Secret History

Tue 28/9/99, Channel 4
Audience: 3.17m (13th) BARB

Killer Fog

Killer Fog Once again the series that delves into little known events in our history comes up with something both interesting and alarming. In December 1952 a fog descended on London and stayed for five days - by the time it cleared 4000 people were dead or dying and estimates put the total death toll over the next few months at as many as 12000. Of course fog in London was nothing new - Conan Doyle had written of it, Monet came especially to paint it and as early as the 1400s people had died from it. What is startling to hear is that fog is not a natural enemy of the city - air pollution has almost always been the cause of the thick yellow smoke that invaded it and other British cities. Although the government played down the death toll and dismissed the problem as weather, there were many man-made causes. Londoners were keen on coal fires, and as the country was virtually bankrupt following the war, the best coal was being exported leaving the inferior smoky coal for domestic use. Three new power stations had just been built in the heart of the city. And finally tram-cars had just been replaced by thousands of diesel burning buses. By 1961 when clean air policies had introduced smokeless zones in the city the worst of the pollution was over. However as a chilling footnote we were reminded that 180 deaths were attributed to air pollution in one day in 1991... ****

Secret History

(21/9/99) Miracle on the River Kwai was a moving account of the way doctors and orderlies saved the lives of many of the World War II prisoners who fell sick in the work camps of the notorious Death Railway in Burma and Thailand. In appalling conditions and with no surgical or medical supplies, tropical diseases were overcome, amputations were performed and even blood transfusions were made, mainly by the ingenuity of the medical staff to do what they could with what they had. A broken bicycle was used to seperate serum from blood, needles were made from bamboo, vitamin foods were fermented by adding healthy spit to rotting fruit. Even brain surgery was successfully attempted. Despite this thousands died, and one of the vital roles of the staff was to keep spirits up by performing silly caberet shows. Three orderlies travelled back to the site of the camps to tell the story, and to visit the garden of rememberance. As one said the heartbreaking thing was that most of the lads who died were barely out of school and had never had the chance to blow a fiver on a good night out. However thanks to these men, and others, at least some did return home. *****
Audience: 2.19m (25th) BARB

[Something For the Weekend - Spaced - Stars In Their Eyes - Starting Out]

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1999 Alan J. Stuart All rights reserved