The Year London Blew Up: 1974, Channel 4

by | Sep 1, 2005 | All, Reviews

What to say if you liked it

Edmund Coulthard and Mark Hayhurst provide a textbook example of how to make a docudrama about recent history – a forensic chronicle of the IRA’s bombing campaign in London in a bid to get troops out of Northern Ireland

What to say if you disliked it

Another bloody list show from Channel 4, this time featuring some of the IRA’s greatest hits

What was good about it?

• The tense recreation of the Balcombe Street Siege – sparked after a PC on the street jumped into a cab and shouted “Follow that car” – when terrorists were holed up in a tiny flat for a week with terrified residents Sheila and John Matthews. To pass the time, the IRA men played records from the Matthews’ collection, including Engelbert Humperdinck’s Please Release Me, while the Met Police’s Peter Imbert made it up as he went along with the negotiations, Sheila’s sisters fretted ( “She suffered wth her nerves,” they said as they articulated their memories brilliantly) and Jon Snow, a rookie reporter at the time, could not bring himself to leave the scene, fearing he’d miss the climax.

• The tiny little details provided in the testimony of the victims: the memory that Kung Fu Fighting was on the jukebox when a Guildford pub was blown apart; the man who’d had part of his leg blown off being more concerned about the loss of hearing in one ear, depriving him of the pleasure of listening in stereo to Vivaldi’s concerto for two trumpets; the bus inspector being rather bemused about being kidnapped because the terrorists throught he was a bomb squad cop; the PC who chased the four armed IRA men despite being at a huge disadvantage: “We weren’t armed. In fact we didn’t even have a truncheon between us.”

• The reconstructions melded seamlessly with the archive footage

• David Morrissey’s calm narration, using a script that filled in all the necessary details without ever getting sensational (apart from one flaw: a jarring comparison to the Wild West). Parallels were quietly drawn with the recent London bombings which make the IRA campaign seem like the good old days.

• The bizzare but effective use of The Carpenters’ pleasant Please Mr Postman during a sequence on the IRA’s pillar box bombs

What was bad about it?

• The terrorists were never shown talking about why they were on their killing campaign or reacting to the bloodshed they’d caused

• The title: not only is it hyperbolic but it’s also innacurate seeing as the programme featured bombings in 1974 and 1975

• The scenes showing the release of the men behind the reign of terror as part of the Good Friday Agreement was shocking in light of what we’d just experienced

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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