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Series / 999

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Tonight on 999...

999 (also known as 999 Lifesavers and 999 International) is a British docudrama TV series that was shown on the BBC from 1992 to 2003. It was presented by the newsreader Michael Buerk and was the British equivalent to Rescue 911.

A similar, more child-friendly series called Against All Odds ran on CBBC from 2000 to 2004.

Not to be confused with Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, commonly abbreviated as 999.


This show contains examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Whenever a child had to be rescued, it was usually because no-one was watching them at the time.
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: When it wasn't showing rescues, the series went out of its way to educate the audience on how to deal with all potential dangers.
  • Bee Afraid: Attacks by bees and wasps were a common feature in the early years of the series.
  • Big Damn Heroes: It didn't always fall upon the emergency services to rescue those in peril, one of the most notable examples was the life guards and swimmer who collectively saved the life of a pre-teen girl whose hair had gotten caught in the air filter of a swimming pool jacuzzi, using a combination of underwater resuscitation and a carving knife.
  • Bitter Sweet Ending: Occasionally, one such example was the dog that barked constantly after its owner had fainted and fell off a bridge until a passerby noticed and went to get help, said dog passed away a few months later and posthumously received a life-saver award from the RSPCA.
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  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The Lifesavers variant regularly showed reconstructions in which the subjects would ask the audience how to deal with the danger one of said subjects was in with Michael Buerk providing instructions through voiceover.
  • Children Are Innocent: Consequently, when they were the ones in danger, they had no prior awareness unless they'd been warned and just ignored said warnings.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Sometimes the victims ended up in danger because they didn't recognise the potential risks their actions could lead to.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: The series emphasised that just about everything presented a potential risk to the lives of people and animals.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: Reconstructions of people and animals ending up in every conceivable dangerous situation.
  • Foreshadowing: The clips in the various opening sequences would eventually appear as parts of the reconstructions as the clip of the little girl rescued from being trapped between two walls indicated.
    • Also, before each reconstruction, Michael Buerk or Juliet Morris/Donna Bernard would speak from a location and/or pose with an item relevant to what the audience were about to see.
  • Free-Range Children: Some rescues came about as a result of children being left unattended and free to do as they pleased.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: How else would the victims end up in danger in the first place?
  • Jump Scare: Guaranteed to happen at some point, given the nature of the series as a whole, especially the common occurance of the signature three-notes that referred to the title in morse code during each episode.
  • No Animals Were Harmed: The series once staged a reconstruction of a fire in a horse barn, leading presenter Michael Buerk to add a disclaimer at the end that not only were none of the horses injured during filming, they were all trained performance animals and weren't even scared for real. (And for the record, all the animals involved in the actual fire were safely evacuated and suffered no lasting harm.)
    • In general, the series occasionally featured rescues involving animals.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Especially so when the victims were rescued from life-threatening situations.
  • Reality Ensues: Although the victims and their rescuers were all the wiser after their ordeals, some were affected worse than others. The incident listed under No One Could Survive That! for example.
  • Recurring Element:
    • Reconstructions of real-life rescues with testimonies from those involved.
    • Michael Buerk's opening line ("Tonight on 999...")
  • Scare 'Em Straight: Intentional or not, the series' main priority was to remind the audience just how easily they could end up in danger and to take all the necessary steps to avoid this.
  • Shown Their Work: The series was as good as any PSA/PIF but still occasionally showed existing PI Fs, most notably the anti-drink-driving special from 1995.
    • That same year, there was an episode featuring a mother who crashed her car into a water dike and escaped by taking steps she'd learned from watching a 1993 episode of the series in which a similar situation was featured.
    • Some of the rescues were previously shown on the televised news, allowing the use of archive footage. Others were featured in local newspapers.
    • In-between reconstructions, the emergency services and other organisations relevant to the episode would explain and demonstrate how they work and what they do as well as reminding the audience to stay safe.
  • Spiritual Predecessor: To the likes of Real Rescues, Helicopter Heroes, Close Calls On Camera, etc.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: The moment you heard the ticking clock sound effect at the beginning of the theme tune, you just knew what you were about to witness was not good.
  • Title Drop: In morse code at the end of the theme tune and Michael Buerk's signature opening line.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: After every reconstruction, the people involved would talk about how they dealt with the aftermath of their ordeals and were all the wiser as a result.

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