1 9 7 9 (UK)
13 x 50 minute episodes
Euston Films’ Danger UXB (the initials stood for ‘unexploded bomb’) traced the life of a bomb disposal squad from the beginnings of the Blitz in WWII to the preparations for the Normandy landings.
John Hawkesworth, the Upstairs Downstairs producer, had borrowed Royal Engineer Major A. P. Hartley’s book Unexploded Bomb, from the library 14 years earlier. He suggested a drama on the unsung heroes in wartime bomb-defusing to the BBC, who turned it down. He finally interested Euston Films.
Hero of the piece was young Lt. Brian Ash (Anthony Andrews), who – like many of his colleagues – was learning the ropes as he went along. Newly commissioned, he had joined the 97 Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers, only to discover – to his horror – that the regiment was now involved in bomb disposal.
The bare minimum of training was provided and the life expectancy of a sapper was a mere seven weeks.
Ash was thrown immediately in at the deep end as commander of 347 section, taking the position (and the lodgings) of a recently killed officer. Susan Mount (Judy Geeson), married daughter of explosives boffin Dr Gillespie (Iain Cuthbertson), provided Ash’s romantic interest, although he also needed to fend off the attentions of Norma (Debbie Watling), the flighty daughter of his landlady, Mrs Baker.
In his work, there was no room for trial and error, and Ash relied heavily on the knowledgeable Sgt James (Maurice Roëves). Each mission placed the sappers in impossible positions, a hair’s breadth away from oblivion.
The thirteen-part series looked authentic with a converted Clapham school doubling as the army HQ for 97 Bomb Disposal Company and demolition work in nearby Wimbledon proving handy for scenes where houses were bombed flat.
Finding a bomb crater turned out to be a substantial problem and the production team ended up having to build one – a 30-foot hole, 30-feet deep.
Some viewers found the characters less dynamic than the bombs, but Debbie Watling’s man-mad Naughty Norma and Maurice Roëves’ dour sergeant assisting our Brian helped. We could have watched more – but Brian ended up being blasted off a seaside pier.
Lt. Brian Ash
Dr David Gillespie
Capt. ‘Fanny’ Francis
2nd Lt. Peter Greshem
Lt. Alan Pringle
Lt. Hamish Leckie
Lt. Ivor Rodgers
Lt. Chris Craik
Lt. Ken Machin
2nd Lt. Tim Carter-Brown
Sapper/LCpl. Jack Salt
Cpl. Samuel Horrocks
Sapper ‘Tiny’ Powell
Sapper Gordon Mulley
Sapper John Scott