1981 in the United Kingdom

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1981 in the United Kingdom:
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Sport, Television and music

Events from the year 1981 in the United Kingdom.




  • 3 January - Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, dies.[1]
  • 4 January - RL workers voted to accept peace formula in Longbridge strike.
  • 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.[2]
  • 7 January - A parcel bomb addressed to the Prime Minister is intercepted at the sorting office.
  • 8 January - A terrorist bomb attack takes place on the RAF base at Uxbridge
    • The report of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure is published.
  • 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.
  • 13 January - The prison officers' overtime ban ends.
  • 14 January - The British Nationality Bill is published.
  • 15 January - Two soldiers are found guilty of murder in Northern Ireland.
  • 16 January - Northern Ireland civil rights campaigner and former Westminster MP Bernadette McAliskey is shot and injured by suspected Loyalist paramilitaries at her home in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.[4]
    • Inflation has fallen to 16.1%.[citation needed]
    • 78% of BSC workers vote in favour of the chairman's "survival" plan.
  • 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.[5] On 25 January the death toll reaches 11 when another victim dies in hospital.
  • 21 January - Sir Norman Stronge and his son, both former Stormont MPs are killed by the IRA.
    • Two divers trapped below the North Sea are brought to safety to the surface.
  • 22 January - Rupert Murdoch agrees to buy The Times provided an agreement could be reached with the unions.
  • 24 January - Wembley Labour Party conference voted for election of party leader by electoral college with 40% votes for unions, 30% Labour MPs and 30% constituencies.
  • 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.[6] On 26 January, nine more Labour MPs declare their support for the new party.
  • 26 January - Sir Keith Joseph announces further financial support for BL
  • 27 January – Bill Rodgers resigns from the shadow cabinet following his defection to the new SDP. He is replaced by Tony Benn.
  • 28 January - Sir Hugh Fraser is removed as Chairman of the House of Fraser.
    • Fresh damage is caused in cells at Maze.
  • 29 January - The Government welcomes plans by a Japanese car firm to build Datsun cars in Britain.
  • 30 January - David Owen told the constituency party that he would not stand again as Labour candidate.


  • 2 February - The Report on the Brixton prison escape is released and the Governor is transferred to an Administrative post.
  • 4 February – Margaret Thatcher announces that the government will sell half of its shares in British Aerospace.
  • 5 February - Actor Lord Olivier, cancer researcher Sir Peter Medawar and humanitarian Leonard Cheshire are admitted into the Order of Merit in the New Year Honours list.[7]
  • 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.
    • The Government drops two controversial clauses of the Nationality Bill.
    • Ian Paisley parades 500 men on a remote mountainside in the middle of the night in a show of strength.
    • The Canadian Minister warns British MPs against delaying changes in the Canadian constitution.
  • 9 February - Shirley Williams resigns from Labour's national executive committee.
  • 11 February - The closure of the Talbot Linwood factory is announced.
  • 12 February – Purchase of The Times and The Sunday Times from The Thomson Corporation by Rupert Murdoch's News International is confirmed. Murdoch also announces that an agreement with the unions has been reached about manning levels and new technology.[8]
    • Ian Paisley is suspended from the House of Commons for four days after calling the Northern Ireland Secretary a liar.
    • NUS called off a 5-week strike.
  • 13 February - NCB announces widespread pit closures.
  • 14 February - 48 young people are killed in a disco fire in Dublin.
  • 15 February - The first Sunday games of the Football League take place.
  • 16 February - Two are jailed in connection with the death of industrialist Thomas Niedermayer.
  • 17 February - Princess Anne is elected Chancellor of London University.
  • 18 February – Thatcher government withdraws plans to close down 23 mines after negotiations with National Union of Mineworkers.[9]
    • Harold Evans is appointed editor of The Times
  • 20 February - Four MPs announce their intention to leave the Labour Party.
    • Peter Sutcliffe is charged with the murder of 13 women in the north of England.
  • 21 February - 30,000 march in an unemployment protest in Glasgow.
  • 24 February – Buckingham Palace announces the engagement of Prince of Wales and 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer.[10]
  • 25 February – Margaret Thatcher arrives in Washington, D.C. for a four-day visit to American president Ronald Reagan.
    • The Observer is taken over by Mr "Tiny" Rowland, head of Lonrho.
  • 26 February - The English cricket team withdrew from the Second Test after the Guyanan government served a deportation order on Robin Jackman.
    • Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan met in Washington - El Salvador dominated the first day of their talks.
  • 27 February - Three British missionaries released from Iran land in Athens.
    • Sir Harold Wilson announces his retirement from Parliament at the next general election.
    • The Archbishop of Canterbury advises the church to see homosexuality as a handicap not a sin.
    • The Observer takeover is referred to the Monopolies Commission.




  • 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.[24]
  • 5 May
  • 7 May – Ken Livingstone becomes leader of the GLC after Labour wins the GLC elections.[26]
  • 9 May – The 100th FA Cup final ends with a 1–1 draw between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium.[27]
  • 11 May – The first performance of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats takes place at the New London Theatre.[2]
  • 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.[27]
  • 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.[20]
  • 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.[28] 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.[29]
  • 30 May – More than 100,000 people from across Britain march to Trafalgar Square in London for the TUC's March For Jobs.[28]




  • 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.[42]
  • 26 August – General Motors launches the MK2 Vauxhall Cavalier, available for the first time with front-wheel drive and a hatchback.[43]
  • 27 August – Moira Stuart, 29, is appointed the BBC's first black newsreader.


  • September – Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp set up.[44]
  • 1 September – Filling stations start selling motor fuel by the litre.[20]
  • 8 September
  • 10 September – Another Enterprise Zone is launched, the latest being in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.[45]
  • 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.[2]
  • 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.[46]


  • 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.[47]
  • 5 October - Depeche Mode release their début album Speak and Spell.[48]
  • 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.[49]
  • 10 October – Chelsea Barracks bombed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, killing two people.[26]
  • 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.[50]
  • 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".[citation needed]
  • 19 October – British Telecom announces that the telegram will be discontinued next year after 139 years in use.[20]
  • 23 October – The Liberal-SDP Alliance tops a MORI poll on 40%, putting them ahead of Labour on 31% and the Conservatives on 27%.[51]
  • 24 October – CND anti-nuclear march in London attracts over 250,000 people.[52]
  • 30 October – Nicholas Reed, chief of the Euthanasia charity Exit, is jailed for two-and-a-half years for aiding and abetting suicides.[53]


  • 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.[54][55][56]
  • 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.[57]
  • 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.[58]
  • 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.[citation needed]


  • December – First case of AIDS diagnosed in the UK.[59]
  • 8 December – Arthur Scargill becomes leader of the National Union of Mineworkers.[2]
  • 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.[60]


  • 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.[61]
  • 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.
  • First purpose-built Hindu temple in the British Isles formally opens in Slough.[62]
  • The London department store Whiteleys closes, after 107 years in business.
  • Last manufacture of coal gas, at Millport, Isle of Cumbrae.[63]
  • 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,[64] with the SJ four-wheel drive set to go on sale in 1982.[65]
  • 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.[5]
  • New car sales in the United Kingdom fall to just over 1.4 million. The Ford Cortina enjoys its 10th year as Britain's best selling car since 1967, while the new front-wheel drive Ford Escort is close behind in second place. British Leyland's new Metro is Britain's fourth most popular new car with nearly 100,000 sales. The Datsun Cherry, eighth in the sales charts, is the most popular foreign car in Britain this year.





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