Executive Producer: Johnny Goodman
Producer: John Hawkesworth
Director: Douglas Camfield, Jeremy Summers, Roy W Baker, Ferdinand Fairfax, Henry Herbert, Simon Langton
DANGER UXB/Episode 1: Dead Man's Shoes/Intro by Alistair Cooke
Good evening, I'm Alistair Cooke.
Tonight, an old and valued friend of Masterpiece Theatre returns with a new series. He's John Hawkesworth who is the producer and mastermind of Upstairs/Downstairs and The Duchess of Duke Street. And after his--and our--extended fling with the Edwardians and the First World War, we move in this new series to the Second World War and an aspect of it that very few people, including the British, now know or remember much about: unexploded bombs, and how to handle them. Of course, we all knew that some German bombs didn't explode and a fence would be put around them and the neighbors would be evacuated and sometime somebody would defuse the bombs--policemen or firemen maybe. Not at all.
In the beginning even the British Army knew as much as the rest of us, about how to make an unexploded bomb harmless. But when it was seen that the Nazis were manufacturing delayed-action bombs, Prime Minister Churchill said, This is a new and damaging form of attack against us. And under his prodding a special unit of the Royal Engineers was formed. It was called the Bomb Disposal Unit. And this series is about the men who lived--and died--in Section 347, Bomb Disposal Unit, Royal Engineers. Danger UXB was the sign that was put up on village greens, in the streets, on the approach to factories, wherever it was known that there was a UXB--an unexploded bomb.
Our story begins in November 1940, which you'll notice is fourteen months after Hitler had invaded and conquered Poland and the British and French had declared war. But it's eerie to recall that for the first year anyway to the British at home there was no war. When Prime Minister Chamberlain, as he then was, went on the radio and announced on a brilliant Sunday morning, September 3 1939, that A state of war now exists, a new sound was heard over London. It was the first wail of the air-raid sirens. Then nothing happened and apart from an abortive British expedition to Norway, it seemed like nothing would happen.
Of course, the government had read H. G. Wells and expected poison gas to rain from the air, so they evacuated most of the children of London. People went around in gas masks for a week, a month. Nothing. And over London there floated these beautiful fat white sausages--barrage balloons--and trenches were dug in the parks. There was a long, unreal pause which was called The Phony War and it blew on the tenth of May 1940 when Hitler overran Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Chamberlain was thrown out. Churchill became Prime Minister. And within weeks the mechanized armies of the Germans and their devastating air arm swept the Allied Armies all the way across France to the English Channel.
Three hundred thirty thousand British and French troops were evacuated from the port of Dunkirk and carried back to England. And in June France surrendered. Hitler now owned Europe and was eighteen miles from England. Now another wait. The south coast was mined; road signs were obliterated everywhere. Everybody dug in for the invasion. It didn't come. Instead Hitler started daytime raids on the south coast, then on London, and on September 7, 1940, switched tactics. He began his incessant nighttime air blitz on London. It's been going on for two months as we come in on this first episode.
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