The Day Britain Stopped
|The Day Britain Stopped|
|Written by||Simon Finch
|Directed by||Gabriel Range|
|Narrated by||Tim Pigott-Smith|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|Running time||90 minutes|
|Distributor||Wall to Wall|
|Original channel||BBC Two|
|Original airing||13 May 2003|
|Related shows||The Man Who Broke Britain|
The Day Britain Stopped is a dramatic mockumentary produced by Wall to Wall for the BBC. It is based around a fictional disaster on 19 December 2003, in which a train strike is the first in a chain of events that lead to a meltdown of the country's transport system. Directed by Gabriel Range, who wrote the script with producer Simon Finch, the film first aired on BBC2 in May 2003.
The drama made use of various British television news services and newsreaders (such as Sky News and Channel 4 News), foreign news channels (such as France's TF1), radio stations (Radio Five Live), real-life footage (from a train crash site, a speech by Prime Minister Tony Blair, and various stock footage of British traffic congestion), and several cameo roles by well-known British personalities.
Between 4 and 5 December, a train accident near Waverley Station in Edinburgh leads to the ASLEF and RMT trade unions to declare a strike due to safety concerns, forcing the heavy Christmas rail passenger traffic to use the roads instead. Mick Rix's decision is heavily criticised by the government, particularly by Junior Transport Minister Tom Walker.
On 19 December, a crossover accident on the M25 motorway in Surrey involving several vehicles forces Inspector Clive Turner, manager of the M25, to close the motorway in both directions from the site of the accident. The resulting traffic congestion spreads at such a rate that, within minutes, the motorway is blocked at the junction with the M23. Meanwhile, as British airspace runs over capacity to cope with the Christmas traffic, heavy traffic delays force the air traffic controllers to work double- and triple-shifts. Meanwhile, Julian Galt and his family are travelling into central London en route to Heathrow Airport, for their Christmas holiday to Bilbao, with their twelve-year-old son recording their adventures on a video camera.
Traffic that managed to work its way through the diversion route past the Surrey accident suffers a further setback when a chemical tanker lorry jackknifes on the M25 near to Heathrow Airport, causing a pile-up and further tailbacks, resulting in a second closure on the M25, and heavy delays on the M1, M2, M3, M11 and M20, the major artery-roads leading to London. Traffic attempts to drive through Central London, without much success.
Charlie Watson, whose mother's car was hit in the lorry accident earlier that day, whilst travelling to Old Trafford, becomes the first fatality when her gridlocked ambulance runs out of necessary medicine.
As traffic worsens, Jerry Newell, a pilot, is forced to walk to Heathrow Airport in order to reach his flight to Toulouse. A friendly football match between England and Turkey at Old Trafford in Manchester is cancelled for low attendance, with thousands stranded on the M6 and M40, effectively shutting down Manchester and Birmingham. The message is delivered by a stunned Gary Lineker on Match of the Day.
The Galt family, that were travelling to Bilbao, realise they were little more than half a mile from Heathrow Airport, after getting stuck in traffic after the chemical tanker crash, and abandon their car, against police advice, to walk to the airport over the fields. Julian vowed to stay with the car and catch a plane to Bilbao the following day. The rest of the family boarded a minibus to the airport - their flight was delayed. The father of the family kept the video camera. As police actions to force people to remain in their cars, particularly on the M25 around Heathrow, are found to be causing hypothermia, Operation Gridlock, (a fictional top secret plan to deal with such a situation) is implemented, with everyone now being instructed to leave their cars, with people most at risk airlifted to tent cities being set up on fields.
Air-traffic controller Nicola Evans volunteered to work late when her replacement does not turn up. Overworked, she accidentally sends an Aer Lingus jet into the path of a Czech freighter plane. She issues an instant instruction to 'Go-Around' to the Czech jet, which does so, avoiding the Aer Lingus plane, but colliding with the British Airways plane to Bilbao, sending burning wreckage spread across three miles, in much of Hounslow and the surrounding area. Due to the proximity of the disaster to Heathrow, the airport's dedicated fire services are dispatched, forcing the airport, and in turn, all of Britain's airspace, to close.
Emergency services struggle to reach the scenes due to the clogged roads, and have to resort to minor roads. Jane Newell, Jerry Newell's husband, gets home to Shepperton several hours after Jerry left her car to walk to the airport, and finds news of the disaster on the television. She begins to worry and repeatedly phones anyone at all at the airport to find information about whether her husband was okay. She finds that the flight involved in the disaster was to Bilbao and is calmed. However she then receives a phone call from British Airways, telling her that Jerry's flight to Toulouse was cancelled, and his in fact was the flight to Bilbao. The Galt family, excluding Julian, (who was rescued from the M25 by emergency services), were aboard the flight to Bilbao, and their deaths are implied, but not directly mentioned.
Nicola Evans, and two other air traffic controllers are eventually taken to court for multiple-manslaughter charges for their negligence, though the case is later dropped after revelations over larger issues in Heathrow's air-traffic control to do with the missed approach procedure, and the similarity in the disaster to a previous near miss (also fictitious). The final death toll of the disaster was 87 people - 64 passengers and crew, and 27 on the ground. There were also five deaths from hypothermia on the motorways, and eight elsewhere.
As the drama was filmed in late 2002 with an airdate in May 2003, there are several discrepancies with real life events.
In December 2003, the M6 Toll motorway bypassing the congested Birmingham and Wolverhampton stretches of the M6 had only just opened to traffic, although the motorway was still under construction at the time of broadcast and therefore hardly mentioned. However, during an interview, fictional Junior Transport Minister Tom Walker mentions that 'billions' had been spent on widening the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester.
Traffic is shown to be driving through Central London without any mention of the London congestion charge, which began operations in February 2003.
Traffic is mentioned to be stuck on the M6 and M40 when going to Old Trafford, but no mention is made of the much more congested M60 near the stadium itself - and a friendly would never be played so close to the busy Christmas period, where it's not unknown for even Premier League teams to play four games in ten days (especially against a team who they had just played in a competitive game - England had played Turkey in a Euro 2004 qualifier in October 2003).
While the programme made extensive of various news channels, several had changed their branding and presentation before December 2003.