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The Thatcher years: Spitting Image, the Brighton bomb, Live Aid and the Sinclair C5

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1980: Midnight's Children published

Salman Rushdie won the Booker Prize for this tale of children born on the stroke of midnight the day that India gained its independence.

1980: Bullseye!

The British pub meets the game show in this first airing of Bullseye, where contestants have to play darts, among other things, to win prizes. All of which are famously naff.

10 Oct 1980: "The lady's not for turning"!

Margaret Thatcher gives one of her most famously defiant speeches, defining her image as the "Iron Lady". She was refusing to do a U-turn on the tough counter-inflationary policies of the Tory Party at that time.

01 Jan 1981: Adrian Mole's first diary entry

Sue Townsend's (fictional) book The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4, was published in 1982.

1981: Black Cultural Archives established

This archive is established by a group of educationalists, writers and other interested individuals who are concerned about the lack of historical documentation and social data about the black experience in Britain. A fantastic resource in Kennington, London.

04 Apr 1981: "Making Your Mind Up"

The Bucks Fizzgirls get their skirts ripped off and win the Eurovision Song Contest. Unusually for an English Eurovision winner, this is the start of a huge pop career for the group.

10 Apr 1981: Brixton race riots rage, two days

Brixton is set ablaze and more than 400 are injured during clashes between black youths and police. The unrest was sparked by the arrest of a young black man, and the riots do bring about reconsideration of the hated "SUS" laws, under which suspects can be arrested for loitering with intent.

11 May 1981: Cats opens in London

Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical based on TS Eliot's Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats becomes the longest-running show in the West End's history. Lloyd Webber is one of England's highest paid composers, with an extensive Pre-Raphaelite art collection supported by the proceeds of his many hit musicals: Evita, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Phantom Of The Opera, Starlight Express…

29 Jul 1981: Charles and Di's fairy tale wedding

Whatever the outcome, the eyes of the world were on the young girl in the ivory dress as she stepped out of ceremonial coach and walked up the aisle at St Paul's. Diana became a figurehead, leading the way in fashion and her work for charity for much of her married life.

05 Sep 1981: Greenham Common protest begins

There were 96 cruise missiles held at the RAF base at Greenham Common. On this day the Welsh group Women for Life on Earth arrived to express its concern about the presence of nuclear weapons. When its statement was ignored the group set up a peace camp in protest. The women were quickly joined by others and, in all, the protest lasted nearly 19 years – gaining international recognition. An important milestone in the British feminist movement.

1982: First performance of Noises Off

Frantic and hilarious farce by Michael Frayn which shows on- and offstage action

1982: Bradford 12 acquitted

Twelve Asian youths made petrol bombs in order to defend themselves against an impending attack by the National Front in Bradford. They were charged with conspiring to make explosives with intent to endanger life. All 12 were acquitted on the grounds of community self-defence.

02 Apr 1982: Argentina invades the Falklands

The Falklands War lasts from March to June, with the English retaining control of the Atlantic islands. It is a public relations coup for the Thatcher government and a disaster for the already economically challenged Argentinean government.

09 Nov 1982: The Young Ones begins

The flatmates from hell ushered in a new wave of British "alternative" comedy, showcasing future stars Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmonson, Nigel Planer and Alexi Sayle. Ben Elton contributed to the scripts.

1983: The Blackadder dynasty born on BBC1

There were four series of this comedy show (as well as a couple of specials) featuring succeeding generations of Edmund Blackadders at different times in English history. Rowan Atkinson played Edmund Blackadder and Tony Robinson his hapless sidekick Baldrick, who always had a "cunning plan...." The first series, set in the Middle Ages, features a huge number of references to Shakespeare's plays!

Jan 1984: Jewel In The Crown screened

Based on the novels of Paul Scott, this dramatic tale of the British Raj kept the nation glued to the TV week after week.

1984: Thames Flood Barrier into service

After disastrous flooding at the mouth of the Thames in 1953 when more than 300 people died, the government realises that something has to be done to protect London from the ever-rising waters of the Thames. Especially dangerous was the possibility of surge tides (a huge “hump” of water driven up river from the North Sea). How could you create a barrier that would stop the flood water but not the ships which had to sail to and from the London Docks? An ingenious, world-class feat of engineering provided the answer: the Thames Flood Barrier.

1984: Ted Hughes appointed Poet Laureate

Some call his poetry "vital and original", others think it "excessively brutal and violent". What do you think? His works include Crow, Remains Of Elmet and Birthday Letters. He also wrote for children, including the recently animated Iron Man.

1984: First episode of Spitting Image

This satirical comedy programme featured caricatured latex puppets of prominent people and launched the careers of a good many comics and impressionists. Due to its popularity it was highly influential in forming public opinion, particularly in the political arena. A celebrity or politician would both dread having a Spitting Image puppet made of them, and dread not being considered important enough to have one!

12 Mar 1984: Beginning of the Miners' Strike

More than half of Britain's miners go on strike in protest at proposed pit closures. During the year-long strike there is violence between miners and police and miners who dare to cross the picket lines. Arthur Scargill is the passionate spokesman for the Union, but eventually he and the miners are defeated by Thatcher's hard line stance. The film and musical Billy Elliot take place against the background of the strike.

07 Sep 1984: "Leesten verry carefullee…." '

Allo 'Allo begins its first series on BBC1, notable for its stereotypical depictions not only of the French Resistance but the occupying German army and the English.

10 Sep 1984: Genetic fingerprinting discovered

Dr Alec Jeffreys discovers a pattern in the DNA X-ray he was observing in his Leicester University darkroom. He realises that this meant it would be possible to identify unique patterns of DNA for each individual (your genetic fingerprint). This discovery is now a vital part of forensic investigations and family law.

12 Oct 1984: Brighton Hotel bomb

IRA plants two bombs in the Grand Hotel, Brighton, during the Conservative Party Conference. Five people are killed and one permanently disabled by the attack. When claiming responsibility the IRA statement concluded: "Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always."

Dec 1984: Birth of Band Aid

Do They Know It's Christmas? released by Band Aid to raise money for the victims of famine in Africa. Bob Geldof was inspired to act by the horrifying reports by journalists about the conditions in Ethiopia. His idea to raise money using his skills and contacts as a musician has had many imitators for different causes from different professions.

Jan 1985: Sinclair C5 on the road

Sir Clive Sinclair launches the Sinclair C5 electric vehicle - and winds up company the same year

1985: The Stone Roses form in Manchester

One of the most influential rock groups of the 1980s, they were at the forefront of the "Madchester" music scene. Rescuing England from the bubblegum pop dominating the charts, they made guitars cool again. Blazed a trail that Britpop merely followed.

1985: TACS introduced to UK

The TACS (Total Access Control System) was a new mobile phone system. TACS allows direct dialling in and out, and has the mobile phones connected to smaller, lower-powered base stations arranged in a cellular pattern, so that although adjacent cells don't use the same frequencies, cells further away can do so. This was the technology that started the mobile phone boom. In 2004 there were more than 40 million handsets in the UK.

1985: Blind Date arrives!

Essential Saturday night viewing for many years, Blind Date was hosted by Cilla Black and quickly entered the nation's hearts.

01 Jun 1985: Battle of the Beanfield

Police block and attack a convoy of people on their way to attend the annual Stonehenge People's Free Festival. Five-hundred people are arrested and property damaged. After this a four-mile exclusion zone has been created around Stonehenge every summer at the time of the solstice.


1986: London bus becomes an estate agent

Charles Webb parks his vintage RT bus on a plot of land just off Parkway in Camden, London, and opens for business!

The Routemaster Bus

1986: Poems on the Underground launched

A group of three poets are behind this project, responsible for the poems you see in the place of advertising spaces on the Tube. New poems generally appear three times a year and are selected not only from the best of British poetry, but poetry from all over the world and across many centuries.

1986: Globe Playhouse Trust awarded lease

After reneging on its previous agreement, Southwark Council is forced by the High Court to award the proposed site of the Globe Theatre to the Trust. The lease is for 125 years. Fundraising for the building begins in earnest!

1986: Christmas down at the Queen Vic

Den serves Angie with divorce papers on Christmas Day - one of the classic episodes in the BBC's long-running soap opera EastEnders.

1987: Talking Heads aired by the BBC

Himself a national treasure, Alan Bennett's series of monologues such as A Cream Cracker Under The Settee (performed by Dame Thora Hird) and A Lady Of Letters (performed by Patricia Routledge) give a glimpse into the secret lives of the English. Poignant, quirky and very funny, these monologues have become national classics as audio books and are even an A-level text.

16 Oct 1987: Hurricane sweeps southern England

Winds of more than 100mph brought the country to a standstill and left a trail of devastation. Particularly tragic was the loss of irreplaceable trees in Kew Gardens.

1988: A Brief History Of Time published

British physicist Stephen Hawking makes physics seem easy in this landmark scientific book. With clarity and wit, Hawking's book explains our ideas about the creation of the universe as well as Newton and Einstein's theories and the notion of time travel! Recently updated to include the latest advances in knowledge.

14 May 1988: Wimbledon FC topple Liverpool FC!

A classic "giant killer" match with outsiders Wimbledon beating Liverpool 1-0 in the FA Cup Final. The previous year had seen a similar toppling of Tottenham Hotspur by Coventry City 3-2.

The FA Cup

14 Jan 1989: Satanic Verses burned

Copies of Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses are publicly burned in Bradford. There is condemnation of the book from the worldwide Muslim community for its "blasphemous" portrayal of Mohammed.

15 Aug 1989: Hillsborough Disaster

Liverpool FC were playing Nottingham Forest FC in an FA Cup semi-final at the Hillsborough football ground in Sheffield – 96 people died and 766 more received injuries in a devastating crush which occurred as fans poured onto the terraces, hemmed in with high fences to stop pitch invasions. The match was being televised for broadcast so vivid images of the disaster were quickly available to the whole nation. As a result of this incident many changes in the regulations of football grounds and crowd control at matches were introduced.

The FA Cup