London’s Burning is a British TV drama series that was shown on ITV between 1988 and 2002, consisting of 14 series. The inspiration for the weekly Sunday night drama came from a highly successful two-hour film of the same name, written by Jack Rosenthal and released in 1986.
About the drama
London’s Burning focuses on the lives of the Blue Watch fire crew, based at the fictional Blackwall Fire Station in London.
Filming took place at Dockhead Fire Station in Bermondsey, capturing scenes in the actual mess, watch room and bay, although studio shots were also taken. Real firefighters often appeared as extras. During later episodes, Leyton Fire Station was used for filming.
The first ten series were produced by Paul Knight, with writers Tony Hoare and Anita Bronson, while later series saw David Shanks at the production helm.
By successfully fusing a mix of light-hearted drama and comedy with a wide range of serious incidents and emergencies involving real fires, the ratings for the show quickly soared. Average viewing figures reached 12.1 million – at its peak during series four, audience numbers toppled 18.86 million, making it one of ITV’s most successful dramas.
Each episode involved a major incident or ‘shout’, which kept viewers hooked but as budget cuts became enforced during later series, storylines focused more on the personal lives of the crew, in a soap opera-esque style. Ratings eventually tumbled.
London’s Burning featured many characters over the years, showcasing both their professional and personal lives on screen.
Several were given nicknames to represent their personalities. For example, fireman Leslie Appleby was known as charisma because he lacked it, while hypochondriac firefighter Bert Quigley was given the moniker Sicknote. Cocky womaniser Ronald Cartwright went by the name Vaseline because of his slippery nature, Blue Watch’s action guru, Kenny Bains, was known as Rambo, and mess manager, Mike Wilson, went by the name Bayleaf.
Other notable characters included the only female firefighter, Josie, who was often subjected to sexist remarks, and Andreas Lewis, or Ethnic, the only black firefighter. Hen-pecked sub-officer John Hallam, former boxer George Green, prankster Malcolm Cross and outspoken Kevin Medhurst also made the main line-up.
With plenty of high-octane drama and daredevil stunt work, London’s Burning was ablaze with noteworthy scenes, but some certainly rage above others. For example, shocks were in store when favourite characters were killed off, including Vaseline in series two and long-standing officer John Hallam in series nine.
Viewer ratings hit an all-time high at the end of series four, during dramatic scenes at a warehouse fire where John Hallam is trapped under a collapsed wall. 17 million viewers also tuned in to watch an episode in series five that saw a fairground ride collapse, culminating in a huge fire.
Not all memorable scenes involve raging infernos and dramatic endings. Some are more humorous in nature, including the scene where a man needs rescuing from a urinal, and when John Hallam burns his eyebrows whilst lighting a brandy-infused Christmas pudding.
Inevitably, many scenes also take place in the locker rooms, often involving the camaraderie of shirtless firefighters getting ready for their shift or before a shout. It was also in the locker rooms that firefighter Sally Fields, known as Gracie, was attacked by Watch Commander, Sean Bateman. Thankfully, witnesses to the event ensured Bateman was arrested and sacked from his job.
London’s Burning might be fictional but it gives a good account of what goes on in real fire stations, and with such thriving activity, having the right equipment to hand is key when a shout takes place. With a wide range of high-quality lockers suitable for the fire service, Crown Sports Lockers can help take the drama out of getting ready for any emergency!