Danger UXB

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Danger UXB
Alt=Series titles over an unexploded bomb
Format War drama
Created by John Hawkesworth and John Whitney
Based on Stories by Major A B Hartley
Starring
Composer(s) Simon Park
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 1
No. of episodes 13
Production
Producer(s) John Hawkesworth
Cinematography
  • Norman Langley
  • Tony Mander
  • Peter Jessop
  • Ian Wilson
Running time 49-51 minutes
Production company(s) Euston Films
Broadcast
Original channel ITV
Picture format 16mm film 4:3 colour
Original run 8 January 1979 (1979-01-08) – 2 April 1979 (1979-04-02)

Danger UXB was a 1979 British ITV television series about World War II developed by John Hawkesworth and starring Anthony Andrews as Lieutenant Brian Ash, an officer in the Royal Engineers.

The series chronicled the exploits of the fictional 97 Tunnelling Company.[n 1] which as a result of thousands of unexploded bombs ("UXBs") in London during the Blitz, has been made a bomb disposal unit. As with all his fellow officers, Ash must for the most part learn the techniques and procedures of disarming and destroying the UXBs through experience, repeatedly confronted with more cunning and deadlier technological advances in aerial bomb fusing. The series primarily featured military story lines, with a romantic thread featuring an inventor's married daughter, Susan Mount (Judy Geeson), with whom Ash falls in love, and other human interest vignettes.

The programme was titled and partly based on the memoirs of Major A. B. Hartley, M.B.E, RE, Unexploded Bomb - The Story of Bomb Disposal, with episodes written by Hawkesworth and four screenwriters. The series was filmed in 1978 in and around the Clapham, Streatham and Tooting areas of South London.[1]

The programme appeared on the US PBS as a segment of Masterpiece Theatre from January 4 to April 5, 1981. It was also screened in Australia on the public broadcaster ABC Television.

Cast[edit]

347 Section, 97 Company
  • Ken Kitson as Corporal Samuel Horrocks, a large but timid section NCO
  • Kenneth Cranham as Sapper Jack Salt, a married man anxious about the safety of his wife and children
  • George Innes as Sapper Jim Wilkins, section driver, a conniving petty crook who avoids as much work as he can
  • Gordon Kane as Sapper Gordon Mulley, also Ash's batman who falls in love with the landlady's daughter
  • Robert Pugh as Sapper 'Tiny' Powell, a coarse and often bullying Welshman
  • Robert Longden as Sapper Copping
  • Martin Neil as Private John Brinckley, a replacement from the Non-Combatant Corps
  • Bryan Burdon as Sapper Binns, a replacement
97 Company, Royal Engineers
  • Ken Farrington as Captain 'Fannie' Francis, second in command (2IC) and later commanding officer
  • Jeremy Sinden as Lieutenant Ivor Rodgers, Ash's good friend, later commanding officer
  • Steven Grives as Lieutenant Ken Machin
  • Osmund Bullock as Lieutenant Alan Pringle
Others
  • Judy Geeson as Susan Mount, Gillespie's married daughter
  • Marjie Lawrence as Mrs. Baker, landlady of Brian's billet
  • David Wood as Lieutenant Roger Symes, 81 Company RE

Episodes[edit]

The series was first broadcast between January 8 and April 2, 1979 on Monday nights at 21:00.

No. Episode Title
First broadcast
Director Writer Summary
1. "Dead Man's Shoes"
January 8, 1979
Ferdinand Fairfax John Hawkesworth (September 1940)  Brian Ash, directly commissioned as an officer of the Royal Engineers after ten weeks of basic training at the Hampshire Depot, joins 97 Tunnelling Company.[n 2] Without the benefit of training, he is immediately put in charge of a section whose previous officer was blown to bits. The unexploded bombs they deal with have been armed by time-delayed electrical bomb fuses that activate after a bomb has already impacted and detonate when vibrations caused by movement or contact close the circuit. Under the tutelage of Sergeant James, he defuses a relatively straightforward type 15 fused bomb, but is dismayed to learn that the Germans have deployed an even deadlier fuse, the type 17, that is rigged with a clockwork long-delay detonator activated by the bomb's impact.
2. "Unsung Heroes"
January 15, 1979
Ferdinand Fairfax John Hawkesworth (September 1940)  Brian is reprimanded, first by Francis for a newspaper story about the section that the 2IC believes injures the dignity of the service, then by Major Luckhurst for his reckless behaviour when defusing a low-priority bomb. Brian becomes acquainted with a new officer, Ken Machin, who is assigned to his tutelage and billeted with him. Ken introduces Brian to his wife. They are sent on a hastily developed course on bomb disposal where they learn that the boffins have developed a powerful electromagnetic 'clockstopper' to counter the type 17 fuse.
3. "Just Like a Woman"
January 22, 1979
Roy Ward Baker Jeremy Paul (September 1940)  Called back from their course to deal with a Category A (highest priority) bomb near a telephone exchange, Brian gives in to Machin's pleadings and allows him to finish disarming a type 17 discovered in a residential garden while Brian goes to deal with the more urgent situation. While he is gone, it explodes, killing Machin despite the use of the clockstopper. He later learns that Ken had only just got engaged to his fiancé and that she is pregnant. The Category A bomb has ruptured without exploding, providing them with an intact type 17 fuse to examine. Too late to save Ken, Brian learns that the type 17 is rigged with an anti-handling device called the 'Zeus 40'[n 3] that prevents its extraction.
4. "Cast Iron Killer"
January 29, 1979
Jeremy Summers Don Shaw (September 1940)  A sceptical Brian is ordered to deliver a defused but live bomb to Dr. Gillespie, a boffin in Kent who has come up with a novel solution to bypassing the Zeus 40: drilling a hole in the bomb casing and piping in steam to emulsify the explosive into harmless sludge. Brian clashes with Gillespie's married daughter Susan, but the two feel an immediate attraction for each other after Brian is assigned to assist Gillespie. During its first trial, the new method works in disarming the bomb, but Sapper Copping is killed when the fuse itself accidentally detonates.
5. "The Silver Lining"
February 5, 1979
Henry Herbert John Hawkesworth (September 1940)  The section digs for a huge bomb in the sewers beneath a risqué nightclub. Entertained by Copping's replacement, Sapper Baines, the section eats and drinks the club's wares, in no hurry to find the bomb. After the bomb is located, Brian discovers that it is equipped with the new type 50, a hypersensitive fuse designed to detonate when the usual defusing procedures are employed. The boffins have just developed a counter-tactic, however, and Brian is the first to try it, jamming the works with a liquid introduced into the mechanism. When Susan comes up to London, Brian takes her out for a night of dining and dancing.
6. "The Quiet Weekend"
February 12, 1979
Roy Ward Baker Jeremy Paul (October 1940)  347 section is given a much-needed rest with a weekend off duty. Brian's plans to sleep are drastically changed when Susan seeks him out, and they stay together in a drab hotel in Bromley using assumed names. However, Brian is called back to work, cutting short their tryst, when Luckhurst sends him to assist 81 Company, which is hard-pressed by activity and casualties, with two bombs along a railway line. By the time he arrives, one of the bombs has exploded, killing half of an 81 Company section and emotionally crippling its officer. Brian successfully deals with the other bomb, which is doubled fused with both a ticking type 17 and an active type 50. Susan grows impatient waiting for him and returns home to find an unexpected visitor: her husband, Stephen.
7. "Digging Out"
February 19, 1979
Ferdinand Fairfax Paul Wheeler (December 1940)  While the section works on a bomb at a gas works, Corporal Salt wanders off and finds a young woman trapped beside a second bomb with a time fuse. Without Brian's knowledge or permission, Salt and several other men take a great risk and manhandle the bomb into the Thames mudflats just before it explodes. Later, unable to get leave, Salt goes absent without leave (AWL), to try to persuade his wife to leave Manchester with their children, but a German bomb kills her and injures him. When Salt recovers, he is demoted to sapper and fined. Francis is resentful that Salt's punishment is minor but Luckhurst informs him that since he will shortly be taking command of 97 Company, as Luckhurst has been promoted, he should consider being more humane in enforcing regulations for a high-risk unit during wartime.
8. "Bad Company"
February 26, 1979
Ferdinand Fairfax Don Shaw (May 1941)  Francis' heavy-handed measures to impose peacetime discipline and regimental customs on 97 Company cause widespread resentment, leading to near mutiny. He is particularly harsh with Brian's section after his men commit minor breaches of discipline, but for a more personal reason: Brian's affair with a married woman reminds him of his own wife's ongoing infidelity with a second lieutenant. When Francis is seen secretly burning letters commending Ash, that he pilfered from the company files, Susan gets her father to use his influence to have Francis posted to a general construction company in Scotland.
9. "Seventeen Seconds to Glory"
March 5, 1979
Douglas Camfield John Hawkesworth (December 1941)  347 Section receives two replacements, Sapper Scott and Private Brinckley, the latter a Quaker conscientious objector 'NCC' who engenders suspicion from some of the others in the section. Powell picks a fight with Brinckley, but is beaten up by Salt to stop the attack. Salt has no sympathy for Brinckley's pacifist beliefs and advises him to think about the innocents being killed in the war. Brian helps Lieutenant Craik, an Australian in the Royal Navy, defuse a naval parachute mine designed to detonate just seventeen seconds after its timer mechanism starts.[n 4] Susan is chafing with guilt over the furtiveness of their affair, and Brian proposes marriage. However her husband, working on code-breaking at Bletchley Park, has a nervous breakdown. She is advised to look after him, prompting her to break off her relationship with Brian without explanation. Dr. Gillespie takes her to Cambridge, where he has set up a new laboratory.
10. "Butterfly Winter"
March 12, 1979
Roy Ward Baker Jeremy Paul (December 1942)  The Germans attempt to sow confusion and fear in the British countryside by dropping hundreds of food can-sized butterfly bombs on a small village. Some detonate if moved, while others are time-delayed. The bombs end up in all manner of places, and their sheer numbers make it impossible for Brian to deal with them on his own; all of 347 Section, down to the lowest rank, must work to secure and blow them up. Salt is killed as a result of helping another woman in distress.
11. "Dead Letter"
March 19, 1979
Simon Langton Kenneth Clark (January 1943)  A year after Brian and Susan have broken up, they have an awkward reunion when her father, Dr Gillespie, asks for Brian to be posted to his lab to determine how to defuse the new German 'Y' fuse. The design uses multiple battery-operated mercury tilt switches to detect any movement of the fuse and close the circuit. The fuse also detonates automatically if a battery is short-circuited; its sole purpose is to kill bomb disposal officers. Gillespie's solution is to freeze the insides of the bomb to -20°C to render the batteries inert, using liquid oxygen poured into a makeshift dam on the bomb's casing, a dangerous and time-consuming process.[n 5] While in Cambridge, Brian has a liaison with a woman who has lost the Royal Air Force pilot she loved. The first trial of the process is for a UXB assigned to 347 Section for disposal, after which Brian learns that Stephen Mount has committed suicide.
12. "The Pier"
March 26, 1979
Douglas Camfield Don Shaw (September 1943)  Brian is posted back to 347 Section, which relocates to Brighton to remove land mines laid in 1940 in anticipation of the German invasion that never came. Susan and Brian become engaged before he leaves. The former private John Brinckley, has joined the Royal Engineers and been commissioned as a bomb disposal officer. 347 Section is assigned a seaside pleasure pier where anti-personnel mines have been hidden under the decking. Ivor Rogers, now in command of 97 Company, instructs Brian to delegate the work, but when Brinckley is killed by an unmarked mine, Brian goes back to work. While attempting to defuse a final device on the slipway of the life boat station, he is badly injured when it explodes.
13. "With Love, From Adolf"
April 2, 1979
Henry Herbert John Hawkesworth (February 1944)  The pregnant Norma and Gordon Mulley prepare to marry. A bomb just misses 347 Section's barracks and Mulley is nearly asphyxiated when he falls into its camouflet. Brian's difficult recovery strains his relationship with Susan near to breaking point as he worries about being invalided out of the service. He refuses to see anyone or attend the wedding until Sergeant James visits him and succeeds in breaking through his depression. Brian is restored to active service but when he is promoted to captain and transferred to what seems a meaningless position in Somerset, he feels useless. Ivor offers him an 'unofficial' chance to defuse a recently discovered and relatively routine bomb dropped years before. Dismantling the fuse, however, Brian finds a note inside that says 'With Love, from Adolf.'

Books[edit]

Hartley's book provided many of the plot details. Danger UXB, a novel based on the series and written by Michael Booker, was published by Pan Books in 1978, and an annual was published by World Distributors in 1980.

Production[edit]

Many of the bomb-disposal scenes were filmed in what appeared to be deep, freshly dug holes lined with wooden shoring (the way real bomb disposal often happened). In fact, these scenes were shot using two different physical sets intercut: a short above-ground wooden fence that appeared to be the top of the shaft down to the bomb (but was not in fact excavated); and a 30-foot above-ground hollow wooden tower with a muddy area inside at the bottom (often shot from above, looking down). A side of the bottom was also removable to facilitate "bottom-of-shaft" close-ups.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ The tunnelling companies of the Royal Engineers in World War I were numbered 170-185 and 250-258. Seven of them (170-173 and 178-180), were revived in 1939-1940, serving on Malta and Gibraltar, but not in bomb disposal.
  2. ^ The conversion of a tunnelling company was a fictional plot device. The RE had been authorized 134 bomb disposal sections by July 1940 and 220 by August. The Blitz caused a hasty reorganization into companies, of which 25 were authorized, all designated "Bomb Disposal Companies." The basis in fact for 97 Coy's "conversion" may have been the change during planning of 11 companies originally allocated to be "general construction" or "quarrying" units to allocation under the new bomb disposal classification, but all BD companies were raised as such. By January 1941 six companies worked in the London area: 2 BD Coy at Balham, 5 BD Coy at Acton, 15 BD Coy at Mill Hill, 21 BD Coy at South Woodford, 24 BD Coy at Chiswick and 25 BD Coy at Eltham. (Wakeling)
  3. ^ The term is an acronym verbalization of the designation 'ZUS 40' (ZUnder Speere 40) stamped on the device.
  4. ^ Craik's story is based on that of Lieutenants John S. Mould and Hugh R. Syme, Australians who had volunteered for the Royal Navy as bomb disposal officers under identical circumstances. Both Mould and Syme had characters in Danger UXB named after them. (Salmon, pp. 36-37)
  5. ^ The 'Y' fuse episode was based on the actual circumstances involving Major John Hudson, a horticulturalist in the Territorial Army who became a bomb disposal expert. (Budiansky, Hartley p. 147)
Citations
  1. ^ Hartley (1958), p. 272

References[edit]

External links[edit]