Keep Calm, Carry On, Dispose Bomb

Have you heard about this great period British T.V. series? It’s about class divisions and war, and there’s romance, too. I got so caught up in it one night I watched the final episode instead of reading the last ten pages of Mockingjay. And...it’s not Downtown Abbey.

Danger UXB aired on British T.V. in 1979, then later in America on Masterpiece Theatre. It takes place in Blitz-era England, where the inexperienced Lieutenant Brian Ash leads his ragtag company of Royal Engineers as they disarm unexploded German bombs (the titular UXBs.) It’s a nail-bitingly inexact science of hunches and luck. Likable, established characters blow up.

Ash’s men do the dirty work, digging and hauling, but Ash, as an officer, does the dirtiest work of all; it’s up to him to tap and prod the UXB’s fuse just so, often while in mud up to his knees or dangling from ladders propped against burning buildings. A tiny misjudgement of pressure or time could obliterate him. After the satisfaction of not dying, the men head back to their dreary barracks, while Ash kicks back some gentlemanly tipple in the relative comfort of the officer’s club and alternately broods over and delights in his affair with a married woman.

As with many British television series, Danger UXB had an intentionally short run (just one season), and while it takes its time establishing very human dramas, it also doesn’t namby-pamby about: thirteen episodes and boom, it’s over. Anthony Andrews’ Ash is hapless, cocksure, capable, and adorable all at once (you may recognize him from his pitch-perfect Sebastian in the 1981 television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited). Alas, just as in the conclusion of the Hunger Games trilogy (yes, I finished it), even surviving the gory losses of war brings no truly happy endings for Ash and the men in his section. The damage is done. And there’s something very immediate to see an English-speaking country that’s the front of a war. This didn’t happen so long ago, really. This could be us again.