December 8, 2023

The 70s 80s 90s Blog

Three Decades of History with TV historian Tony McMahon

July 1981: when Britain went a bit mad

2 min read
July 1981 was a month of riots in Britain but it was also a time when the country seemed to go a little mad with some very unusual incidents
July 1981
Serjeant Queen

July 1981 was a month to remember… Two years into the first Margaret Thatcher government and we were thoroughly mired in recession and urban riots. There was just a sense that the country was losing its collective marbles and the violence that rocked that summer almost didn’t come as much of a surprise.

The madness of July 1981

Just two weeks before the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, two footmen were arrested at Buckingham Palace for possession of explosives. Though the palace took umbrage at claims in The Sun newspaper that the explosives in question were dynamite or that the intention was to assassinate the Royal Family.

DISCOVER: Shocking racism in the early 1980s

A month before, a teenager called Marcus Serjeant shot at the Queen as she rode side saddle during the annual Trooping the Colour. Serjeant had actually written to the Queen warning her that something would happen but the letter arrived too late.

Another teenager burst into the House of Commons with a large knife screaming that he wanted to murder Margaret Thatcher, which led to intensified security around the Palace of Westminster. In 1979, it had been possible to walk up to Number 10 Downing Street and gawp at the Prime Minister’s residence. But not by the time Thatcher left office.

Other news in July 1981:

  • Tennis player John McEnroe lost the plot at Wimbledon
  • A thousand Mods (part of a Mod revival) riot against the police in Cumbria
  • A South African mixed race couple asked permission to leave the UK due to ‘racial hatred’ (South Africa was a white-governed apartheid state at the time)
  • CS gas is used against rioters for the first time in Britain and plastic bullets are authorised
  • A song about urban decay ‘Ghost Town’ sung by The Specials topped the pop charts as several cities sunk into rioting
  • A builder called David Young was fined for shouting abuse at the King of Saudi Arabia during a state visit

And in July 1981, we had riots in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Birmingham, etc, etc.

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