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Series: London's Burning

A long-running British drama series about the London Fire Brigade which aired on ITV from 1988 to 2002. It began with a one-off 1986 TV Movie written by Jack Rosenthal (of Coronation Street, That Was The Week That Was and Spend Spend Spend fame) and fourteen series followed. It was typically broadcast in hour long episodes at 9pm on Sunday nights.

London's Burning centres around the Blue Watch firefighters stationed at the (fictional) Blackwall station in south east London.note  Intended to accurately showcase the work of firefighters, each episode would feature at least one "shout" (emergency), which varied from huge blazes and road accidents to cats stuck in trees. The show's peak is generally considered to be series 1-9, when the emphasis was on the camaraderie between the group, black comedy and drama, and spectacular stunts and pyrotechnics. It had an Ensemble Cast which changed over time.

London's Burning was very popular at its peak in the early to mid 1990s, attracting television audiences of over 16 million. Its appeal steadily waned as popular characters left (and, frequently, were killed off), the show's iconic theme tune was changed and it adopted more soap opera-orientated plots, with greater emphasis on the firefighters' personal lives and less on action and drama.


Tropes seen in London's Burning include:

  • Acronym and Abbreviation Overload: ADO, DO, ACO, BA, EVAC, ALP, FRU, FIT, DSU and RTA are all used often. Though it is all authentic Fire Brigade jargon.
  • Amateur Cast: Many of the actors were virtual unknowns when cast. Of the original cast, only James Hazeldine (Bayleaf) and James Marcus (Sidney Tate) were established television actors. This was deliberate, to give the show a documentary feel. Jerome Flynn, Catherine Tate, Ross Kemp and Idris Elba also appeared in the show before establishing themselves as well-known actors.
  • Anyone Can Die: Established early on when Vaseline died in series 2. Went into overdrive in later series, when members of Blue Watch went down like flies: John Hallam in series 9, Nick Georgiadis in series 11, Sicknote and Joe Walker in series 12, and Recall in series 14
  • Attempted Rape: A man attempts to rape Josie after talking his way into her flat, but she manages to fight him off. When she spots him a shop a while later she causes a scene and gets him arrested.
  • Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Nick Georgiadis. He initially comes across as a relentless by-the-book leader, but quickly proves that he comes with compassion and a sense of humour.
  • Benevolent Boss: ACO Bulstrode. Though he does snap when his Berserk Button is pushed, he has a sense of humour and sometimes joins in with Blue Watch's practical jokes. He also sides with Tate in his feud with Scase.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Sidney Tate, despite being the most tolerant of the Station Officers, also had the biggest reputation for blowing his top when anyone really stepped out of line.
    • Nick's is being referred to by his nickname.
    • George's are his two obnoxious brothers-in-law.
    • The normally placid Pearce completely flips when he finds Patty's sister emptying his house.
  • Britain Is Only London: Though set in London, many members of Blue Watch are not Londoners. Sally Fields, John Coleman, Mick Callaghan, Carol Webb and Greg Blake are all from Oop North. Geoff Pearce is from the West Country and Kate Stevens is from Nottingham.
  • British Brevity: Averted. The series ran for 14 years and 171 episodes.
  • Car Meets House: When Vaseline, moonlighting as a minicab driver, is more interested in the couple making out in the back seat. (in the 1988 episode Ding Dong Merrily)
  • The Casanova: Vaseline is a serial philanderer who has been married three times and has scores of mistresses.
  • Catch Phrase: John Hallam's "I'm impressed".
  • Christmas Episode: Ding Dong Merrily.
  • Chronically Crashed Car: Blue Watch get through a lot of fire engines. One is turned over in a traffic collision, one is crashed by Bayleaf when he swerves to avoid a motorcycle, one is hit by a gas cylinder, one smashes into a truck and another veers off the road and rolls down an embankment.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Carol Webb and Gregg Blake disappeared after series 10 and their absence was never explained. John Coleman, Hi Ho, Hyper, Pitbull and station cook Maggie were all still in London's Burning at the end of series 13, but none returned for the next series and they were not mentioned again.
  • Cliffhanger: The final episode of series 9, when the two pumps crash.
  • Code Name: Blackwall's pumps use the code names Echo 441 and Echo 442.
  • Conspicuous CG: Due to cost-cutting, later episodes use very obvious CGI flames.
  • Desk Jockey:
    • Scase
    • Subverted with Bulstrode, who is still an old fashioned fireman at heart and has no time for real desk jockeys like Scase.
  • Doubling For London: Averted. The series was filmed in London.
  • Downer Ending: Several episodes use this trope, notably when Ethnic is killed by rioters at the end of the pilot movie, Malcolm's girlfriend is killed in a fire, and the watch learn of John Hallam's death.
  • Dream Sequence:
    • Bayleaf dreams about being hit by a falling manhole cover. This also acts as a Tomato Surprise, as the trope is rarely employed in the show.
    • George dreams about seeing Hallam on the night he dies.
  • Earn Your Title: Many members of the watch have a nickname:
    • Bayleaf, because he's the mess manager and main cook.
    • Charisma, because he has no charisma.
    • Gracie, because her surname is Fields.
    • Poison, because he's a stirrer.
    • Recall, because he has a great memory.
    • Sicknote, because he's always ill.
    • Skippy, because he's Australian
    • Vaseline, because he's a slippery womanizer.
    • Zorba, because of his Greek ancestry.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Roland Oliver Cartwright.
  • Emergency Services: London's Burning was one of a trio of long-running British emergency services dramas that emerged in the 1980s, along with The Bill and Casualty.
  • Ensemble Cast
  • Eyebrows Burned Off: This happens to Hallam in the Christmas episode "Ding Dong Merrily" when his elderly father-in-law drenches the Christmas pudding with too much brandy. Becomes a Brick Joke in the episode and results in everyone at the station singing "Ding dong merrily on high, the Sub has got no eyebrows!"
  • Firemen Are Hot: Averted. Most of the firefighters seen are just ordinary (and ordinary-looking) working men, reflecting the show's docu-drama feel.
  • Foreshadowing: Employed frequently and usually ominous. A group of men working on a building site, a child playing with matches, two kids riding the lifts, are a sure sign that something bad is about to happen.
  • Ghost Extras: Often serving members of the London Fire Brigade.
  • Happily Married: A running theme is that many of the characters are not happily married, mainly because of the strains of the job. Vaseline was divorced twice, and Josie, Bayleaf, Tony, Recall and Pearce eventually separate from their spouses. John Hallam and Sandra also have their problems. Played straighter with Bayleaf's second marriage to Claire, Sidney and Nancy Tate, and Sicknote and Jean, who stick together despite occasional marital troubles.
  • Henpecked Husband: John Hallam.
  • Heroic Fire Rescue: Lots of them.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • John Hallam, who falls to his death while trying to save a group of young women in a burning building.
    • Nick Georgiadis, who is crushed when a roof collapses on him, moments after pushing his son and girlfriend out of the way.
  • Hollywood Satanism: Geoff and Sicknote encounter a group of Satanists when they are called out to a cemetery.
  • Hostage Situation: Happens in series 1, when a trio of armed robbers hold the whole of Blue Watch hostage at Blackwall. There is another much later on when Dan and Joe are held at gunpoint at the end of a shout.
  • Hypochondria: Sicknote, who is often fretting/moaning about ulcers, headaches, rashes and his bad back.
    Charisma: If he's not moving things about, he's grinding his teeth. If he's not grinding his teeth, he's worrying that he's getting another ulcer. If he's not worrying he's getting another ulcer, he's waking me up at three o'clock in the morning to tell me his heart's stopped!
    Sicknote: My heart did stop! It stopped for several seconds, I had to get out of bed and run on the spot to get it going again! I think that's what's given me this rash!
  • Infant Immortality: Numerous children are killed over the course of the series.
  • Jerkass: Pearce, Scase, Pitbull and Technique.
  • Killed Off Screen: Vaseline. He dives into a river to rescue someone and doesn't come up again. We learn from other characters that he died.
  • The Klutz: George. Amongst other mishaps, he accidentally burns down a burger van and destroys a grand piano.
  • Laxative Prank: Occurs when Malcolm's love rival unwittingly drinks brandy spiked with horse laxative.
  • Limited Advancement Opportunities: Averted. A number of characters earn promotion over the years, including Josie Ingham and Nick Georgiadis, whose promotions take them away from Blackwall.
  • Long Runner
    • Long-Runner Cast Turnover: Cast turnover in the first eight seasons was relatively limited. Five members of Blue Watch in series 1 (1988) survived to series 8 (1995) (Bayleaf, Hallam, George, Kevin, Sicknote). However, Blue Watch got 16 new members over the next six series and by series 14 George was the Sole Survivor from series 1.
  • Love Triangle: Sally, Dan and Joe, and Sally, Mick and Frank.
  • Man on Fire: An angry husband who sets himself and his love rival on fire after dousing them both with petrol.
  • Mr. Imagination: Charisma.
  • New Meat: Colin Parrish. Naive, gullible and error prone when he first joins, he often falls victim to Blue Watch's pranks. He does eventually distinguish himself and gets more savvy. Much later, Craig Ross fills the same role.
  • Novelization: Series 1 to 7 were later novelized by writer John Burke.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: George has Kelly's overbearing mother and her two annoying brothers, who are also his Berserk Button.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Scase and, later, Griggs.
  • One Steve Limit: Played with, as all three of Vaseline's wives are called Marion.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Sicknote, Vaseline, Bayleaf, Charisma, Recall, etc. Nicknames are common in the real life Fire Brigade.
  • Pilot Movie
  • Practical Joke: Lots of them, reflecting the Real Life penchant of firefighters for playing pranks on one another. Toilets filled with foam. Brandy spiked with horse laxatives. "Losing" a fire engine. Colin was a regular target. Blue Watch successfully persuaded him that he needed permission from ACO Bulstrode to get married. He turned the tables on them by telling them the wrong honeymoon suite for his wedding night. They ended up gatecrashing the wrong couple.
  • Prematurely Bald: Sicknote. In one episode he buys a toupee and wears it at work, with amusing results.
  • Prince of Pranksters: Malcolm Cross
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: Geoff Pearce. He's also a backstabber, a gossip and a stirrer. He's nicknamed Poison for a reason.
  • Put on a Bus: Charisma, Tony, Kate, Billy, Jack and Dan all leave this way. In Charisma's case, The Bus Came Back.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Billy Ray (played by John Alford) was written out of the show after Alford was caught selling drugs to an undercover tabloid reporter, for which received a nine month prison sentence.
  • Really Gets Around: Sally Fields. Joe Walker, Dan Barrett, Frank Mooney.
  • Red Alert: When the bells go down and Blue Watch are summoned to a "shout" (emergency).
  • Retool: Happened in series 11 (1998), when a new producer arrived, three new characters were introduced, including a sexy female firefighter, and the show got a new theme tune. It happened again in series 14 (2002), when five characters were axed, four new ones introduced and the show got another theme tune. By this point it was virtually unrecognizable from its heyday.
  • Shown Their Work: An effort was made to portray the Fire Brigade realistically, helped by the fact that they enjoyed the LFB's co-operation. A scene in which Blue Watch deal with a train derailment was so realistic that it was used by the Brigade as a training video.
  • The Smurfette Principle: There is only ever one female member of Blue Watch at any one time. This reflects reality; currently, only 3.1% of operational firefighters in the UK are female. In 1986, when Josie Ingham first joined Blue Watch in the pilot movie, there were less than ten women in the London Fire Brigade.
  • Straight Gay: Hyper. Most of the watch are completely unsuspecting.
    George: How can he be gay? He likes football!
  • Team Dad: Sidney Tate.
  • Television Geography: London's Burning was set in Blackwall, East London, but much of it was filmed in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe in South London. Real locations were used, such as Rotherhithe Street, Jamaica Road, and the Rotherhithe Tunnel Roundabout. Vaseline's death was filmed at the Greenland Dock in Rotherhithe, while the city farm that Sicknote campaigned to save was the Surrey Docks Farm in Rotherhithe. Blackwall fire station was actually the real life Dockhead fire station. Leyton fire station served as Blackwall's new station in series 13 and 14.
  • Time Skip: The aftermath of the pump crash from the final episode of series 9 is never shown. The next episode begins three months later.
  • Title-Only Opening: From series 1-10. After series 11, the show got a Title Sequence.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Many examples, notably a commuter at a tube station who climbs down onto the track to retrieve the contents of his briefcase. Guess what happens next.
  • To the Batpole!: Or rather, the fire pole.
  • Unintentional Period Piece:
    • The series is set in parts of London which have now been redeveloped, especially areas of South London such as the Docklands and Rotherhithe.
    • In the pilot movie and series 1, Blue Watch wear the now very quaint-looking uniform of woollen tunics with brass buttons, yellow leggings and cork helmets. Many of the ranks used, such as Station Officer, Sub Officer and Leading Firefighter, have now been abolished in the London Fire Brigade.
  • Welcome Episode: The 1986 pilot movie serves as this, with Josie as the new member.
  • Women Are Delicate: Averted. All of Blue Watch's women are capable firefighters.
  • Written-In Absence: The absence of a character is sometimes explained in a line of dialogue, usually in the opening episode of a new series.
    Recall: Isn't it great? Kate gets transferred to Wimbledon, and we end up with Billy.
  • You Look Familiar: Ona McCracken had a recurring role as Recall's wife Laura after previously appearing in an earlier episode in a different role. This also happened a few times with minor characters.
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