When I was growing up there was a great deal of conflict in the relationship I had with my father. Since we were incapable of having conversations with each other, movies and television usually became our common ground. He would always try to get me to sit down with him to watch something on PBS, and often I would begrudgingly sit down with him and sit through whatever program he wanted me to watch with him. Because I tended to be resistant and combative, I usually sat there for however long the show was on and then get up and walk away, making sure he knew from my body language that I wasn't happy about it. There were those times when these efforts of his worked out, times where my resistance wore down because I ended up enjoying the show he insisted I watch.
One of those shows was Danger UXB, a British series that originally aired in 1979, a series that for thirteen weeks found me looking forward to my PBS time with my father. Thanks to the magic of those people at Netflix I was recently able to relive the experience over a two week period through the four DVD set of the 13 episode series. Thirty years later I still found myself drawn in, caught up in the stories, and at times on the edge of my seat, as they say on television.
Danger UXB is the story of a London military bomb disposal unit from the early days of the London Blitz until the last days of World War II. It provides a very historically accurate picture of the methods, dangers and stresses of the men who worked in these units rather than going off on tangents of dramatic contrivance.
Anthony Andrews stars in the lead role as Lieutenant Brian Ash, who starts out raw and naive, pulled out of his pursuit of a civil engineering degree and assigned to a bomb disposal unit, skipping any officer training, which they tended to do at the time because bomb disposal types didn't usually have very long lifespans. There isn't much in the way of bomb disposal training either, as there is a kind of trial and error system at work in the early days of The Blitz. There were too many unexploded bombs lying around, many of them in very sensitive locations, and there weren't enough people available to deal with them.
The series delves not only into the work and personal life of Brian Ash, but also into the lives of the men in his unit, and their job is mostly it is to dig through dirt, mud and sewage all day to unearth the bombs for the officers to defuse. The bombs, you see, don't usually sit on the ground. From the heights they were dropped and their weight, they often sunk many feet down into the ground, making it fun for everyone.
"Delegate, Brian. Delegate."
The series follows the progress of the bomb disposal units throughout the war. The early days of trial and error lead to the great error made in publicizing the efforts of the bomb disposal units, which led to the Germans booby trapping bombs to kill those who were dealing with them. The story follows the real evolution of bomb types and fuse types as the war progresses and quite a few of the main characters are blown up along the way.
"No bloody blue dot."
The stories of the men in the unit, reluctant working class heroes, are told without resorting to the devices of overblown heroism that are so often used in war dramas. They all feel very real, each with their strengths and weaknesses, and some with tragic faults. The tale of Sapper Jack Salt is one to keep your eye on from the beginning, as his story's evolution is one you find yourself wanting to go back to beginning on because later on you'll realize you weren't paying close enough attention. The performer and comedian who joins the unit in the middle of the series is another interesting story, one you expect to turn tragic because of his complete inability to take anything seriously and his cavalier attitude. Watch for him at the end the second to last episode, which will be long after you've stopped noticing him, even though he never went anywhere.
The series was made on a low budget, something that is most obvious from the opening sequence and the credits. Once you get over this, it actually tends to make you feel as if it were filmed during World War II rather than the late 1970s. Since they film at actual bombed out locations in London there is a certain realism that would have been destroyed by big budget gadgetry anyway.
If you find military history, World War II, or shit blowing up in old school fashion to be your cup of tea, you definitely won't be disappointed.