In our complete avoidance of what is being offered in the way of American-produced broadcast and cable TV series, the Daughter Unit and I are ransacking the various streaming services for serial diversion of an evening: series old and new, new to us, or perhaps something old, something that we vaguely recall watching a good while ago and thought that it was worth another round. Last week our choice hit on the 1979 series Danger UXB – which came out the year before my daughter was born and featured a practically teen-aged-appearing Anthony Andrews. (Although he was nearly thirty at the time and seemed to be almost ubiquitous in those British TV series which appeared on Masterpiece Theater in that era. The Daughter Unit loved the 1982 version of the Scarlet Pimpernel, where he co-starred with Jane Seymour. She practically wore my copy of that series on videotape to bits.)

On the whole, the Danger UXB series holds up very well. The ‘look’ of the sets, the costumes and hairstyles (which almost always give away the era in which a series or movie is produced) are impeccable, as we came to expect of those programs exported from Britain to the US at that time. There is no racial ret-conning, wherein members of officially-recognized minority groups are shoe-horned into a historical setting regardless of the likelihood of such persons having been present at that time and place. There is a British Navy officer from Australia in one episode to do with defusing an errant shallow-water mine dropped mistakenly into suburbia – that’s about as far as that kind of character-casting situation goes.
We were startled anew at how the bomb disposal experts of that day went about that uber-risky job in basically their ordinary uniforms. Not a shred of body armor, shielding no more than a row of sandbags – and nothing more sophisticated tech-wise than a stethoscope, and numerous lengths of string … we were a bit relieved in one of the later episodes where they had a jury-rigged a cord-and-frame device to extract the bomb fuse from a relatively safe distance. This instead of pulling it out with a pair of pliers or something – this tactic alone disposed of half a dozen guest stars in the series’ early episodes. I got a bit weepy about the death of Corporal Salt, though – he with the weakness regarding women in distress. Yes, the toxic masculinity was strong in that one.
And we both agreed – that Sgt. James was at least as much as a hero as the ostensible Lieutenant Ash. He alone held the section together, through thick (flying chunks of building and human body parts) and thin (rations and consideration from the higher echelons.) Sgt. James managed to be unsinged/uninjured by inconsiderate German bombs until quite late in the series. There is a long, elaborate service joke to this effect, wherein other services have their officers (usually from a safe distance, but not always) exhort their enlisted members to greater glory, but the Air Force NCO/enlisted ground crew member wishes his officer pilot the best of luck in his endeavors in air combat. There was another nod to the efficient utility of the NCO – an episode wherein the NCO corps manages to scrounge a length of special cable to rotate the aforementioned naval mine without setting off the darned thing and taking out a considerable urban neighborhood. One of the corporals has a friend – a friend in a balloon barrage unit – who can provide the required cable, no questions asked, or at least, none which really matter. Yes; that is the way that the NCO underground economy operates. The NCO network is one wherein the members of that tight little group have considerable discretion and physical control over essential elements of the military machine. A military unit – no matter what the official organizational charts indicate – has these spider-web fragile personal NCO to NCO webs all over it.
A good series, well-worth the revisit. And that was my week – yours?

22 thoughts on “TV Break – DANGER UXB”

  1. I am reading a new series that is quickly becoming a favorite. It is called “The Earl’s Other Son,” and is a series centering on a young nobleman who is a second son and impecunious and who is in the British Navy about 1896. The character has had a bit of a disgrace, being caught en flagrante with a young lady who was all too willing but too public.

    The author is English and has another series of book. His writing reminds men a bit of WEB Griffin who wrote a long series of novels about the military which were very well researched.

    Butterworth (Griffin) died a week or so ago and there will be no more. The other fiction I read is by Bernard Cornwell.

  2. Interesting so sort of a flashman or Jack Aubrey in late
    Victorian times, now the boxer rebellion is some 4 years away so will he visit Sudan in light of omdurman

  3. Yes this mash in the early days of the CIA, technically SSu is largely hit and miss butterworth was kind of a real life flashman character himself only as a paratrooper.

  4. Wareham was trained as an economic historian, out he became an police officer and trainer in above all places Papua new Guinea, before turning to fiction.

  5. I’ll have to see if that is on Netflix. I just joined Amazon Prime and between the 2 of them I never need to go back to antenna TV. 2 series I am re-watching on Amazon are Deadwood and Battlestar Gallactica (the remake, of course).

    Great writing and acting.

  6. I read the book many years ago but I can’t tell which came first. Sounds like the TV show didn’t include Ash’s affair with the (married) daughter of a man who enginners BD equipment.

  7. Have been binge watching the original Stargate series on Amazon Prime, having finished Stargate Atlantis. Yeah, backwards. What else do expect from the likes of me, eh?

  8. I also enjoyed _Reilly, Ace of Spies_ starring Sam Neill in that era, and my dad and I used to watch the Alec Guinness version of _Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy_ each new years…

  9. Miles, it’s on Acorn TV – and yes, it does include the arc of Lt. Ash’s affair with Susan, the married woman. A major part of the plot in the last half of the series.

  10. Andrews was also wonderful in “Brideshead Revisited”, made about the same time. The show also had Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, Jeremy Irons, Diana Quick, and several other lesser know but excellent actors. I highly recommend it.

  11. A real UXB guy was an American named Draper Kauffman. He graduated from the US Naval Academy in the thirties but was not commissioned due to non-stellar grades and the need for eyeglasses. When war broke out, he went to France and volunteered to be an ambalance driver. He was captured by the Germans but released since the US was not a belligerent at that time. He went over to England and joined the Wavey Navy or the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves. His claim to fame as a UXBer is that he discovered how to deactivate the German booby trap with the light sensitive exploding device. He did it in the dark by feel only. Later while back in the US on leave his father, Admiral Kauffman, heard the word go around the Navy Department for an officer with explosive ordnance demolition experience. Within a day or so he was transferred back to the USN as a full lieutenant and tagged to run the first BUD, Basic Underwater Demolition, school. He has been referred to as the nation’s first frogman. Navy SEAL training today starts with BUD school. Later assignments included being the Naval Academy Superentant as a Rear Admiral in the mid-60s.

  12. I second Leo’s Reilly, Ace of Spies recommendation. I also recommend To Serve Them All My Days. It was a 1980 series based on an R. F. Delderfield novel starring John Duttine. Duttine plays David Powlett-Jones, a Welsh WWI trench war veteran who’s been shaken by his combat experiences and lost hist rah-rah spirit. He ends up in a boys’ school trying to rebuild his nerves and learn to be a teacher. Very good stuff.

  13. I think the UK & Ireland were having a mini-television renaissance in the lat 70’s – early 80’s.

    Other recommended series from that period:

    Cribb – A Metropolitan Police detective in 1880’s London who’s involved in some of the significant historical events of the period.

    The Irish R. M. – The story of a retired Royal Army Major who becomes a Resident Magistrate in Ireland and is outwitted at every turn by the locals when trying to enforce the law.

  14. Dad was still active duty Army Corps of Engineers when UXB came out.
    It was MUST SEE TV in our house. He would get up and kneel down close to the TV and watch the mechanics of the defusing process.
    He had been an instructor at the ACE’s demolition and mine warfare school back in the ’60s.
    The entire series rated “damn good” in his professional opinion.

  15. I second Leo’s Reilly, Ace of Spies recommendation

    I “third” it. I thought of all the TV and movie portrayals of spies, this seemed the most accurate. The streaming services have so much good stuff the Networks are pretty much forgotten. Don’t have Acorn, though.

  16. yes I remember reilly, of course sam neill was not well cast if one was looking to be accurate polish Russian, but he fit the image of the pre bond, which ian fleming modeled his heroes upon, he was the british version of howard hunt, if one wanted an American analogue, re our own keystone cops handling of revolutions, of course there is a link to the present day, somewhat, reilly was nabbed because he went looking for savinkov the former social revolutionary and secretary of war, who was the leader of the political wing of the anti Bolshevik struggle, he had been lured back by a supposed resistance network which transliterates to the Trust, which had been fronted by a ex white Russian officer, but ultimately controlled by Dzerzhinsky, both should have known better, a similar trick had been put forward by a Latvian political leader named barzin he was also a dupe, savinkov returned to Russia, was captured and in due course, so was reilly who died in the lubyanka, around 1925, this is shortly after the Zinoviev letter, that the british foreign office had conjured up, a sort of ‘dossier’. Reilly did live long enough according to apocryphal accounts to inform the cheka about details in the secret service, that they used to entice kim Philby,

  17. To each their own, but there’s been a lot of really really good stuff coming out of Canada, lately. Often it winds up on Sy Fy, and even other cable channels. but … right now there is some great stuff.

    Note: Frankly, I’ve found Bryan Fuller to be an excellent indicator of a great show. Shows he’s associated with have “§”.

    “Ended” series include
    Dark Matter (excellent, but ended without completion, just a warning)
    Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (same as Dark Matter)
    Orphan Black
    Sense8 (strong sexuality, very in-keeping with modern sexual mores, but it fits with the identity-question SF elements — an co-effort by Babylon 5 creator JMS + the Wachovskis)

    Other ongoing
    §American Gods
    Anne w/an ‘E’ (1st season excellent. Heard the second got preachy/lecturing, so have not yet watched it)
    §Legion (very surreal. takes time to get a feel for what is actually happening and why)
    The Expanse (probably THE best hard SF series ever made. No special technologies [e.g., Warp/FTL drives, artificial gravity],
    ———————- just humans in all their complexity — better than Firefly, Babylon 5, or ST:DS9)
    §Star Trek: Discovery (people complain because it’s revising canon, but, meh. It’s still very well done)

    Some other older series, not necessarily Canadian
    The Shield
    §Dead Like Me
    §Pushing Daisies (excellent, but ended without completion, just a warning)
    Carnivale (excellent, but ended without completion, just a warning)

    These should keep you busy for a while.

  18. Let me add a recommend for a show from the 90’s called “Heat of the Sun”. Set in the 1930’s, about a Scotland Yard detective who upsets the wrong people in London and is sent to Kenya to work in the Colonial police there. Very good cast, very well done, good view of the setting and lifestyle of pre-WW2 British Africa.

  19. I’ve been watching stuff off “MHz Network”, which imports old European TV shows, mostly cop/detective. It’s broadcast on a local PBS channel; also on an Amazon Video subchannel. It’s all subtitled, but still quite accessible.

    My current favorite is Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie, a French series of adaptations of Christie classics. The setting is France in the 1950s (very well done) and the detective and supporting characters are entirely new French people. But the plot devices are carried over faithfully, and the running characters are amusing.

    MHz gets a lot of programs from Scandinavia. One surprising thing about these is the amount of dialogue spoken in English. For instance, Swedish narcs bust an Estonian drug courier: they yell “Freeze! Police!” Then they negotiate with the guy to lead them to his boss, both sides speaking English.

    Older shows: “Inspector Rex”, about a Vienna police detective with a very smart dog; “Don Matteo”, about a small-town priest who solves crimes with the local cops, who have silly personal lives.

    I tried watching a few recent US shows, but they kept getting stupid.

  20. The mines seemed to be deliberately used as a land weapon, since the squad wasn’t surprised to see it and the naval officer had the equipment for it.

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