I finally got to the end of the thirteen parts of Danger UXB the other day. Danger UXB is a fictional dramatisation of the activities and lives of a Royal Engineers bomb defusal section, dealing with enemy munitions during the blitz of 1940-41 and the years following. It was broadcast in its 50 minute installments in early 1979 and was made by Euston Films, the film production arm of the independent station Thames. A moderate success, it was overshadowed by the more successful Euston Films series made around it, such as The Sweeney and Minder.
It’s bloody good stuff. All of the episodes feature one or more intensely gripping bomb defusal sequences, where the bomb defusal officer (primarily the lead character Brian Ash) engages with disarming the fuse of a series of more and more difficult explosive devices (from using a widget to short the fuse’s circuit to drilling its casing and steaming out the explosive to disarming the fuse by dowsing it in liquid oxygen). If his nerve fails, or he is just unlucky, can incinerate him in a millisecond and leave a crater 100 feet wide.
One of the series’ creator John Hawksworth’s goals was to present an accurate history of the progression of bomb development on the Nazi Germany side from the viewpoint of the British military, civil defences and expertise of scientific academia attempts to combat its ingenuity and destructiveness. Although this aim of technical accuracy went to the length of 10 minute lectures of bomb development being trimmed down at the insistence of Hawkworth’s bosses, the viewer is appreciative of the insight offered.
Another goal is to present a portrait of life in a lethal and intense area of military responsibility, of the realities of military life in mid-20th century England and more widely, of general life in London during the blitz.
As he no doubt intended, it made for great television, for example the sequence in the second episode where Ash, tackling a scorching bomb that is embedded in the wall of a burning factory, that he has no chance of defusing cleanly, decides to task a calculated risk and kicks the bomb out, trusting that it will land intact.
As I’ve hacked this attempt at an overview out, I could write a hell of a lot more than 400 words about this series, but I’d probably best come back to it another day.