Having had a rant the other day about television programmes... well, perhaps not really that much of a rant, more of a derogatory comment, really. Anyway, however you want to look at it, I was saying how little there is on television these days that I want to watch. Of course, as soon as I had written that, somebody had to set out to prove me a liar. There have been two excellent documentaries over the last three days - and there is another new Midsomer Murders tonight (which I shall have to record as I will be at a Lions meeting). So, those documentaries. Both concerned the Falkland Islands and the Argentinian invasion 30 years ago.
(It is astonishing that it all happened so long ago. My own memories seem so fresh: how my wife was very tempted to keep the children off school and drive to Portsmouth to see the task force sail; the BBC television reporter on the aircraft carrier who was not allowed to say how many planes flew but said, ‘I counted them all out and I counted them all back in again' to indicate that none had been shot down; how we were glued to the television each night for news of what was taking place on those wind-swept and almost barren islands some 8,000 miles away.)
The first of the two programmes was about a plan to bomb the runway at Port Stanley. How on earth they ever managed to do so is almost beyond belief. It involved making airworthy an ancient - in fact, two ancient - Vulcan bombers that were about to be scrapped and providing them with the necessary equipment for air-to-air refuelling. They flew to Ascension Island - the nearest airfield to the Falkland Islands from which they could operate although it was 4,000 miles away - along with a fleet of 21 (or was it 23?) Victor tanker aircraft. When the armada flew from Ascension, they discovered that the lead Vulcan had developed a fault and could not be pressurised so it had to return to base. The second Vulcan had no map of the South Atlantic so the navigator used a map of the North Atlantic turned upside down, with the Cape Verde Islands doing duty as the Falklands! The refuelling was a complicated exercise: one Victor refuelled the Vulcan, five Victors refuelled the other five and the six empty Victors returned to base. Later, one Victor refuelled the Vulcan and two Victors refuelled the other two, and so on. It was all very much a (typically British) Harry Tate, back of the envelope job. But it worked. Not one Argentine jet was able to use the runway to bomb the ships of the task force.
Yesterday the programme followed three men who had been there 30 years ago on a return to the Falklands. There was a war correspondent, an ex Royal Marine and an ex Welsh Guardsman. It was perhaps not quite as rivetting as the previous programme but it was nonetheless interesting to see the reaction of the three when they returned to where they had fought. A few Falkland residents were also interviewed and it became apparent that those few at least were adamant that the islands should stay under British control despite the current noises coming from the Argentine president.