings And A Funeral, The Thick of It, and more recently in the remake of political sit-com, Yes, Prime Minister. Onstage, he has appeared frequently on the West End and at Chichester Festival Theatre, where he worked with the director of Pressure, John Dove. Haig recently won an Olivier Award for playing the title role in Alan Bennett's play, The Madness of George III, and most recently played King Lear at the Theatre Royal in Bath.

In previous depictions of the story, Stagg has been little more than a bit-part player. This was certainly the case in the 1962 film, The Longest Day, which featured the likes of John Wayne, Sean Connery, Kenneth More and Henry Fonda as part of its all-star cast. Stagg was played by English actor Patrick Barr.