1981 in the United Kingdom
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|1981 in the United Kingdom:|
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Events from the year 1981 in the United Kingdom.
- 5 January
- Peter Sutcliffe, a 35-year-old lorry driver from Bradford arrested on 2 January in Sheffield, is charged with being the notorious mass murderer known as the "Yorkshire Ripper", who is believed to have murdered 13 women and attacked seven others across northern England since 1975.
- BBC Two's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy television adaptation begins airing; it subsequently receives a Royal Television Society award as "Most Original Programme" of the year.
- 9 January – The funeral of Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, the last surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria, takes place at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. She had died six days previously at the age of 97.
- 16 January
- 18 January – New Cross Fire: Ten young black people are killed and thirty are injured in an arson attack on a house in New Cross, London. On 25 January the death toll reaches 11 when another victim dies in hospital.
- 25 January – The Limehouse Declaration: Four Labour Members of Parliament, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins, William Rodgers and David Owen (the "Gang of Four"), announce plans to form a separate political party - the Social Democratic Party. On 26 January, nine more Labour MPs declare their support for the new party.
- 27 January – Bill Rodgers resigns from the shadow cabinet following his defection to the new SDP.
- 4 February – Margaret Thatcher announces that the government will sell half of its shares in British Aerospace.
- 6 February – The Liverpool-registered coal ship Nellie M is bombed and sunk by an IRA unit driving a hijacked pilot boat in Lough Foyle.
- 9 February
- 12 February – Purchase of The Times and The Sunday Times from The Thomson Corporation by Rupert Murdoch's News International is confirmed.
- 18 February – Thatcher government withdraws plans to close down 23 mines after negotiations with National Union of Mineworkers.
- 23 February – Buckingham Palace announces the engagement of Prince of Wales and 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer.
- 25 February – Margaret Thatcher arrives in Washington, D.C. for a four-day visit to American president Ronald Reagan.
- 3 March - Homebase opens its first DIY and garden centre superstore at Croydon, Surrey.
- 5 March - The ZX81, a pioneering British home computer, is launched by Sinclair Research, going on to sell over 1.5 million units worldwide.
- 9 March
- 17 March – The Conservative government's budget is met with uproar due to further public spending cuts.
- 21 March
- Home Secretary William Whitelaw allows Wolverhampton council to place a 14-day ban on political marches in the West Midlands town, which has a growing problem of militant race riots and was faced with the threat of a National Front march in two days time.
- After seven years and the longest time playing the title role, Tom Baker leaves Doctor Who and is replaced by Peter Davison in the final episode of Logopolis.
- Unemployment now stands at 2,400,000 or 10% of the workforce.
- 22 March – It is reported that a minority of Conservative MP's are planning to challenge the leadership of Margaret Thatcher in an attempt to reverse the party's declining popularity and fight off the challenge from Labour and the SDP.
- 23 March – Government imposes a ban on animal transportation on the Isle of Wight and southern Hampshire after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in cattle.
- 24 March – Barbados police rescue Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs after his kidnapping in Brazil.
- 26 March – Social Democratic Party formed by the so-called "Gang of Four": Shirley Williams, William Rodgers, Roy Jenkins, and David Owen, who have all defected from the Labour Party.
- 28 March – Enoch Powell, Ulster Unionist MP (a prominent Conservative until 1974) warns of "racial civil war" in Britain.
- 29 March – The first London Marathon is held.
- 30 March – Academy Award-winning film Chariots of Fire released.
- 2 April – The effects of the recession continue to claim jobs as Midland Red, the iconic Birmingham-based bus operator, closes down its headquarters in the city with the loss of some 170 jobs.
- 3 April – More than 80 people (including 40 police officers) are injured during clashes between 300 skinheads and 400 Asians in Southall, London.
- 4 April
- Bucks Fizz is the winner of Eurovision Song Contest with the song Making Your Mind Up.
- Susan Brown, a 23-year-old Biology student at Oxford University, becomes the first female cox in a winning Boat Race crew.
- Bob Champion, a 32-year-old cancer survivor, is the popular winner of the Grand National with his horse Aldaniti.
- 5 April – The 1981 U.K. Census is conducted.
- 10 April – Bobby Sands, an IRA member on hunger strike in the Maze prison, Northern Ireland, is elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in a by election.
- 11 April – More than 300 people (most of them police officers) are injured and extensive damage is caused to property in the Brixton riot.
- 13 April
- 20 April
- 21 April – The county administrative headquarters of Northumberland move from Newcastle upon Tyne to Morpeth.
- 23 April – Unemployment passes the 2,500,000 mark for the first time in nearly 50 years.
- 29 April – Peter Sutcliffe admits to the manslaughter of 13 women on the grounds of diminished responsibility, but the judge rules that a jury should rule on Sutcliffe's state of mind before deciding whether to accept his plea or find him guilty of murder.
- May – Peugeot closes the Talbot car plant at Linwood, Scotland, which was opened by the Rootes Group 18 years ago as Scotland's only car factory. The closure of the factory also results in the end of the last remaining Rootes-developed product, the Avenger, after 11 years, as well as the four-year-old Sunbeam supermini. There are no plans to replace the Avenger, but a French-built small car based on the Peugeot 104 will replace the Sunbeam in the next few months.
- 5 May
- 7 May – Ken Livingstone becomes leader of the GLC after Labour wins the GLC elections.
- 9 May – The 100th FA Cup final ends with a 1–1 draw between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium.
- 11 May – The first performance of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats takes place at the New London Theatre.
- 12 May – Francis Hughes (aged 25) becomes the second IRA hunger striker to die in Northern Ireland.
- 13 May – An inquest returns an open verdict on the thirteen people who died as a result of their injuries in the New Cross fire.
- 14 May – Tottenham Hotspur win the FA Cup for the sixth time in their history with a 3–2 win over Manchester City in the final replay at Wembley.
- 15 May
- 19 May – Peter Sutcliffe is found guilty of being the Yorkshire Ripper after admitting 13 charges of murder and a further seven of attempted murder. He will be sentenced later this week.
- 21 May – The IRA hunger strike death toll reaches four with the deaths of Raymond McCreesh and Patrick O'Hara.
- 22 May – Peter Sutcliffe is sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he should serve at least 30 years before parole can be considered.
- 27 May – Liverpool F.C. win the European Cup for the third time by defeating Real Madrid of Spain 1–0 in the final at Parc des Princes, Paris, France. Alan Kennedy scores the only goal of the game. Although they have yet to equal Spanish side Real Madrid's record of six European Cups, they are the first British side to win the trophy three times.
- 30 May – More than 100,000 people from across Britain march to Trafalgar Square in London for the TUC's March For Jobs.
- 3 June – Shergar wins the Epsom Derby.
- 9 June – King Khaled of Saudi Arabia arrives in Britain on a state visit.
- 11 June – Britain's first Urban Enterprise Zone is created in Lower Swansea Valley, Wales.
- 13 June – Marcus Sarjeant fires six blank cartridges at The Queen as she enters Horse Guards Parade.
- 13–14 June – More than 80 arrests are made during clashes between white power skinheads and black people in Coventry, where the National Front is planning a march later this month, on the same day as an anti-racist concert by The Specials.
- 15 June – Lord Scarman opens an enquiry into the Brixton riots.
- 16 June – Liberal Party and SDP form an electoral pact – the SDP-Liberal Alliance.
- 20 June
- 21 June – A fire at Goodge Street tube station kills one person and injures 16.
- 23 June – Unemployment reaches 2,680,977 (one in nine of the workforce), and Margaret Thatcher is warned that a further rise is likely.
- 2 July – Four members of an Asian Muslim family (three of them children) are killed by arson at their home in Walthamstow, London; the attack is believed to have been racially motivated. 
- 3 July – Hundreds of Asians and skinheads riot in Southall, London, following disturbances at the Hamborough Tavern public house, which is severely damaged by fire.
- 5 July – Toxteth riots break out in Liverpool and first use is made of CS gas by British police. Less serious riots occur in the Handsworth district of Birmingham as well as Wolverhampton city centre, parts of Coventry, Leicester and Derby, and also in the Buckinghamshire town High Wycombe.
- 7 July – 43 people are charged with theft and violent disorder following a riot in Wood Green, North London.
- 8 July
- Joe McDonnell becomes the fifth IRA hunger striker to die.
- Inner-city rioting continues when a riot in Moss Side, Manchester, sees more than 1,000 people besiege the local police station. However, the worst rioting in Toxteth has now ended.
- British Leyland ends production of the Austin Maxi, one of its longest-running cars, after 12 years.
- 9 July – Rioting breaks out in Woolwich, London.
- 10 July
- Rioting breaks out in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Leicester, Ellesmere Port, Luton, Sheffield, Portsmouth, Preston, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Derby, Southampton, Nottingham, High Wycombe, Bedford, Edinburgh, Wolverhampton, Stockport, Blackburn, Huddersfield, Reading, Chester and Aldershot.
- Two days of rioting in Moss Side, Manchester, draw to a close, during which there has been extensive looting of shops. Princess Road, the main road through the area, will be closed for several days while adjacent buildings and gas mains damaged by rioting and arson are made safe.
- 11 July – A further wave of rioting breaks out in Bradford, West Yorkshire.
- 13 July
- The IRA hunger strike death toll reaches six when Martin Hurson dies.
- Margaret Thatcher announces that police will be able to use rubber bullets, water cannons and armoured vehicles against urban rioters. Labour leader Michael Foot blames the recent wave of rioting on the Conservative government's economic policies, which have seen unemployment rise by more than 70% in the last two years.
- 15 July – Police clash with black youths in Brixton once again, this time after police raid properties in search of petrol bombs which are never found.
- 16 July – Labour narrowly hang on to the Warrington seat in a by-election, fighting off a strong challenge from Roy Jenkins for the Social Democratic Party.
- 17 July – Official opening of the Humber Bridge by the Queen.
- 20 July – Michael Heseltine tours Merseyside to examine the problems in the area, which has been particularly badly hit by the current recession.
- 25 July – Around 1,000 motorcyclists clash with police in Keswick, Cumbria.
- 27 July
- 28 July – Margaret Thatcher blames IRA leaders for the recent IRA hunger striker deaths.
- 29 July – The wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer takes place at St Paul's Cathedral. More than 30 million viewers watch the wedding on television – the second highest television audience of all time in Britain.
- 1 August – Kevin Lynch becomes the seventh IRA hunger striker to die.
- 2 August – Within 24 hours of Kevin Lynch's death, Kieran Doherty becomes the eighth IRA hunger striker to die.
- 8 August – The IRA hunger strike claims its ninth hunger striker so far (and its third in a week) with the death of Thomas McElwee.
- 9 August – Broadmoor Hospital falls under heavy criticism after the escape of a second prisoner in three weeks. The latest absconder is 32-year-old Alan Reeve, a convicted double murderer.
- 17 August – An inquiry opens in the Moss Side riots.
- 20 August
- 24 August – Mark David Chapman is sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for killing John Lennon.
- 25 August – Britain's largest Enterprise Zone is launched on deindustrialised land on Tyneside.
- 26 August – General Motors launches the MK2 Vauxhall Cavalier, available for the first time with front-wheel drive and a hatchback.
- 27 August – Moira Stuart, 29, is appointed the BBC's first black newsreader.
- September – Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp set up.
- 1 September – Filling stations start selling motor fuel by the litre.
- 8 September
- 10 September – Another Enterprise Zone is launched, the latest being in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.
- 14 September – Cecil Parkinson is appointed chairman of the Conservative Party.
- 17 September – A team of divers begins removing gold ingots worth £40 million from the wreck of HMS Edinburgh, sunk off the coast of Norway in 1942.
- 18 September – David Steel tells delegates at the Liberal Party conference to "go back to your constituencies and prepare for government", hopes of which are boosted by the fact that most opinion polls now show the SDP-Liberal Alliance in the lead.
- 25 September - Ford announces that its best-selling Cortina nameplate will be discontinued next year, and its replacement will be called the Sierra.
- 29 September – Football mourns the legendary former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, who dies today at the age of 67 after suffering a heart attack.
- 1 October – Bryan Robson, 24-year-old midfielder, becomes Britain's most expensive footballer in a £1.5million move from West Bromwich Albion to Manchester United.
- 3 October – Hunger strikes at the Maze Prison end after seven months. The final six hunger strikers have been without food for between 13 and 55 days.
- 7 October – British Leyland launches the Triumph Acclaim, a four-door medium sized saloon built in collaboration with Japanese car and motorcycle giant Honda at the Cowley plant in Oxford. It is based on the Japanese Honda Ballade (not available in Britain), has front-wheel drive, is powered by a 1.3 litre 70 bhp petrol engine, and is between the Ford Escort and Ford Cortina in terms of size.
- 10 October – Chelsea Barracks bombed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, killing two people.
- 12 October – British Leyland announces the closure of three factories – a move which will cost nearly 3,000 people their jobs.
- 12 October – 22 December – Original run of Granada Television serial Brideshead Revisited.
- 13 October - Opinion polls show that Margaret Thatcher is still unpopular as Conservative leader due to her anti-inflationary economic measures, which have now come under fire from her predecessor Edward Heath.
- 15 October – Norman Tebbit tells fellow Conservative MPs: "I grew up in the thirties with an unemployed father. He didn't riot. He got on his bike and looked for work and he kept looking until he found it".
- 19 October – British Telecom announces that the telegram will be discontinued next year after 139 years in use.
- 23 October – The Liberal-SDP Alliance tops a MORI poll on 40%, putting them ahead of Labour on 31% and the Conservatives on 27%.
- 24 October – CND anti-nuclear march in London attracts over 250,000 people.
- 30 October – Nicholas Reed, chief of the Euthanasia charity Exit, is jailed for two-and-a-half years for aiding and abetting suicides.
- 1 November – British Leyland's 58,000-strong workforce begins a strike over pay.
- 8 November – Queen's Greatest Hits released: it will be the best-selling UK album of all time.
- 13 November – The Queen opens the final phase of the Telford Shopping Centre, nearly a decade after development began on the first phase of what is now one of the largest indoor shopping centres in Europe in the Shropshire new town.
- 16 November – Production of the Vauxhall Astra commences in Britain at the Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire. The Astra was launched two years ago but until now has been produced solely at the Opel plant in West Germany.
- 18 November – The England national football team beats Hungary 1–0 at Wembley Stadium to qualify for the World Cup in Spain next summer, with the only goal being scored by Ipswich Town striker Paul Mariner It is the first time they have qualified for the tournament since 1970.
- 25 November – A report into the Brixton Riots, which scarred inner-city London earlier this year, points the finger of blame at the social and economic problems which have been plaguing Brixton and many other inner-city areas across England.
- 26 November – Shirley Williams wins the Crosby by-election for the SDP, overturning a Conservative majority of nearly 20,000 votes.
- 2 November – The TV licence increases in price from £34 to £46 for a colour TV, and £12 to £15 for black and white.
- December – First case of AIDS diagnosed in the UK.
- 8 December – Arthur Scargill becomes leader of the National Union of Mineworkers.
- 9 December – Michael Heseltine announces a £95 million aid package for the inner cities.
- 19 December – An opinion poll shows that Margaret Thatcher is now the most unpopular postwar British prime minister and that the SDP-Liberal Alliance has the support of up to 50% of the electorate.
- 20 December – Penlee lifeboat disaster: The crew of the MV Union Star and the life-boat Solomon Browne sent to rescue them are all killed in heavy seas off Cornwall; some of the bodies are never found.
- Inflation has fallen to 11.9%, the second lowest annual level since 1973, but has been largely achieved by the mass closure of heavy industry facilities that have contributed to the highest postwar levels of unemployment.
- In spite of the continuing rise in employment, the British economy improves from 4% contraction last year to 0.8% overall growth this year.
- First Urban Development Corporations set up in London Docklands and Merseyside.
- The London department store Whiteleys closes, after 107 years in business.
- Last manufacture of coal gas, at Millport, Isle of Cumbrae.
- Perrier Comedy Awards first presented to the best shows on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
- Suzuki, the Japanese manufacturer famous for producing motorcycles, imports passenger cars to the United Kingdom for the first time. The first model sold in Britain is the entry-level Alto, with the SJ four-wheel drive set to go on sale in 1982.
- In spite of the continued rise in unemployment, the British economy improved with 1.8% overall growth for the year compared to 3% overall contraction in 1980.
- Alasdair Gray's novel Lanark: A Life in Four Books.
- Terry Pratchett's novel Strata.
- Salman Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children.
- D. M. Thomas' novel The White Hotel.
- 25 January – Alex Partridge, rower
- 13 January – Peter Crouch, footballer
- 16 February – Alison Rowatt, Scottish field hockey midfielder
- 27 March – Terry McFlynn, Northern Irish footballer
- 1 April – Hannah Spearritt, singer (S Club 7)
- 10 April – Liz McClarnon, singer (Atomic Kitten)
- 15 May – Zara Phillips, daughter of Anne, Princess Royal and equestrienne
- 20 May – Sean Conlon, musician (5ive)
- 9 June – Helen Don-Duncan, English backstroke swimmer
- 11 June – Alistair McGregor, Scottish field hockey goalkeeper
- 25 June - Sheridan Smith Actress
- 28 June – Joanne Ellis, field hockey midfielder
- 11 September - Mark Rhodes, singer, runner up from Pop Idol (series 2) and TV host
- 15 September – Richard Alexander, English field hockey defender
- 16 September – David Mitchell, Scottish field hockey defender
- 23 September – Helen Richardson, field hockey defender
- 29 September – Suzanne Shaw, actress and singer (Hear'Say)
- 25 October – Shaun Wright-Phillips, footballer
- 26 November – Natasha Bedingfield, singer
- 27 November – Gary Lucy, actor and model
- 3 January – Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, daughter of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany; longest living grandchild of Queen Victoria (born 1883)
- 6 January – A. J. Cronin, Scottish novelist (born 1896)
- 11 February – Franz Sondheimer, German-born British-Israeli chemist (born 1926)
- 6 March – George Geary, English cricketer (born 1893)
- 11 March – Sir Maurice Oldfield, intelligence chief (born 1915)
- 16 April - George Cambridge, 2nd Marquess of Cambridge, member of the royal family (born 1895)
- 5 May – Bobby Sands MP, volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (born 1954; died in 1981 Irish hunger strike)
- 9 May – Ralph Allen, footballer (born 1906)
- 17 June – General Sir Richard O'Connor, soldier (born 1889)
- 8 September – Bill Shankly, Scottish-born football manager (born 1913)
- 22 November – Sir Hans Adolf Krebs, German-born British physician and biochemist and Nobel laureate (born 1900)
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