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Series / Danger: UXB

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A 1979 ITV series about the activities of a Bomb Disposal unit in Britain during World War II.

Lieutenant Brian Ash (Anthony Andrews) is a newly-commissioned officer assigned to 97 Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers. He is shocked to find his job involves the defusing of UXB's (unexploded bombs), a task he must carry out with only rudimentary training. Even as the unit gains experience and better equipment becomes available, their German opponents are continually adapting the bombs to make them more difficult to defuse.

The series contains the following tropes:

  • Anyone Can Die
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Many of the bomb-disposal devices, at least on first appearance. The fuse extractor can only be used on level ground (the bomb is stuck in a wall halfway up a building). The clockstopper is an enormous magnet that stops the timer but not the spring-loaded Booby Trap. The steam sterilizer is too big for the section lorry and vibrates constantly. In the final episode they're using a primitive metal detector and assume it'll be unreliable too, especially as it's detecting a bomb where there's no impact crater. Turns out it's detecting a bomb that fell early in the war but was not reported.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Susan tells Ash that she fell in Love at First Sight with him. Ash responds that he thought she was "annoyingly bossy" (not that Ash didn't give her reason to be annoyed at him).
  • Bittersweet Ending: Surprisingly Ash is still alive at the end of the series, and has been transferred away from Bomb Disposal, but his prospects are poor as a disabled veteran with no relevant skills in the civilian world. There are hopeful indications however that he'll be able to get on with his life with the support of his wife and friends.
  • Black Widow: Elspeth in "Dead Letter". Her husband and previous lovers have all been killed in action, and she romances Ash knowing full well he's likely to get killed too, refusing the attentions of another suitor in a safe occupation. Ash accepts her advances even though it's suggested she might be jinxed.
  • British Brevity: Only one series of 13 episodes.
  • Bomb Whistle: The characters comment it on at least the first two episodes. The first episode has a whistle without a corresponding explosion, claimed to be some delay action bomb. The second episode mentions that there's a special vane to make the whistle louder.
  • Booby Trap: The anti-handling device, designed to kill bomb disposal teams. The sophistication of such devices advance as the war goes on, with boffins like Dr Gillespie constantly struggling to keep up.
  • The Casanova: Ivor Rodgers. Ash consults him on the best place to take a married woman on a date and Rodgers congratulates Ash on his good sense. "At your age there is no more dangerous sport than deflowering debutantes."
  • Character Class System: Enlisted ranks do the dirty work of digging down to buried bombs or moving debris, but it is the Officers' task to do the actual defusing.
    • Showcased in one episode where some of the enlisted men go off on their own to save a trapped woman in danger from a UXB and generally make a hash of the whole process winding up lucky not to have been killed.
    • Inverted in "Butterfly Winter" where the sheer number of bomblets needing to be dealt with requires even the lower ranks to be given basic training to help in disposing them.
  • Cool Car: Ash's MG.
  • Distant Reaction Shot: Whenever a bomb goes off.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: An In-Universe example occurs in "A Quiet Weekend". Ash and his married Love Interest Susan Mount slip off to a country hotel for an illicit affair. The nervous couple break down in giggles at the sight of a painting of a rampant stag.
  • Don't Ask, Just Run: Ash is working with a naval officer to defuse a parachute-dropped mine. He's told that if he hears the fuze running, he's to run like hell. Being an Officer and a Gentleman, Ash refuses to leave the other man behind, causing him to snap, "Don't be a bloody fool! When I say run, you run!" The reason is the naval officer will be running as well, and Ash hesitating means that he'll get in his way and get them both killed.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Cpl Salt is always willing to help a Damsel in Distress, which eventually leads to his death.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: A sapper screams when he encounters a rat, just when Ash is about to defuse a bomb designed to blow up at the slightest touch.
  • The End... Or Is It?: In "Butterfly Winter" hundreds of anti-personnel bomblets are scattered over a village and the entire unit has to take part in disposing of them. As the unit drives away at the end of the episode, a bomblet they've missed is shown hanging from a tree above the road.
  • Ensign Newbie: Every officer by default at the beginning of the war, as there's no training or experience in bomb disposal available. Furthermore there's no point wasting Sandhurst-trained officers on a job that will get them killed in a few weeks, so bomb disposal officers are just promoted up from the ranks.
  • A Father to His Men: Major Luckhurst. Ivor Rodgers takes on this persona after he's promoted to command of the unit.
  • Gallows Humour: Rodgers is a master.
    "The Coffin Makers Worst Customer Club: We have graves but no bodies."
  • Got Volunteered: Everyone assumes you have to volunteer for such dangerous work. They're wrong.
  • Heroic BSoD: A mine he's defusing goes off in Ash's face, and though he survives his psychological problems are likely to continue for years afterward.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • The authorities have made no preparations for bomb disposal whatsoever, originally telling police and air raid wardens to just pile up UXB's somewhere out of the way.
    • Major Luckhurst notes that someone was trying to sell the plans of German detonators to the British authorities before the war, but no-one was interested.
    • Ash tries to free the detonator from a bomb stuck halfway up a brick wall by kicking it — causing it to fall thirty feet to the ground. He gets strips torn off him by his CO, especially since the building it was stuck in was useless to the war effort.
  • If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: Ash finds himself being issued with the uniform and billet of the last man killed.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: In "Just Like a Woman" audience tension is created when a kid sneaks off to look at the bomb being defused, but when it goes off he suffers no major injuries despite having a hut collapse on him.
  • Kill It with Ice: The Y detonator has a mercury switch which detonates if the bomb is moved, so Dr Gillespie suggests using liquid oxygen to neutralise the battery long enough for the detonator to be removed. Needless to say Ash is the one who has to put this theory to the test.
  • Mad Scientist: Lampshaded with Dr Gillespie who is building a Heath Robinson Machine in his backyard for steaming explosives out of bombs. He even has a Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter in Susan Mount (who is distinctly unamused when she overhears Ash describe her this way). However the steam sterilizer is the only available means of bypassing a booby-trapped detonator, so Gillespie, Susan and Ash have to work together to solve its teething problems.
  • The Neidermeyer: Captain Francis chews out Ash for burning toast, purely because he's jealous of a magazine article that Ash appeared in (under orders from his superiors). He also fails to train Ash despite being Training Officer, leaving him to pick up everything from his sergeant. When Francis becomes OC of the unit, he starts making Ash's life miserable in surrogate revenge for invokedhis own wife having an affair with a young officer.
  • Never Found the Body: Because there's usually nothing left to find.
  • Oh, Crap!: Several of these, usually along the lines of "It's started ticking", "We have to move the bomb to get at the fuse" or "It's that new type that's blown up anyone who's tried to defuse it so far."
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Ash very much acts this trope, even though his family is middle-class and he's never been to a military academy.
  • Really Gets Around: Norma Baker, who gets turned on by the danger of air raids and sleeps with any lodger who's willing.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: A bomb disposal officer is killed in the opening scene. Ash is his replacement with a life expectancy of only seven weeks.
  • Sergeant Rock: Sergeant James
  • Screw The War, We're Partying: "The Silver Lining" has an unexploded bomb drop in a notorious strip club. The men assigned to digging out the bomb help themselves to the food and booze lying around; it also turns out one of the girls slept through the whole commotion. Unfortunately her rendition of the Fan Dance is interrupted by the return of Sergeant James, who isn't fooled by their hasty disposal of the evidence.
  • The Scrounger: Corporal Mould, the mess orderly. Sapper Wilkins from Ash's section.
  • The So-Called Coward: Conscientious objector John Brinkley, who gets roughed up by one of the sappers on his arrival at the unit. Brinkley later becomes a bomb disposal officer and gets blown up in front of the sapper who assaulted him; the latter breaks down in hysterics.
  • The Squad: 347 Section, Ash's command.
  • Stock Footage: Used for the opening credits, including a Creation Sequence of (presumably German) bombs being manufactured.
    • Thames had produced the comprehensive WWII documentary series The World at War a few years previously, so it's reasonable to assume they used the same stock sources for the opening titles.
  • Time Bomb: The Germans discovered during the Spanish Civil War that bombs which failed to explode caused more disruption and fear than those that blew up right away, so the Type 17 bombs have time-delay detonators that can explode days later.
  • Truth in Television: The Nazis really did invent several types of booby-trapped detonators that were designed to kill the UXB officers trying to disarm them.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot / Stress Vomit: Ash throws up in a back garden flower bed after defusing his first bomb.
  • Wartime Wedding: One of which is a Shotgun Wedding as well.