Sunday 8pm – 9pm, BBC4
Notwithstanding the clear failure to address the morality or dire consequences of nuclear weapons, this documentary provides a fascinating insight into the 1950’s and the UK’s race to develop the devastating weapons that would perch the country onto the top nuclear table. Not only is it the story of the technological development of ‘Operation Grapple X’; the British Military’s first detonation of a megaton hydrogen bomb in 1957 that created the nuclear deterrent. It is the story of global mind games, politics and military might. As with every story though, the devil is in the detail.
The programme features remarkable footage of the Operation’s progress, showing bomb tests over the remote Christmas Islands. It also features interviews with the scientists and veterans who took part, who reveal a whole lot about the era, with some bits that perhaps the government wish they hadn’t. Some of these gents have not seen each other for years given the secretive nature of what they were doing and through jovial reunions they tell of their parts to play, which sounds bizarrely hap-hazard in places! The reunification of old friends is fascinating to see, their joviale and spirited engagement reveals long lost friendships, seemingly oblivious to the devastation that their knowledge and application could unleash.
Viewers will be shocked to hear how a broken-down Vauxhall carrying priceless blocks of plutonium rolled to a stop outside a South London pub, or perhaps even more alarmingly, former RAF pilot Reg Milne reveals how Dorking was nearly bombed when a dummy payload worked loose from its mounts and only the bomb bay doors prevented disaster. Reg further reveals he had to jettison his load into the Thames Estuary, nearly drowning several fisherman with the subsequent splash. We also hear of crucial roles in the nuclear race played by old paint tubes, loose wires, twin bombs called “Tom and Dick” and even contraptions made from tea chests!
Expertly presented by Jim Al-Khalili, the science is explained in a way that we will all understand. His brilliant presentation and knowledge of physics is engaging. Viewers may recognise him from many science-based shows, such as Science and Islam, The Science of Dr Who and Britain’s Nuclear Secrets: Inside Sellafield.
Whilst the topic may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the story is fascinating and well worth a watch.
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