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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 action and drama.


Tropes seen in London's Burning include:

  • Accidental Murder: Frank Mooney beats up a man who owes money to a local gangland boss. The man later dies of his injuries.
  • 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.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Vaseline, despite being a serial liar and philanderer, he nevertheless manages to chat up a lot of women, besides his three wives. Frank Mooney seduces both Sally Fields and Shauna Callaghan.
  • Alliterative Name: George Green.
  • 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. Taken Up to Eleven in later series, when members of Blue Watch go 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.
  • The Baby Trap: George hastily marries Kelly when he learns she is pregnant, and then it turns out she isn't.
  • Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Nick Georgiadis. He initially comes across as a relentless by-the-book leader and something of a Smug Snake, 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.
    • Don't call Nick by his nickname, especially after trying to chat up his sister.
    • One (or both) of George's obnoxious brothers-in-law are liable to get punched if George is in the vicinity.
    • The normally placid Pearce completely flips when he finds Patty's sister emptying his house.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Pitbull serves up viande chevaline in a cookery contest. They all happily eat it, until Coleman points out it is horse meat.
  • Bottle Episode: An early episode in which Blue Watch are taken hostage at Blackwall by two men and a woman. They spend the remainder of the episode stuck in the station.
  • 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.
  • Callback:
    • Sidney Tate gets a few mentions. He even appears in an old black and white photograph in Bulstrode's office.
    • After Colin rashly gives chase to a fleeing criminal, Bayleaf warns him that he will "end up like Ethnic".
    • Vaseline gets mentions for up to six series after his final episode. His final mention was in series 8, where Kevin simply refers to him as "a mate of mine."
  • Car Meets House: This happens 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)
  • Cartwright Curse: Kevin Medhurst is perennially unlucky in love.
  • 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".
  • Characterization Marches On: In the TV film Sicknote is a malingerer, faking illness to do as little work as possible. During the series it is established that although he is a hypochondriac, worrying and complaining about imaginary illnesses, Sicknote is nevertheless a dedicated member of the team.
  • 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: Later episodes use very obvious CGI flames.
  • Continuity Nod: Geoff Pearce shows Hi-Ho a monument to firemen who died in the line of duty, and the graves of John Hallam, Joe Walker and Sicknote.
  • Crapsack World: For a small area of London, Blue Watch encounter a vast number of deaths, infernos, explosions and traffic pile-ups.
  • Dangerous Workplace: Six members of Blue Watch die over the course of the series, and several others are incapacitated. Not to mention all the members of the public who die in fires and other accidents in the Blackwall area.
  • Deadpan Snarker: John Hallam, Geoff Pearce and Jack Morgan among others. Sicknote's wife Jean Quigley was also a notable one for 12 series.
  • Death Glare: Jack Morgan's first encounter with Pitbull. The former says nothing, but somehow his expression can make even Pitbull quail.
  • Delivery Guy: Pearce does it twice.
  • 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.
  • Dumb Blonde: Dozy Rosie the station cleaner.
  • 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.
    • Hi Ho, because his surname is Silver.
    • 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 First Name: Roland 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
  • Extremely Short Timespan: In the space of a few episodes, Billy Ray is arrested for murder, charged, put on trial, acquitted and back on duty.
  • 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!"
  • False Teeth Tomfoolery: Blue Watch steal the dentures of a rival watch's Station Officer, in retaliation for their garden gnome mascot being kidnapped.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Numerous people are burned alive, a window cleaner is impaled on railings, one elderly woman is decapitated, and a boy suffers a gruesome death while riding the lifts.
  • 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:
    • Ethnic, who is killed by rioters after saving Charisma's life.
    • 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!
  • Hypocritical Humour: One one occasion when Pearce rants against his fellow Watch members when they ask about the whereabouts of his wife. It may not be intended as a humorous moment, since it's a bit of an emotional one for Pearce himself (he and his wife are separated and in the process of getting divorced). But given the man's own history of unpleasantness to the others, spreading gossip and prying into their lives, it's hard not to laugh at some of this:
    "There's none of you got anything to be proud about, y'know! Your lives are a shambles! When you're not screwing around, you're rowing and arguing - you've got the morals of a bunch of savages! SO HOW DARE YOU QUESTION ME ABOUT MY PRIVATE LIFE? At least I try to be respectable, mind my own business and do my job!...What have you got against me, eh? Eh? What've I ever done to you? From the moment I walked into this place, I've been made to feel unwelcome here! 'Watch out, here comes Poison' - what's that supposed to mean, eh?"
  • Infant Immortality: Numerous children are killed over the course of the series.
  • Jerkass: Pearce, Scase, Pitbull, Technique. Also Patti Pearce.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Vaseline, after being a racist and sexist bigot in the movie and a womanizing rogue for the first two series, shows a warm, paternal side when babysitting his newborn son which makes his death later in the same episode even sadder.
    • Jack Morgan is short-tempered and moody, often to the point of defying orders from senior officers, but he is a very caring and loving father to his 11-year-old son Stephen. He also has a Dark and Troubled Past that makes his attitude understandable to some extent.
  • Karma Houdini: Pitbull never truly gets his comeuppance for being a nasty bully and general jerkass.
  • 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.
  • The London Underground: In one episode, Blue Watch deal with an accident at a tube station.
  • 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.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Averted by a man who has his genitals trapped in a curtain ring.
  • Man on Fire: A lot of examples, including an angry husband who sets himself and his love rival on fire after dousing them both with petrol.
  • Misplaced Retribution: Bayleaf suffers this in Series 6 after crashing the pump ladder into a car. The accident was unavoidable, as he had to swerve to avoid a dangerously-driven motorbike, but he receives harassing phone calls from the relatives of those injured in the crash, and has to face a full court trial before being finally acquitted.
  • Mistaken for Racist: Averted by Pitbull, who really does make a racist comment to Two Tone.
  • Mr. Imagination: Charisma.
  • My Local: The SAS and the Ship Aground.
  • 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.
  • Nice Guy: Bayleaf is by far one of the most sympathetic and good-natured characters. Recall can also be argued to fit this trope.
  • 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 Dialogue, Two Conversations: Josie and Bayleaf have one:
    Bayleaf: How did it go?
    Josie: How did what go?
    Bayleaf: The shout.
    Josie: Oh, we helped rescue some bird.
    Bayleaf: Oh, let me guess, broken love affair, right?
    Josie: What?
    Bayleaf: Well, nine times out of ten that's what it is, with birds.
    Josie: What are you talking about?
    Bayleaf: Women jumpers.
    Josie: This wasn't a woman, it was a bird, called Clive!
    Bayleaf: What? You mean like a transvestite?
    Josie: No, I mean like a parrot!
    Bayleaf: Can we start this conversation again?
  • One Steve Limit: Played for Laughs with Vaseline's three wives, who are all called Marion. To his dismay a nurse he tries to chat up during a hospital stay is also called Marion.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Sicknote, Vaseline, Bayleaf, Charisma, Recall, etc. Nicknames are common in the real life Fire Brigade.
  • Pilot Movie
  • Playing Sick: Technique does this constantly, and uses his time on sick leave to moonlight in other jobs. Eventually he gets caught and is thrown out of the Brigade.
  • 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.
  • Rape as Drama: Sally Fields is raped by another firefighter.
  • 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, who has relationships with Joe Walker, Dan Barrett and Frank Mooney, and almost has one with Mick Callaghan too.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    Bulstrode: You could make a beehive look like a bunch of wandering hippies with your managerial mania!
  • Red Alert: When the bells go down and Blue Watch are summoned to a "shout" (emergency).
  • Retcon: Bert and Jean Quigley had children, and then they didn't.
  • 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.
  • Ruritania: Blue Watch are called to a fire at the Crajovan embassy.
  • Serenade Your Lover: George does this for Julia, with a little help from Sicknote.
  • 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.
  • Silly Song: Hallam has a few sung about him: "Ding dong merrily on high, the Sub has got no eyebrows!" (after his eyebrows are singed off at Christmas), and "Have you seen the y-front man?" and "There's lipstick all over my y-fronts!" (after his mate rubs lipstick over John's underpants for his wife to find)
  • 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.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: After Vaseline's death, Marion I is revealed to be pregnant.
  • 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.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted by John Hallam, who does see a therapist when he is traumatised after being buried alive on a shout.
  • 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.
  • Wedding Day: Vaseline and Marion III (interrupted by Marion II). Colin and Zoe. Geoff and Fiona.
  • Welcome Episode: The 1986 pilot movie serves as this, with Josie as the new member.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Bayleaf and Josie.
  • 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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