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That Was the Year That Was – 1981
Image by brizzle born and bred
1981 Many notable technological advances happened in 1981 one of the most exciting was the First Flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia. This was also the first year that the Word Internet was mentioned and MS-DOS was released by Microsoft along with the first IBM PC. On the world stage the events that captured the imagination included Lady Diana Spencer marrying Charles The Prince of Wales. In Politics a little known group before Solidarity inspire popular protests and a general strike in Poland and the government in the UK starts the process of privatization of Nationalized Industries which is later followed by many other countries around the world.
1981: Four riots and a royal wedding
As millions of people prepared to celebrate another Royal Wedding, Britain stood at a crossroads.
With the economy in deep recession, unemployment rising and Margaret Thatcher’s Tory Government in desperate trouble, the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer seemed a much-needed break from an unrelenting stream of bad news. Even by the standards of the day, 1981 was a year of extraordinary political and cultural tumult. It was a hinge moment in our modern history, marking the death of the old consensus and the beginning of a new age of consumerism, individualism and technological change.
Abroad, it saw an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, the first appearance of Dynasty on American television and the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan.
There was the birth of the MTV music channel, the foundation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the appearance of the small, relatively inexpensive and pioneering Sinclair ZX81 computer – which kickstarted the rise of home computing – and the Eurovision victory of manufactured British band Bucks Fizz.
It also saw Muhammad Ali take the ring for the last time, Argentine footballer Ricky Villa score a dramatic FA Cup Final winner for Tottenham Hotspur, Shergar win the Derby, Tom Baker give way to Peter Davison in Doctor Who, and Granada TV triumph with Brideshead Revisited.
Yet the British people entered the year in a state of unparalleled gloom. Two years earlier, Mrs Thatcher had inherited an economy in which inflation was rocketing and unemployment was about to take off.
Like Penelope Keith’s character in the sitcom To The Manor Born, whose final episode in 1981 attracted 24 million viewers, Mrs Thatcher cut a formidable and unflinching figure. But her bold austerity measures after taking power in 1979 — slashing spending and putting up VAT — were taking a heavy toll on the nation’s morale.
By the beginning of 1981, British company profits had fallen by 20 per cent, manufacturing output had fallen by 15 per cent and unemployment had almost doubled — the biggest leap since the Great Depression. And for those out of work, the dreamy New Romantic pop movement, the BBC’s new show Only Fools And Horses and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats came as cold comfort.
Beset by criticism, the Government seemed in meltdown. At the beginning of the year, almost incredibly, Michael Foot’s Labour Party stood 24 points ahead in opinion polls. But despite the criticism of his economic policies, Chancellor Geoffrey Howe stuck to his guns. Instead of easing the brakes in his 1981 Budget, he squeezed the money supply even tighter, freezing tax allowances that would normally have gone up in line with 15 per cent inflation.
Outraged, 364 economists signed a sensational letter to The Times, claiming that Howe’s policy was plunging Britain into catastrophe. But the Government refused to change course, for as Mrs Thatcher had told the Tories a few months earlier, the lady was ‘not for turning’.
Meanwhile, Labour were tearing themselves apart. As the hard-Left Tony Benn launched a challenge for the party’s deputy leadership, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers walked out to join Roy Jenkins, as the so-called Gang of Four, in the new Social Democratic Party.
Overnight, the SDP rocketed to first place in the opinion polls — with the Tories limping in a poor third.
As unemployment mounted, millions tried to forget their troubles. The first London Marathon, in March, proved a massive success: as one reader wrote in this newspaper, perhaps it might help ‘to restore a bit of the old selfless spirit that made this country great’.
Meanwhile, thousands flocked to the cinema for the hit British film Chariots Of Fire, an unashamedly patriotic spectacle that later won an Oscar for Best Picture. And tens of millions of TV viewers witnessed the young Steve Davis beat Doug Mountjoy for his first snooker World Championship.
But as the much-anticipated Royal Wedding approached, there was more terrible news. In Northern Ireland, IRA prisoners had gone on hunger strike, demanding special privileges that Mrs Thatcher had sworn never to grant.
On May 5, the first hunger striker, Bobby Sands, died in jail. And over the next few weeks, more than 60 soldiers, police and civilians were killed in an upsurge of violence across the war-torn province.
That same month, Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, whose 13 murders had horrified the nation, was jailed for life at the Old Bailey.
Meanwhile Britain’s cities, too, were smouldering. In South London, years of tensions between West Indian immigrants and the Metropolitan Police had reached boiling point, with many residents claiming that the police were abusing stop-and-search laws to intimidate the area’s black community.
Brixton was a powder keg, with unemployment running at 13 per cent overall and 25 per cent among West Indians. About half of all young black men were out of work, and unsurprisingly, frustration was running high.
On April 10, a misunderstanding over an injured youth sparked fierce attacks on police in Brixton. Disorder rapidly escalated into riot: within hours, thousands of black youths were fighting pitched battles with some 3,000 policemen.
As Brixton burned, mobs looted electronics, jewellery and furniture stores, even though many were owned by black families. ‘Those poor shopkeepers!’ said Mrs Thatcher when she toured the area later — an instinctive sign of sympathy from the Grantham grocer’s daughter.
Some 300 policemen were badly injured, and 65 members of the public. To the horror of most observers, 30 premises were burned and 117 looted, leaving deep scars on Brixton’s physical and economic landscape.
Yet at the time, some on the Left exulted at what they called the ‘Brixton Uprising’. Indeed, in an age of extraordinary political polarisation, the London Labour Briefing magazine, which was close to the capital’s council leader Ken Livingstone, exulted that ‘the street fighting was excellent, but could have been (and hopefully in future will be) better organised’.
Even three decades on, those are genuinely shocking words. More shocking, though, were the copycat riots that followed.
That summer, Britain’s cities rose up in fury. In Toxteth, Liverpool, another area badly hit by unemployment, more than 450 policemen were badly hurt, 500 people were arrested and 70 buildings were destroyed. For the first time, British police were attacked with paving stones and petrol bombs; for the first time, they responded with tear gas.
There were more riots in Handsworth, Birmingham, and Chapeltown, Leeds. Yet although Left-wingers tried to blame the government, Mrs Thatcher’s ministers refused to buckle.
Indeed, the response of her new Employment Secretary made his name almost overnight. ‘I grew up in the Thirties with an unemployed father,’ said Norman Tebbit. ‘He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work.’
Amid this litany of misery came a ray of light from an unexpected source. Appointed as England cricket captain a year earlier, Ian Botham cut a very miserable figure. Defeat followed defeat; at one stage he was even reduced to trading punches with irate members in the Lords pavilion after they accused him of delaying play.
When England failed to win either of the first two Tests in the summer’s Ashes series, the selectors forced Botham to resign. And in the third Test at Headingley, England performed lamentably, ending their first innings with just 174 runs, some 227 behind Australia.
Against a backdrop of such appalling political and economic turmoil, it seemed that nothing better summed up Britain’s utter decline.
But what happened next was one of the most heroic moments in the history of sport. With England staring at disaster, Botham went out and played one of the greatest innings of all time, smashing the Australian bowlers around the ground for an unbeaten 149 runs.
The next day, England were a side transformed. As bowler Bob Willis rampaged through the Australian batsmen, the impossible happened. By the end, England had won by 18 runs. From the depths of despair, they had turned the Test – and the series – around.
Few realised it at the time. But it was to prove an omen for Mrs Thatcher’s embattled Government – a reminder that if she refused to give up, then victory would ultimately be hers.
And just eight days later, there was another sign of the instinctive popular patriotism that would help sweep the Conservatives to victory two years later.
When Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer had become engaged in February 1981, republicans had been quick to complain about the spectacle of a Royal Wedding amid such economic austerity. Then, as now, well-heeled intellectuals mocked and sneered at the ordinary working-class people who looked forward to a national party.
Some Left-wingers wore badges reading ‘Don’t Do it, Di!’ A group of ambitious Labour politicians, including Peter Mandelson and Harriet Harman, ostentatiously went to France for the day. And at the County Hall council headquarters, Ken Livingstone organised a rival meeting with IRA supporters, releasing 1,000 black balloons to mourn the Royal Wedding.
But on that warm, bright July day, nobody really cared about Ken Livingstone. Suddenly, it was as though the British people had suddenly realised the strength of the ties that bound them together. On the streets of London, more than two million people poured out to watch the procession from Buckingham Palace to St Paul’s Cathedral.
Across the nation, a record 30 million people sat glued to their sets as Dr Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, presided over what he called a ‘fairytale’ wedding. And a staggering 750 million people worldwide – an all-time record for a public occasion – tuned in to watch, a sign of the enduring appeal of the world’s most prestigious monarchy.
As we know now, the fairy tale had no happy ending. And things have changed enormously since the days when the average house cost just £24,000, as it did back in 1981.
But looking back, you realise just how much the year’s events shaped our recent history. By refusing to change course, Margaret Thatcher decisively broke with post-war politics and ushered in a new age, in which we still live today.
From the first home computers to the innovation of music videos, from an Argentine footballer scoring the Cup Final winner to the rise of a new centre party, the contours of a new Britain became apparent.
In many ways, the events of 1981 now seem like ancient history. But for good and ill, we live in a world they created.
Peter Sutcliffe charged with being the "Yorkshire Ripper"
A 35-year-old lorry driver from Bradford, suspected of carrying out 13 murders across West Yorkshire over the past five years, has appeared in court. Peter William Sutcliffe, of 6 Garden Lane, Bradford, is accused of murdering 20-year-old university student Jacqueline Hill, who was killed in Leeds seven weeks ago.
Sutcliffe, who was also charged with the theft of two number plates, was remanded in custody for eight days by magistrates in Dewsbury today.
Miss Hill is the latest victim in a spate of murders across West Yorkshire. Following Sutcliffe’s arrest in Sheffield last Friday, police told reporters they were confident they had apprehended the notorious Yorkshire Ripper.
A crowd of more than 2,000 people, who had gathered outside the court, shouted abuse and threats as Sutcliffe, handcuffed to a police officer, was ushered into the court.
Accompanied by his wife Sonia and her father Sutcliffe was led up into the dock surrounded by uniformed police officers.
Wearing a blue cardigan and grey trousers, he stood motionless in the dock during the ten-minute hearing.
He spoke only to say that he understood the charges he was facing and to confirm that he had no legal representation.
The investigation into the Yorkshire ripper murders has involved hundreds of police officers and thousands of man-hours.
Sutcliffe will make his next court appearance on 13 January.
Peter Sutcliffe’s reign of terror as the Yorkshire Ripper lasted from 1976 to 1981, during which time he killed 13 women in the north of England and tried to kill seven others. Sutcliffe, who claimed he was driven to commit the murders by messages from God, became the subject of one of the largest police manhunts this country has ever seen.
His victims were mainly prostitutes and many of their bodies were horribly mutilated with hammers and knives.
He was arrested on Friday 2 January, 1981 and following a two-week trial was sentenced to no less than 30 years behind bars on Friday 22 May 1981.
1981 inner-city riots
In 1981, England suffered serious riots across many major cities. They were perceived as race riots between communities, in all cases the main motives for the riots were related to racial tension and inner city deprivation.
The riots were caused by a distrust of the police and authority.
The four main riots that occurred were the Brixton riot in London, the Handsworth riots in Birmingham, the Chapeltown riot in Leeds and the Toxteth riots in Liverpool.
Thatcher government toyed with evacuating Liverpool after 1981 riots
National Archives files reveal ministerial warning to PM not to spend money on deprived city, saying decline was largely self-inflicted.
Margaret Thatcher’s closest ministers came close to writing off Liverpool in the aftermath of the 1981 inner-city riots and even raised the prospect of its partial evacuation, according to secret cabinet papers released on Friday.
They told her that the "unpalatable truth" was that they could not halt Merseyside’s decline and her chancellor, Sir Geoffrey Howe, warned her not to waste money trying to "pump water uphill" and telling her the city was "much the hardest nut to crack".
The cabinet papers released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule reveal Thatcher’s closest advisers told her that the "concentration of hopelessness" on Merseyside was very largely self-inflicted with its record of industrial strife.
The files show that when Michael Heseltine pressed the case to save Britain’s inner cities with his cabinet paper, It Took a Riot, they ensured his demand for £100m a year of new money for two years for Liverpool alone was met with a paltry offer of £15m, with the condition that "no publicity should be given to this figure".
1 January – Greece enters the EEC.
3 January – Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, dies.
4 January – RL workers voted to accept peace formula in Longbridge strike.
5 January – Peter Sutcliffe, a 35-year-old lorry driver from Bradford arrested on 2 January in Sheffield, is charged with being the notorious mass murderer known as the "Yorkshire Ripper", who is believed to have murdered 13 women and attacked seven others across northern England since 1975.
BBC Two’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy television adaptation begins airing; it subsequently receives a Royal Television Society award as "Most Original Programme" of the year.
Cabinet re-shuffle – Stevas replaced by Francis Pym, Maude and Prentice depart.
7 January – A parcel bomb addressed to the Prime Minister is intercepted at the sorting office.
8 January – A terrorist bomb attack takes place on the RAF base at Uxbridge
The report of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure is published.
9 January – The funeral of Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, the last surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria, takes place at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. She had died six days previously at the age of 97.
13 January – The prison officers’ overtime ban ends.
14 January – The British Nationality Bill is published.
15 January – Two soldiers are found guilty of murder in Northern Ireland.
16 January – Northern Ireland civil rights campaigner and former Westminster MP Bernadette McAliskey is shot and injured by suspected Loyalist paramilitaries at her home in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.
Inflation has fallen to 16.1%.
78% of BSC workers vote in favour of the chairman’s "survival" plan.
18 January – New Cross Fire: Ten young black people are killed and thirty are injured in an arson attack on a house in New Cross, London. On 25 January the death toll reaches 11 when another victim dies in hospital.
21 January – Sir Norman Strange and his son, both former Stormont MPs are killed by the IRA.
Two divers trapped below the North Sea are brought to safety to the surface.
22 January – Rupert Murdoch agrees to buy The Times provided an agreement could be reached with the unions.
24 January – Wembley Labour Party conference voted for election of party leader by electoral college with 40% votes for unions, 30% Labour MPs and 30% constituencies.
25 January – The Limehouse Declaration: Four Labour Members of Parliament, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins, William Rodgers and David Owen (the "Gang of Four"), announce plans to form a separate political party – the Social Democratic Party. On 26 January, nine more Labour MPs declare their support for the new party.
26 January – Sir Keith Joseph announces further financial support for BL.
27 January – Bill Rodgers resigns from the shadow cabinet following his defection to the new SDP. He is replaced by Tony Benn.
28 January – Sir Hugh Fraser is removed as Chairman of the House of Fraser.
Fresh damage is caused in cells at Maze prison.
29 January – The Government welcomes plans by a Japanese car firm to build Datsun cars in Britain.
30 January – David Owen told the constituency party that he would not stand again as Labour candidate.
2 February – The Report on the Brixton prison escape is released and the Governor is transferred to an Administrative post.
4 February – Margaret Thatcher announces that the government will sell half of its shares in British Aerospace.
5 February – Actor Lord Olivier, cancer researcher Sir Peter Medawar and humanitarian Leonard Cheshire are admitted into the Order of Merit in the New Year Honours list.
6 February – The Liverpool-registered coal ship Nellie M is bombed and sunk by an IRA unit driving a hijacked pilot boat in Lough Foyle.
The Government drops two controversial clauses of the Nationality Bill.
Ian Paisley parades 500 men on a remote mountainside in the middle of the night in a show of strength.
The Canadian Minister warns British MPs against delaying changes in the Canadian constitution.
9 February – Shirley Williams resigns from Labour’s national executive committee.
11 February – The closure of the Talbot Linwood factory is announced.
12 February – Purchase of The Times and The Sunday Times from The Thomson Corporation by Rupert Murdoch’s News International is confirmed. Murdoch also announces that an agreement with the unions has been reached about manning levels and new technology.
Ian Paisley is suspended from the House of Commons for four days after calling the Northern Ireland Secretary a liar.
NUS called off a 5-week strike.
13 February – NCB announces widespread pit closures.
14 February – 48 young people are killed in a disco fire in Dublin.
15 February – The first Sunday games of the Football League take place.
16 February – Two are jailed in connection with the death of industrialist Thomas Niedermayer.
17 February – Princess Anne is elected Chancellor of London University.
18 February – Thatcher government withdraws plans to close down 23 mines after negotiations with National Union of Mineworkers.
Harold Evans is appointed editor of The Times.
20 February – Four MPs announce their intention to leave the Labour Party.
Peter Sutcliffe is charged with the murder of 13 women in the north of England.
21 February – 30,000 march in an unemployment protest in Glasgow.
24 February – Buckingham Palace announces the engagement of Prince of Wales and 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer.
25 February – Margaret Thatcher arrives in Washington, D.C. for a four-day visit to American president Ronald Reagan.
The Observer is taken over by Mr "Tiny" Rowland, head of Lonrho.
26 February – The English cricket team withdrew from the Second Test after the Guyanan government served a deportation order on Robin Jackman.
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan met in Washington – El Salvador dominated the first day of their talks.
27 February – Three British missionaries released from Iran land in Athens.
Sir Harold Wilson announces his retirement from Parliament at the next general election.
The Archbishop of Canterbury advises the church to see homosexuality as a handicap not a sin.
The Observer takeover is referred to the Monopolies Commission.
3 March – Homebase opens its first DIY and garden centre superstore at Croydon, Surrey.
5 March – The ZX81, a pioneering British home computer, is launched by Sinclair Research, going on to sell over 1.5 million units worldwide.
9 March – John Lambe, a 37-year-old lorry driver, is sentenced to life imprisonment for the rape of twelve women in the space of less than four years.
Thousands of civil servants hold a one-day strike over pay.
17 March – The Conservative government’s budget is met with uproar due to further public spending cuts.
21 March – Home Secretary William Whitelaw allows Wolverhampton council to place a 14-day ban on political marches in the West Midlands town, which has a growing problem of militant race riots and was faced with the threat of a National Front march in two days time.
After seven years and the longest time playing the title role, Tom Baker leaves Doctor Who and is replaced by Peter Davison in the final episode of Logopolis.
Unemployment now stands at 2,400,000 or 10% of the workforce.
22 March – It is reported that a minority of Conservative MP’s are planning to challenge the leadership of Margaret Thatcher in an attempt to reverse the party’s declining popularity and fight off the challenge from Labour and the SDP.
23 March – Government imposes a ban on animal transportation on the Isle of Wight and southern Hampshire after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in cattle.
24 March – Barbados police rescue Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs after his kidnapping in Brazil.
26 March – Social Democratic Party formed by the so-called "Gang of Four": Shirley Williams, William Rodgers, Roy Jenkins, and David Owen, who have all defected from the Labour Party.
28 March – Enoch Powell, Ulster Unionist MP (a prominent Conservative until 1974) warns of "racial civil war" in Britain.
29 March – The first London Marathon is held.
30 March – Academy Award-winning film Chariots of Fire released.
2 April – The effects of the recession continue to claim jobs as Midland Red, the iconic Birmingham-based bus operator, closes down its headquarters in the city with the loss of some 170 jobs.
4 April – Bucks Fizz is the winner of Eurovision Song Contest with the song Making Your Mind Up.
Susan Brown, a 23-year-old Biology student at Oxford University, becomes the first female cox in a winning Boat Race crew.
Bob Champion, a 32-year-old cancer survivor, is the popular winner of the Grand National with his horse Aldaniti.
5 April – The 1981 U.K. Census is conducted.
10 April – Bobby Sands, an IRA member on hunger strike in the Maze prison, Northern Ireland, is elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in a by election.
11 April – More than 300 people (most of them police officers) are injured and extensive damage is caused to property in the Brixton riot.
13 April – Home Secretary William Whitelaw announces a public inquiry, to be conducted by Lord Scarman, into the disturbances in Brixton.
Enoch Powell warns that Britain "has seen nothing yet" with regards to racial unrest.
Further rioting breaks out in Brixton.
20 April – Snooker player Steve Davis wins the World Snooker Championship 1981.
More than 100 people are arrested and 15 police officers are injured in clashes with black youths in the Finsbury Park, Forest Green and Ealing areas of London.
21 April – The county administrative headquarters of Northumberland move from Newcastle upon Tyne to Morpeth.
23 April – Unemployment passes the 2,500,000 mark for the first time in nearly 50 years.
29 April – Peter Sutcliffe admits to the manslaughter of 13 women on the grounds of diminished responsibility, but the judge rules that a jury should rule on Sutcliffe’s state of mind before deciding whether to accept his plea or find him guilty of murder.
May – Peugeot closes the Talbot car plant at Linwood, Scotland, which was opened by the Rootes Group 18 years ago as Scotland’s only car factory. The closure of the factory also results in the end of the last remaining Rootes-developed product, the Avenger, after 11 years, as well as the four-year-old Sunbeam supermini. There are no plans to replace the Avenger, but a French-built small car based on the Peugeot 104 will replace the Sunbeam in the next few months.
5 May – Bobby Sands, a 27-year-old republican, dies in Northern Ireland’s Maze Prison after a 66-day hunger strike.
The trial of Peter Sutcliffe begins at the Old Bailey; he stands charged with 13 murders and seven attempted murders dating back to 1975.
7 May – Ken Livingstone becomes leader of the GLC after Labour wins the GLC elections.
9 May – The 100th FA Cup final ends with a 1–1 draw between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium.
11 May – The first performance of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats takes place at the New London Theatre.
12 May – Francis Hughes (aged 25) becomes the second IRA hunger striker to die in Northern Ireland.
13 May – An inquest returns an open verdict on the thirteen people who died as a result of their injuries in the New Cross fire.
14 May – Tottenham Hotspur win the FA Cup for the sixth time in their history with a 3–2 win over Manchester City in the final replay at Wembley.
15 May – The inquiry into the Brixton riots opens.
The Queen’s second grandchild, a girl, is born to The Princess Anne and her husband Capt Mark Phillips.
19 May – Peter Sutcliffe is found guilty of being the Yorkshire Ripper after admitting 13 charges of murder and a further seven of attempted murder. He will be sentenced later this week.
21 May – The IRA hunger strike death toll reaches four with the deaths of Raymond McCreesh and Patrick O’Hara.
22 May – Peter Sutcliffe is sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he should serve at least 30 years before parole can be considered.
27 May – Liverpool F.C. win the European Cup for the third time by defeating Real Madrid of Spain 1–0 in the final at Parc des Princes, Paris, France. Alan Kennedy scores the only goal of the game. Although they have yet to equal Spanish side Real Madrid’s record of six European Cups, they are the first British side to win the trophy three times.
30 May – More than 100,000 people from across Britain march to Trafalgar Square in London for the TUC’s March For Jobs.
3 June – Shergar wins the Epsom Derby.
9 June – King Khaled of Saudi Arabia arrives in Britain on a state visit.
11 June – Britain’s first Urban Enterprise Zone is created in Lower Swansea Valley, Wales.
13 June – Marcus Sarjeant fires six blank cartridges at The Queen as she enters Horse Guards Parade.
13–14 June – More than 80 arrests are made during clashes between white power skinheads and black people in Coventry, where the National Front is planning a march later this month, on the same day as an anti-racist concert by The Specials.
15 June – Lord Scarman opens an enquiry into the Brixton riots.
16 June – Liberal Party and SDP form an electoral pact – the SDP-Liberal Alliance.
20 June – Rioting breaks out in Peckham, South London.
HMS Ark Royal is launched.
21 June – A fire at Goodge Street tube station kills one person and injures 16.
23 June – Unemployment reaches 2,680,977 (one in nine of the workforce), and Margaret Thatcher is warned that a further rise is likely.
2 July – Four members of an Asian Muslim family (three of them children) are killed by arson at their home in Walthamstow, London; the attack is believed to have been racially motivated.
3 July – Hundreds of Asians and skinheads riot in Southall, London, following disturbances at the Hamborough Tavern public house, which is severely damaged by fire.
5 July – Toxteth riots break out in Liverpool and first use is made of CS gas by British police. Less serious riots occur in the Handsworth district of Birmingham as well as Wolverhampton city centre, parts of Coventry, Leicester and Derby, and also in the Buckinghamshire town High Wycombe.
7 July – 43 people are charged with theft and violent disorder following a riot in Wood Green, North London.
8 July – Joe McDonnell becomes the fifth IRA hunger striker to die.
Inner-city rioting continues when a riot in Moss Side, Manchester, sees more than 1,000 people besiege the local police station. However, the worst rioting in Toxteth has now ended.
British Leyland ends production of the Austin Maxi, one of its longest-running cars, after 12 years.
9 July – Rioting breaks out in Woolwich, London.
10 July – Rioting breaks out in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Leicester, Ellesmere Port, Luton, Sheffield, Portsmouth, Preston, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Derby, Southampton, Nottingham, High Wycombe, Bedford, Edinburgh, Wolverhampton, Stockport, Blackburn, Huddersfield, Reading, Chester and Aldershot.
Two days of rioting in Moss Side, Manchester, draw to a close, during which there has been extensive looting of shops. Princess Road, the main road through the area, will be closed for several days while adjacent buildings and gas mains damaged by rioting and arson are made safe.
11 July – A further wave of rioting breaks out in Bradford, West Yorkshire.
13 July – The IRA hunger strike death toll reaches six when Martin Hurson dies.
Margaret Thatcher announces that police will be able to use rubber bullets, water cannons and armoured vehicles against urban rioters. Labour leader Michael Foot blames the recent wave of rioting on the Conservative government’s economic policies, which have seen unemployment rise by more than 70% in the last two years.
15 July – Police clash with black youths in Brixton once again, this time after police raid properties in search of petrol bombs which are never found.
16 July – Labour narrowly hang on to the Warrington seat in a by-election, fighting off a strong challenge from Roy Jenkins for the Social Democratic Party.
17 July – Official opening of the Humber Bridge by the Queen.
20 July – Michael Heseltine tours Merseyside to examine the problems in the area, which has been particularly badly hit by the current recession.
25 July – Around 1,000 motorcyclists clash with police in Keswick, Cumbria.
27 July – British Telecommunications Act separates British Telecom from the Royal Mail with effect from 1 October.
The two-month-old daughter of The Princess Anne and her husband Capt Mark Phillips is christened Zara Anne Elizabeth.
28 July – Margaret Thatcher blames IRA leaders for the recent IRA hunger striker deaths.
29 July – The wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer takes place at St Paul’s Cathedral. More than 30 million viewers watch the wedding on television – the second highest television audience of all time in Britain.
1 August – Kevin Lynch becomes the seventh IRA hunger striker to die.
2 August – Within 24 hours of Kevin Lynch’s death, Kieran Doherty becomes the eighth IRA hunger striker to die.
8 August – The IRA hunger strike claims its ninth hunger striker so far (and its third in a week) with the death of Thomas McElwee.
9 August – Broadmoor Hospital falls under heavy criticism after the escape of a second prisoner in three weeks. The latest absconder is 32-year-old Alan Reeve, a convicted double murderer.
17 August – An inquiry opens in the Moss Side riots.
20 August – The tenth IRA hunger striker, Michael Devine, dies in prison.
Inflation has fallen to 10.9% – the lowest under this government.
Minimum Lending Rate ceases to be set by the Bank of England.
24 August – Mark David Chapman is sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for killing John Lennon.
25 August – Britain’s largest Enterprise Zone is launched on deindustrialised land on Tyneside.
26 August – General Motors launches the MK2 Vauxhall Cavalier, available for the first time with front-wheel drive and a hatchback.
27 August – Moira Stuart, 29, is appointed the BBC’s first black newsreader.
September – Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp set up.
1 September – Filling stations start selling motor fuel by the litre.
8 September – Sixteen Islington Labour councillors join the SDP following the defection of Labour MP Michael O’Halloran.
First episode of television sitcom Only Fools and Horses broadcast on BBC One.
10 September – Another Enterprise Zone is launched, the latest being in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.
14 September – Cecil Parkinson is appointed chairman of the Conservative Party.
17 September – A team of divers begins removing gold ingots worth £40 million from the wreck of HMS Edinburgh, sunk off the coast of Norway in 1942.
18 September – David Steel tells delegates at the Liberal Party conference to "go back to your constituencies and prepare for government", hopes of which are boosted by the fact that most opinion polls now show the SDP-Liberal Alliance in the lead.
25 September – Ford announces that its best-selling Cortina nameplate will be discontinued next year, and its replacement will be called the Sierra.
29 September – Football mourns the legendary former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, who dies today at the age of 67 after suffering a heart attack.
1 October – Bryan Robson, 24-year-old midfielder, becomes Britain’s most expensive footballer in a £1.5 million move from West Bromwich Albion to Manchester United.
3 October – Hunger strikes at the Maze Prison end after seven months. The final six hunger strikers have been without food for between 13 and 55 days.
5 October – Depeche Mode release their début album Speak and Spell.
7 October – British Leyland launches the Triumph Acclaim, a four-door medium sized saloon built in collaboration with Japanese car and motorcycle giant Honda at the Cowley plant in Oxford. It is based on the Japanese Honda Ballade (not available in Britain), has front-wheel drive, is powered by a 1.3 litre 70 bhp petrol engine, and is between the Ford Escort and Ford Cortina in terms of size.
10 October – Chelsea Barracks bombed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, killing two people.
12 October – British Leyland announces the closure of three factories – a move which will cost nearly 3,000 people their jobs.
12 October – 22 December – Original run of Granada Television serial Brideshead Revisited.
13 October – Opinion polls show that Margaret Thatcher is still unpopular as Conservative leader due to her anti-inflationary economic measures, which have now come under fire from her predecessor Edward Heath.
15 October – Norman Tebbit tells fellow Conservative MPs: "I grew up in the thirties with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work and he kept looking until he found it".
19 October – British Telecom announces that the telegram will be discontinued next year after 139 years in use.
23 October – The Liberal-SDP Alliance tops a MORI poll on 40%, putting them ahead of Labour on 31% and the Conservatives on 27%.
24 October – CND anti-nuclear march in London attracts over 250,000 people.
30 October – Nicholas Reed, chief of the Euthanasia charity Exit, is jailed for two-and-a-half years for aiding and abetting suicides.
1 November – British Leyland’s 58,000-strong workforce begins a strike over pay.
8 November – Queen’s Greatest Hits released: it will be the best-selling UK album of all time.
13 November – The Queen opens the final phase of the Telford Shopping Centre, nearly a decade after development began on the first phase of what is now one of the largest indoor shopping centres in Europe in the Shropshire new town.
16 November – Production of the Vauxhall Astra commences in Britain at the Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire. The Astra was launched two years ago but until now has been produced solely at the Opel plant in West Germany.
18 November – The England national football team beats Hungary 1–0 at Wembley Stadium to qualify for the World Cup in Spain next summer, with the only goal being scored by Ipswich Town striker Paul Mariner It is the first time they have qualified for the tournament since 1970.
25 November – A report into the Brixton Riots, which scarred inner-city London earlier this year, points the finger of blame at the social and economic problems which have been plaguing Brixton and many other inner-city areas across England.
26 November – Shirley Williams wins the Crosby by-election for the SDP, overturning a Conservative majority of nearly 20,000 votes.
2 November – The TV licence increases in price from £34 to £46 for a colour TV, and £12 to £15 for black and white.
December – First case of AIDS diagnosed in the UK.
8 December – Arthur Scargill becomes leader of the National Union of Mineworkers.
9 December – Michael Heseltine announces a £95 million aid package for the inner cities.
19 December – An opinion poll shows that Margaret Thatcher is now the most unpopular postwar British prime minister and that the SDP-Liberal Alliance has the support of up to 50% of the electorate.
20 December – Penlee lifeboat disaster: The crew of the MV Union Star and the life-boat Solomon Browne sent to rescue them are all killed in heavy seas off Cornwall; some of the bodies are never found.
Inflation has fallen to 11.9%, the second lowest annual level since 1973, but has been largely achieved by the mass closure of heavy industry facilities that have contributed to the highest postwar levels of unemployment.
In spite of the continuing rise in employment, the British economy improves from 4% contraction last year to 0.8% overall growth this year.
First Urban Development Corporations set up in London Docklands and Merseyside.
First purpose-built Hindu temple in the British Isles formally opens in Slough.
The London department store Whiteleys closes, after 107 years in business.
Last manufacture of coal gas, at Millport, Isle of Cumbrae.
Perrier Comedy Awards first presented to the best shows on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Suzuki, the Japanese manufacturer famous for producing motorcycles, imports passenger cars to the United Kingdom for the first time. The first model sold in Britain is the entry-level Alto, with the SJ four-wheel drive set to go on sale in 1982.
In spite of the continued rise in unemployment, the British economy improved with 1.8% overall growth for the year compared to 3% overall contraction in 1980.
New car sales in the United Kingdom fall to just over 1.4 million. The Ford Cortina enjoys its 10th year as Britain’s best selling car since 1967, while the new front-wheel drive Ford Escort is close behind in second place. British Leyland’s new Metro is Britain’s fourth most popular new car with nearly 100,000 sales. The Datsun Cherry, eighth in the sales charts, is the most popular foreign car in Britain this year.