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Joanna Lumley, John Craven and Gloria Hunniford reflect on the ‘Big Freeze’ of 1963


Joanna Lumley, John Craven and Gloria Hunniford reflect on the ‘Big Freeze’ of 1963

Best on the Box choice for February 24th…

This Channel 5 documentary brings to screens heroic stories of daring helicopter rescues and learns about the devastating Crewe train crash caused by frozen points that claimed 18 lives.

The programme discovers how the Big Freeze had a disastrous effect on British wildlife, wiping out half of our bird population, and find out how all major sporting events were cancelled for almost three months, forcing resourceful Brits to create their own winter sports.

The film is illustrated throughout by a wonderfully evocative archive of the period, giving viewers a striking impression of exactly what life was like for the British population during that never-ending winter, and how they managed to cope.

There are first-hand accounts of the Big Freeze from those who remember it. Actor Joanna Lumley vividly recalls her memories of being snowed in at her boarding school in Kent and how pupils managed to keep warm. Record producer Pete Waterman gives colourful descriptions of the catastrophe on the railways and what life was like for working-class Brits in the early 1960s.

Journalist John Craven details the devastating effects on livestock and wildlife. TV presenter Gloria Hunniford recalls being snowbound with her baby daughter and describes the plight of many farmers who lost their livelihoods.

The show also talks to weatherman John Kettley, who outlines what caused these catastrophic conditions — a perfect storm of anticyclones in Scandinavia drawing down freezing air from Russia. Poignant, dramatic, amusing and informative, this film shines a light on one of the most extraordinary, often-forgotten weather events in British history and reveals how, when the thaw finally came, British society would be changed forever.

The Big Freeze: Winter ’63, Channel 5, 9 pm

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