Aldwych, Kings X fire, Telstar House, etc.

Joined: 5:39 PM - Nov 06, 2006

5:59 PM - May 08, 2007 #1

Aldwych, 18th February 1996

1996: Bomb blast destroys London bus
Three people are feared dead and eight have been hurt after a bomb exploded on a double decker bus in the heart of London's West End.

The front of the bus was destroyed by the force of the blast on the Aldwych near the Strand.

The bus had travelled over Waterloo Bridge along Lancaster Place and was passing a Ministry of Defence building and turning onto Aldwych when the bomb exploded.

The explosion comes just nine days after the IRA ended its ceasefire with a bombing in the Docklands area of London, which killed two people.

Scotland Yard says it received no warning of the explosion which happened at 2238GMT.

The blast, thought to have been on a New Cross to King's Cross bus, could be heard five miles (eight kilometres) away and witnesses described devastation at the scene.

Six people have been taken to St Thomas's Hospital. Three of the injured have "significant" head injuries.

A further two people have been taken to University College Hospital.

One man is "serious but stable" in intensive care while another was admitted with minor cuts.

Three of the casualties were in two cars in front of the bus when the explosion happened.

Paul Rowan, 31, a BBC employee, described how the bus was a tangled mess, with metal and glass scattered over about 50 yards.

"I saw one woman who looked in a very bad way. She was face down on the road with bad-looking head injuries. There was blood all over the place."

Ten ambulances, five fire engines and four paramedic units were called to the scene.

A large area of the Strand was cordoned off amid fears over another device and police with loudspeakers warned people to move away or to stay inside restaurants, theatres and hotels.

Charing Cross railway station was closed, preventing many people from catching their last trains home to south-east London and Kent.

No-one has admitted carrying out the attack but one theory is that the bomb exploded as it was being taken to another destination in London.

Detectives are sifting through the wreckage and the London Central bus company is to hand a tape from the video recorder fitted to the bus over to Scotland Yard for examination.

The Prime Minister John Major was being briefed by officials at 10 Downing Street about the attack. The Irish Government condemned the explosion as "an appalling outrage".

Links to video report: ... 6x9_bb.ram rtsp://
"No one understood better than Stalin that the true object of propaganda is neither to convince nor even to persuade, but to produce a uniform pattern of public utterance in which the first trace of unorthodox thought immediately reveals itself as a jarring dissonance." Leonard Schapiro

Joined: 5:39 PM - Nov 06, 2006

6:07 PM - May 08, 2007 #2

Oxford Circus, 23rd November 1984
1984: Oxford Circus fire traps hundreds

Almost 1,000 passengers were trapped in smoke-filled tunnels for three hours after a fire at London's busiest underground station, Oxford Circus.

Emergency services arrived at Oxford Circus within minutes of the blaze breaking out. There were no deaths and only minor injuries.

But the damage caused was substantial, and it is expected to be many days before normal service resumes at the station.

The cause of the fire, which started at about 2220 GMT in a tunnel connecting the northbound Bakerloo and Victoria lines, is thought to have been caused by an electrical fault on a train or in tunnel cabling.

Five tube trains - packed with people returning from the West End - were trapped in the fire and had to be driven slowly back to Tottenham Court Road and Green Park stations, where ambulances were waiting.

Fifteen people were taken to the nearby Middlesex Hospital and seven London Transport workers were treated at the scene, but later rejoined the rescue operation.

All were suffering from the effects of the smoke which had filled many miles of the tunnels.

Police officer Karen Tokins was travelling to work when the fire broke out.

"There was thick black smoke pouring down and blocking the escalators - people started to panic when they realised they could not get out," she said.

A fire service spokesman said the blaze had destroyed an empty train, burnt out a crossing point between the Victoria and Bakerloo lines and badly damaged three miles of tunnelling.

"We have been very fortunate to have got away with so few injuries and deaths," he said.

Links to video report: ... 4x3_bb.ram
1984: 'Pied Piper' of the Underground

What would you do if you were trapped on a train underground and your carriage began to fill with smoke?

On 23 November 1984, off-duty police officer Peter Power had fallen asleep while commuting home on the London Underground, when he was suddenly woken by the sound of slamming windows.

Inspector Power realised smoke was pouring into the train and the people around him were beginning to panic - so he decided to take action.

We were stuck. The lights were getting quite dim and some of my fellow passengers were clearly becoming very distressed.

I recall quite vividly the faces of many of them, one or two of whom were looking through the pictures of their wives and children they carried in their wallets.

They were quite convinced these were the last few moments of their lives - trapped deep underground with no means of escape.

I felt this was a time where I was going to have to keep my sanity by doing something.

It wasn't a question of heroics or suddenly becoming a Shackleton-like leader.

It was a question of self-preservation and for me that meant doing something rather than just sitting there.

I happened to have beside me half my police uniform - for some reason I was taking it home - so I put this on.

It became in one sense my armour because I was different and secondly, almost everybody in that carriage said, "Oh look, there's somebody who must know what he's doing."

Then it was a matter of trying to get back through the carriages to the guard's department right at the rear of the train.

Eventually I made it through, followed in a Pied Piper fashion by over a hundred passengers, who had all migrated back from the front carriages, because those ones were nearer to the smoke.


Having got into the Guard's compartment, the first thing I realised was that on Victoria Line trains there are no Guards.

Two other guys came in with me - we hadn't met before or since then - and we decided to shut the door and have a very quick meeting.

We discovered a telephone type handset which had a PA system to broadcast within the train.

I said, "We have to keep these people calm."

I picked up the handset and, using as calm a voice as I could, I tried to reassure the people we could see were getting very agitated.

White lies

I said, "Things aren't as bad as they appear, the smoke is no worse than a garden bonfire, we've just been told by the people on the surface that they're pulling the smoke away, so there's nothing to worry about."

On that, people looked out of the window and started to relax. But what I was saying was nonsense.

We had no communication with above and the smoke was getting worse, but I was appealing to people's desire to believe me.

Suddenly through the crowd came a lot of agitation and the train driver fought his way back from the front, covered in soot, and demanded that we get out of London Transport property.

He was bundled into our compartment and one of us decided to give him a certain bit of advice to his face and he was knocked out.

This man was about to undo all the good work we had done to keep people calm.

So I apologise all these years later, whoever you are, but for the greater good you may have had a headache the next morning.

It's difficult to say how long we were trapped for - time compresses in a crisis. Maybe several hours.

Eventually we decided to open the back door, though we thought the lines were probably live.

I think it was me who was going to leap off and hopefully struggle back, but just before I did, we could see some distant torches coming towards us around the bend.

Last Tube journey

The fire brigade made it to our little command centre and I asked everyone to form a very long line with children and women at the front. I remember picking up at least one child and we had this very long walk back.

The following morning I was back to work again. On the Tube train at Leicester Square, somebody started to light a cigarette.

For the first time in my life I suddenly became overwhelmed with profound panic, and just made it through the door before it shut.

That was the last time I ever set foot on a Tube train.

"No one understood better than Stalin that the true object of propaganda is neither to convince nor even to persuade, but to produce a uniform pattern of public utterance in which the first trace of unorthodox thought immediately reveals itself as a jarring dissonance." Leonard Schapiro

Joined: 5:39 PM - Nov 06, 2006

6:21 PM - May 08, 2007 #3

King's Cross, 18th November 1987
1987: King's Cross station fire 'kills 27'

At least 27 people have died after a fire at King's Cross station in central London.

The blaze reportedly began at about 1930 GMT in a machine room under a wooden escalator.

The escalator connected the Piccadilly line - one of five underground train routes which run through King's Cross - with the mainline station.

The fire started as the evening rush hour was trailing off but hundreds of commuters were still in the station which is London's busiest.

Many passengers were trapped underground as the escalator went up in flames.

More than 150 firefighters wearing breathing apparatus tackled the blaze and searched for survivors.

But they were not able to bring the main fire under control until approximately 2150 GMT.

It is feared the death toll could reach 40 after a search of the station has been completed.

'Major disaster'

A fire brigade spokesman, Brian Clark, said the scene in the concourse at the top of the burnt escalator was one of total devastation.

Mr Clark said tiles had come off walls and concrete was damaged because of the intense heat.

"The situation there must have been very frightening and that is an understatement," he added.

About 20 people, including four members of the emergency services, have been taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation and burns.

The chairman of London Regional Transport (LRT), Sir Keith Bright, has described the blaze as a "major disaster".

Sir Keith said LRT was already implementing a policy to replace old wooden escalators with non-flammable metal ones.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said she was "horrified" to hear of the "dreadful" fire and sent her deepest sympathies to the families of those who have been killed and injured.

The Railway Inspectorate has started an investigation into the blaze and will advise Transport Secretary Paul Channon about ordering an inquiry.

In Context

The final death toll was 31 - the highest in an Underground accident since a train crash at Moorgate in 1975 killed 43 people.

One of the victims was fireman Colin Townsley.

The last victim to be named was Alexander Fallon, who had been living rough in London. His body was not officially identified until January 2004.

Investigators said the most probable cause of the fire was a discarded match.

Smoking on Underground trains had been banned in July 1984. After a fire at Oxford Circus station the ban was extended to all subsurface stations but smokers often lit cigarettes on the escalators on their way out.

After the King's Cross fire, wooden escalators were phased out.

In 1991 a report found only eight of the 26 safety recommendations made after the inquiry had been implemented fully.

To the outrage of victims' relatives, nobody was ever prosecuted - the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Railway Inspectorate decided there was no justification for charges.

Links to video report: ... 4x3_bb.ram
1987: Disaster underground

Inspector Peter Power was sent to the scene of the King's Cross fire to co-ordinate the efforts of the emergency services.

He ran the Metropolitan Police's forward command post for much of the evening and most of the night on 18 November 1987.

Three years earlier he himself had been trapped underground in a serious fire at Oxford Circus Tube station in London.

I attended the police station along with a particular sergeant, who, bearing in mind it was late evening, had been enjoying himself at a dinner party.

And I remember as we were belting along the streets with blue lights flashing he turned to me and said, "Sir, I have to tell you something - I'm completely drunk."

When we eventually arrived at King's Cross there was a scene of confusion - a lot of people trying to get on with the grisly job in hand.

'Bomb explosion'

The sergeant had to start writing what was happening on the white boards: the names of the people who were in, so we had a log of things. He rapidly became sober, but he was still a bit hazy.

Everyone put it down to the fact that he was in shock, but the truth of it was he was trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

The present deputy-commissioner of the Met Police, Ian Blair, was already on scene as a detective inspector.

We knew each other very well and he turned to me and said, "Peter, I think we've had a bomb explosion here."

I asked him why and he said, "At least one of the casualties has metal deep inside him... but we're not going to go public on it."

My job was to try and preserve the scene, to make sure there were no other casualties and to try and make sure that the other emergency services had their own role to play.

My time was spent partly in the vehicle and partly out, but of course three years earlier, almost to the very day I had been trapped deep underground in a fire [on the Victoria Line], so my heart was very much downstairs.

But this was an event far worse than what we had in 1984.

We had a lot of people from the press turning up and they were getting in everywhere. We had bogus doctors.

One doctor turned round to one of them and said, "Are you a doctor?" and he answered, "No I'm not, I just like doing this."

We were aware that there were a lot of weird people who turned up at scenes like this who got in the way.


Then we had to decide who we were going to send down there and extract this awful mess of 30 dead people.

We had to look round for a team of police officers to do this. On that occasion it was more important that the people were a team as oppose to experts in dealing with dead bodies.

I still think to this day it must have been one of the worst jobs in the world - you couldn't prepare them.

After the event, people would be traumatised and the worse thing you do is send them home straight away.

'War stories'

There's a little pub next door to King's Cross railway station and we instructed the landlord to open up that night.

We told him we were about to send in a dozen or so police officers and that each police officer would be taken home by chauffeur-driven car after they had worked out their war stories and had a few drinks.

I assured the landlord that the commissioner for the police would pick up the tab.

I don't know whether he ever did, but we don't think that many of the officers who had that grisly job suffered as a result, because we wound them down gently.

We didn't send them straight home to have the nightmares.

1987: 'There but for the grace of God go I'
One November evening in 1987, a deadly fire broke out at King's Cross, London's busiest Underground station.

It started in a machine room under a wooden escalator and turned into a huge fireball that engulfed the ticket hall and filled it with smoke.

The smoke could be seen coming out of the station's street-level entrances as screaming passengers ran out.

Altogether 31 people were killed, among them a fireman and one man who was not identified until January 2004.

Hundreds of commuters witnessed the tragedy unfold and many wrote to us to tell their stories:

It is with great fondness that on the anniversary of my father's death I remember him - and with sadness, all others who perished with him on that awful night.

The horror of his tragic death will never leave me.

I also convey my sympathies to those who suffered loss on the 07/07/2005.
Carolyn, UK

I will never forget that day.

At the time, I was living in north London and working in an office in south-central London. I would normally work into the evening and catch the tube home. I would change on to the Piccadilly line at King's Cross, usually around 7.30pm.

But on that day in 1987 - I began to get a really uneasy feeling at work as the afternoon progressed. I was often the last person working in my section, but it never bothered me.

This day however, I felt really spooked. I just felt that if I didn't leave and get home, something terrible would happen to me.

So that day I passed through King's Cross at about 7.10pm and headed home to Turnpike Lane.

I never usually watched the news on TV, but for some reason that night, I put the TV on and saw the breaking news about the terrible fire. I was absolutely devastated.

I was also worried for my flatmate Paul, who hadn't come home yet.

Thankfully Paul arrived home soon after, with a friend from work. They were both in a state of shock and you could smell smoke from the fire on them.

Their train had passed through King's Cross as the fire was breaking. The smoke had infiltrated the train and stuck to their clothes.

I cried for days after. I felt such an empathy for the victims and their families.

I took flowers to the memorial, and shed more tears. I felt like I had lost someone close to me, even though no one I personally knew had died.

Later a clairvoyant told me that I had lost someone I'd had a strong spiritual connection with in the fire.

It took me almost a year before I could face going into King's Cross station, and I would feel sick whenever my train passed through or stopped there. The charred smell seemed to linger forever.

Now I live on the other side of the world.

But every November when the anniversary comes, I remember King's Cross. And I say a prayer for those 31 souls who left us that day, and their families - and those of us who had such a narrow escape.
Jenny C, Australia ex-UK

I left work each evening at 7pm to make the 5-to-10 minute walk to catch the Piccadilly line tube from Baron's Court to Kings Cross as part of my journey home to St Albans.

The previous week, my colleague had told me I had 3 days leave overdue and would I like to take it soon. I chose to take Wednesday 18 November to Friday 20 November off. I'm glad I did.

The tube journey [to King's Cross] was typically 20 minutes from Barons Court and I would normally have been on the very escalator that caught fire, when fire broke out, reportedly at 7.30pm.

I remember a cold shiver going through me when I saw the news flash around midnight that night and again on seeing the burnt out remains of that escalator - my escalator - on the front page of the morning newspapers.

The thick hanging smell of the fire lingered in the tube station passageways for months afterwards.

There but for the grace of God go I.
Andrew Pryde, UK

I use to ride the tube from central London to Walthamstow on the extreme end of the Victoria line.

At the time of the fire I was on my way home and planned to change from the Picadilly Line to the Victoria line at King's Cross as usual.

As I remember, I was engrossed in a copy of the banned book Spycatcher, bought from a newsagent's in the City a few days before.

I decided, as we pulled into King's Cross, to finish my chapter and change at Finsbury Park instead.

That snap decision may have saved my life.
Mark Edward, USA

At the time of the fire I was living in West London and working in North London, using the Victoria and Piccadilly lines to commute.

I normally changed from the Victoria to the Piccadilly line at King's Cross because the interchange at Green park involved a rather long walk.

That evening I was particulary tired and feel asleep missing my usual changing stop at King's Cross.

I awoke just past Kings Cross and cursed my luck at having to make the dreaded long walk at Green Park.

To this day, I shall never forget the looks on my house-mates' faces when I walked in through the door that evening. They had been frantic with worry about me knowing that I usually passed through King's Cross at the time the fire started.

I must have been on one of the last trains through before all hell broke loose there.

To this day, I still realise just how lucky I was not being caught up in that disastrous event!
Ric Holyomes, UK

I was an apprentice electrician for London Underground at the time of the fire. When it happened I was on annual leave, but as soon as I got back I was down at King's Cross working on the "reinstatement".

When I first went down there around a week after the fire, it was just a charred black hole.

There was a "spookiness" about the place, just standing at the top of the burnt-out escalator where the events had unfolded.

It looked awful, but it was hard to believe that 31 people had died there.

There was this continual "acrid" smell about the place.

This slowly diminished during the year I was working there - that was until I went into a set of decommissioned toilets between King's Cross and St Pancras.

The air had obviously not circulated that well through them, and they still smelt like just after the fire, and the memories came flooding back.

I remember the machine rooms under the escalators through out the Underground system before the fire used to be disgusting places covered in oil and grime. But within a very short space of time after the fire they became so clean you could have almost eaten your dinner from the floor!

My father, Stanley Hoskin, also worked for London Underground, and he had put up emergency lighting at Moorgate some 12 years before when I was just a child.

He, however, had a more direct contact with the tragedy because he was down at Moorgate a short time after [the Moorgate crash] had happened putting in lights so the emergency services could see what they were doing.

It affected him for sometime. These days they call it post-traumatic stress syndrome.

I just remember he was somewhat "withdrawn".
Karl Hoskin, London, UK

I was on my way home from my office in Warren Street.

The tube pulled into King's Cross where I normally got off but this day the train stopped but the doors did not open.

People were banging on the doors to let them in but the doors did not open and the train pulled off.

I did not know what was going on until I got home to find very worried parents!

The next day was dreadful as we had to get a bus from the train station and go past King's Cross - deathly silence and the hundreds of flowers are what I will always remember most about the scene.

Makes me shudder even to this day. Needless to say I have not been on a tube since!
Sarah Hadfield, Dubai

I was on a train from Sheffield which pulled into St Pancras a few minutes before the flashover - I think a few other passengers on that train died.

I walked into the ticket hall and saw the white smoke drifting over the ceiling.

I hummed and hawed about whether to take the tube to High Barnet and decided that the fire would mean a delay so I would just get the overground to New Barnet instead.

The decision - made on impulse - almost certainly saved my life.

It can only have been seconds after I left the station that the flashover occurred.

Inside the station it was actually quite calm, a naivety that will never again, I hope, be demonstrated in the face of such a problem.
Adrian McMenamin, UK

My girlfriend and I travelled up the escalator that caught fire half an hour before it started, on the way to the Barbican.

On leaving the Barbican, you could smell the smoke and fumes coming down the tube from King's Cross. Scary to think that the fire had probably started as we travelled up the escalator.
Alistair Coast-Smith, UK

I was standing on the mainline concourse looking at the departures board, standing next to the underground exit, waiting for a platform to be allocated for a Peterborough train.

I vividly recall the first smoke coming up from the exit. My first instinct was that a waste bin had caught fire.

Silly of course - all waste bins had been removed due to the IRA bomb threats. Then I heard shouting and saw one or two people racing up the steps onto the concourse.

Then suddenly the thin trail of smoke was a dense black thick cloud and within seconds the concourse was filled with smoke to within four or five feet of the floor.

I ducked - the air was acrid - and ran for the nearest exit with several others still unaware of what was happening beneath my feet.

It is strange how our essentially safe world lulls the mind into believing that any event "can't be that serious".

The greatest shock came outside. Thick black smoke was belching from all the underground exits.

If hell exists it was on display that night - smoke pouring and pumping out relentlessly into the night air illuminated by the yellow sodium lights.

The longer I stood there the more it sank in that this was a major incident.

But there was no evidence of casualties and I was not about to start looking or intruding on the emergency services.

My first thought was to call home. No mobile phone back then - I had to find an empty call box.

I walked in to St Pancras. It was like a scene from the 19th century - thin smoke filling the air of the cathedral like station fed by, I think, the sole underground exit located actually in St Pancras station itself.

I called my wife and explained that she might hear or see something on the news about a fire at King's Cross but that I was OK. My call coincided with the first TV coverage.

Just occasionally I now stop for a few seconds at the plaque on the King's Cross Underground concourse which commemorates those who lost their lives and think of the terror they must have endured that night and appreciate that had I been a few minutes later my name might have joined theirs.
Peter Gidley, UK

I had to stay later at work than was usual that evening, and went up the wooden escalator from the Piccadilly Line probably about two minutes before it burst into flames - which I suppose means that the fire had already started beneath the steps.

It was very busy - both the moving stairs were full.

The main things I remember is that the ticket hall was (as usual) crowded, and I had to jump over the bags of a number of soldiers who were buying tickets - I often wonder what happened to them.

As I ran up the steps to the station I was also struck by how many policemen were heading down into the ticket hall.

You normally saw the odd one, but that evening I passed four or five of them entering the station and ticket hall.

I have often wondered whether this was a co-incidence, or whether there had already been a warning or alarm that they were coming to look into.

Thinking back about how many people there were in the station at the time it is amazing the death toll was not far higher.

I didn't actually find out anything about it until I got home - though my wife was obviously very worried, to put it mildly.
John Birch, UK

I was outside on the street at King's Cross underground station about half an hour before it happened.

I was about to walk down the steps into the Underground station when an old man happen to stand in my way begging for money, so I thought I may as well give him a £1 coin.

Then as I was about to walk round him to enter the station, I suddenly saw a bus that would take me directly home to Hampstead instead of going by Northern Line, so I quickly changed my mind and caught the bus home.

Later that evening I heard on the 9pm TV news of the fire at King's Cross.

The escalator that caught fire I was going to use to go down to the Northern Line.

Since then whenever I hear about the King's Cross fire, I think of the old beggar man that stood in my way at the entrance of the stairs to the underground.
John Pearce, UK

I was seven years old at the time of the disaster and can remember it as one of the first news stories I ever watched properly on TV.

I remember seeing [firefighters] coming in and out of the entrance to the station that had smoke billowing out of it and seeing covered up bodies being wheeled out on stretchers, which was very harrowing.

I remember going straight through King's Cross tube station on a trip with my dad not long after the fire, and remember how on the train I was on the name of the station had been blacked out by a piece of black tape.

It was very haunting passing through a station where so many people had died.

It's terrible that nobody has been prosecuted for negligence and that some of the worst injured survivors didn't receive full compensation.
Dan, UK

On Nov. 18, 1987, a flash fire engulfed an old wooden escalator at the King's Cross underground station. Thirty one people perished in that disaster including a firefighter - Colin Townsley, station officer from the Soho Fire Station in central London. Two other firefighters were trapped on the station platform - at the bottom of the escalator - but survived.

``The thick hanging smell of the fire lingered in the tube station passageways for months afterwards,'' commuter Andrew Pryde told the BBC.

A discarded match apparently ignited grease and rubbish in a machine room beneath escalator serving the Picadilly Line, even though smoking was banned on the London Underground after a fire at the Oxford Circus station a few years earlier.

``I remember the machine rooms under the escalators throughout the Underground system before the fire used to be disgusting places covered in oil and grime,'' electrician Karl Hoskin told the BBC. ``But within a very short space of time after the fire they became so clean you could have almost eaten your dinner from the floor!''

Townsley and his crew from Soho were first due at King's Cross that night followed by the crew at the Clerkenwell station. Firefighters from the nearby Euston fire station were at another alarm at University College Hospital. Soon thereafter, the Soho firefighters radioed for assistance - “Make Pumps Four Persons Reported” and Euston responded.

The fire escalated to a ``30 pump'' incident - equivalent to a ``general alarm'' in the U.S.

Investigator's report

Paul Grimwood, who was a fire investigator with the London Fire Brigade at the time, provided the following report to the web site Fire Tactics:

Kings Cross underground station is one of the busiest on London's 'tube' railway network serving over 100,000 passengers during peak hours. At approximately 7.32 pm on the evening of the fire, smoke was seen coming from one of the wooden escalators that was transporting passengers up from the platform levels to the ticketing hall.

The London Fire Brigade dispatched 4 engines and an aerial ladder as the call was received at 7.36 pm and the first of these arrived on scene at 7.42pm. A team of firefighters went down from street level into the ticketing hall from where they could see a fire burning about 20 feet down the escalator shaft with four feet high flames emerging from the escalator stairs. At this stage there were still passengers exiting from the platforms below in an orderly manner.

As firefighters returned to street level to collect hose and breathing apparatus three officers remained in the ticketing hall to supervise the evacuation of passengers. Whilst two of them began a descent down towards the platforms to prevent further use of this escalator as an exit route, the senior officer - Station Officer Colin Townsley - remained in the ticketing hall at the top of the escalator shaft.

Flames explode

More from Grimwood:

At 7.45pm the fire suddenly erupted up into the ticketing hall and created severe conditions likened to that of a flashover. At street level thick volumes of black smoke began to emerge from the station entrances and a large number of screaming passengers exited into the street. The fire burned for several hours killing 31 people including Soho's Station Officer Colin Townsley who died trying to rescue a woman from the blazing ticketing hall as the fire suddenly erupted.

Firefighters attempting to re-enter the ticketing hall to fight the fire likened the conditions as similar to climbing down into a volcano.

Various theories were put forward as to what caused the ' flashover like' conditions as the fire suddenly erupted into the ticketing hall. In terms of scientific definition the event did not conform to the universal acceptance of what constitutes a 'flashover'. Consideration was given to the possibilty of an ignition of fire gases that may have accumulated within the ticketing hall where such an event would be more closely accepted in definition to that of a 'backdraft'.

Further thought was directed at the likelihood of the escalator fire being pushed upwards in the shaft by a 'piston effect' as trains arriving at platforms forced a major airflow out of the tunnels and up into the ticketing hall. However, mathematical modeling and computer simulations promoted a new theory of rapid fire development within inclined shafts with combustible surfaces termed trench effect.

It was established that once the trench effect became established, the 'piston effect' from trains would not have played an important role in the rapid spread of the fire up the escalator and into the ticketing hall. This trench effect was seen to cause hot gases in the buoyant plume to lay along the escalator surface and create a rapid airflow which caused these gases to curl over and over towards the next steps above. The airflows in the trench increased in proportion to the size of the fire, eventually creating a flamethrower type effect up and into the ticketing hall.

However, it is certain that a large quantity of unburned combustion products (pyrolyzates) existed in the smoke and fire gases forming at ceiling level in the booking hall at the head of the escalator as the fire reached this stage of rapid fire progress. It is also apparent, from firefighters accounts, that the piston effect did play a major part at various stages of the fire's development in creating a more intense fire as trains passed through the station tunnels some levels below the escalator itself.

The cause of the fire was discovered by London Fire Brigade investigators to have resulted from the most likely discardment of a lighted match (smoker's material) by a passenger on exit from the system and strong evidence existed that demonstrated several smaller fires of this type had occurred in the past on this escalator but never progressed beyond a small self extinguishing fire that probably went unnoticed. Subsequent tests confirmed the likelihood of such a fire being able to develop beyond a stage of self extinguishment when located in the grease track that existed under the escalator. There had also been several small fires on other underground stations in London that involved wooden escalators.

Although the evidence was heavily weighted towards the careless discardment of a lighted smoker's match as a cause of the fire there had been reports of an earlier incident in the evening on an adjacent escalator in a nearby shaft that raised the question as to whether the Kings Cross fire could have been caused maliciously. There had been several accounts by witnesses who described a small fire existing at the base of an escalator in the Victoria line shaft just minutes before the reported fire in the Piccadilly line shaft that progressed into a major conflagration.

This smaller fire involved an item of burning paper that appeared to have been rolled up and thrown down the shaft from or near the top of the escalator.

Fennell Investigation

The fire led to new safety regulations, according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia:

The Fennell Investigation into the fire prompted the introduction of the Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989 (usually referred to as the Section 12 Regulations because they were introduced under section 12 of the 1971 Fire Precautions Act). These led to: the replacement of all wooden escalators on the Underground; the mandatory installation of automatic sprinklers and heat detectors in escalators; mandatory fire safety training for all station staff twice a year; and improvements in emergency services liaison.

Sadly, tragedy visited the underground station again in the terrorist attack on London on July 7, 2005. A bomb exploded on a train in the tunnel between King's Cross and Russell Square. The London Fire Brigade rescued victims trapped below.

"No one understood better than Stalin that the true object of propaganda is neither to convince nor even to persuade, but to produce a uniform pattern of public utterance in which the first trace of unorthodox thought immediately reveals itself as a jarring dissonance." Leonard Schapiro

Joined: 5:39 PM - Nov 06, 2006

7:34 PM - May 08, 2007 #4

Telstar House, 29th July 2003

I include this because the fire, that started on the 7th floor, had among one of its consequences a releasing of the tenant, London Undeground, from its lease that would have lasted until 2018.
Telstar House, Eastbourne Terrace, W2
Following a fire in 2003, which extensively damaged this 89,400 sq ft (8,305 m2)
office building, the Group has agreed a settlement of £18.75 million with the
insurers.  At the same time the Group has advanced the redevelopment of the
building by releasing the tenant, London Underground, from its £2 million per
annum commitment, under a lease that would have expired in 2018. Work on the
new building, which will provide 104,000 sq ft (9,660 m2) of offices, is due to
commence in 2005.


20-Pump Fire at Telstar House - July 29, 2003

"Three firefighters were hurt while they were looking for a reported missing person in the building which is owned by London Underground. ... Assistant Divisional Officer Brian Mitchinson said: `We can only commend their bravery.'" - BBC web site

An on-scene report by Assistant Divisional Officer Steve Dudeney - London Fire Brigade.

20 Pump High-rise Fire; Telstar House, Eastbourne Terrace, Paddington, London W.2 - 29th July 2003 - 50,000 square feet of fire!!!

The Pump Ladder, Pump and Turntable Ladder from A21 Paddington and the Pump from A22 Manchester Square were called at 20:44hrs (BST) to a Fire Alarm Actuating at Telstar House, Eastbourne Terrace, Paddington, London W2.

Telstar House is a Thirteen Storey Steel framed concrete Office Building built in the late 1960’s measuring approximately 300ft x 50ft. It has a Ground Floor entrance lobby and the upper floors are built above an open parking area. There is also a two Storey retail/Living unit used as a Public House/Restaurant built adjacent to the Ground Floor entrance lobby. There is a Staircase at each end of the Building, the staircase at the Eastern (main entrance end) also has a protected Elevator/Firefighting lobby. No sprinklers are fitted within the structure but all areas are covered by an automated Fire detection system. Each floor of the Building is open planned with multiple work Stations and low level partitioning. There is no HVAC system fitted in the Building, ventilation is provided by pivoting windows across the façade of the Building. At the time of the fire, the Building was occupied by a project team from London Underground Limited (London’s Underground Railway Operator).

The first Crews arrived three Minutes after the initial call (A21 Paddington Fire Station is less than half a mile away). Crews arriving at the Building could see no signs of fire and had no reason to suspect that this call was any different to the 14 other Alarm Calls that had been attended in the  Building in the previous 12 Months; Nevertheless, in accordance with LFB SOP’s Crews were rigged in SCBA and equipped with Firefighting equipment.

The first Incident Commander approached the entrance to the Building and was informed by an on duty security guard that the alarm panel was indicating a fire on the 7th Floor of the block. Asked if everyone was accounted for he could not be sure but suspected that one person, allegedly working on the floor below the fire had not been accounted for.

The Station Officer sent his deputy and a Crew wearing SCBA and 1.75 Inch hose up to the Fire floor. They alighted the elevator on the floor below the fire and were met by a janitor who pointed upward and continued down the stairs. As they approached the entrance to the 7th Floor Office the Crew saw smoke and Flames behind the door. The Sub Officer radioed the IC and informed him that there was a fire in Progress and that the riser (standpipe) should be charged with water, he ordered the two SCBA wearers to connect the Hose and nozzle and don their SCBA, meanwhile he and another Firefighter attempted to attack the fire with a small bore fixed hosereel fitted inside the building.

At this time the third Pump from A22 Manchester Square pulled onto the block, Firefighter from this Appliance saw some evidence of smoke coming from the seventh floor windows at the Eastern end on the South side.

The Sub Officer and Firefighter on the 7th floor started to attack a fire in the first ‘work bay’ on the left using the fixed Hosereel; this had no effect on the fire which was burning from floor to ceiling and had entered the false ceiling panels overhead. They retreated to the Firefighting lobby and closed the door behind them. At this time they were joined by the two SCBA Firefighters who had connected the 1.5 Inch hoseline to the riser outlet on the floor below. The line was charged and the Crew entered the Fire compartment.

Only a matter of Minutes after the first two Firefighters had withdrawn, the SCBA Crew entered the Fire compartment and were immediately faced with a severe fire that was rapidly consuming the 7th Floor open planned office. The heat was unbearable and they were immediately forced onto their Stomachs where vision was nil and heat was beginning to penetrate their turnouts.

They withdrew and requested that the Aerial ladder be deployed to ventilate the Fire floor.

At about this time, The Station Officer at the command point in the street was interrupted by a bang; he looked up and saw that the fire had broken out of a window on the 7th Floor. He immediately made Pumps Four, the time was 20:53hrs. Crews had been in attendance for no more than 6 Minutes.

Four minutes later Pumps were made up to six, further Crews were despatched to the 6th floor to set up an effective Bridgehead as well as a Crew who were committed to the 8th Floor with another 1.5 inch Handline to search for missing persons and check the fire above. By the time the line was charged and the Crew committed, the 8th floor was becoming smoke logged but fire had yet to penetrate that level.

At this point most of the windows on the fire floor had failed and flames were licking the 8th floor, conditions inside the fire floor had improved slightly due to this ventilation and a second Crew were committed however the increased ventilation had seen to it that the whole floor was involved in fire, the 1.5 inch handlines with combination nozzles were proving ineffective in overcoming the rate of burning due to insufficient flow and reach.

An additional hand line was got to work by inserting a dividing breeching (Siamese) into the 6th floor riser, this involved a temporary loss of supply to one of the lines. As soon as the supply was re-established to these lines…albeit at a lower flow, another Crew entered the Fire floor. The first Crews withdrew due to low pressure warnings on their SCBA leaving a Crew of two within the fire floor.

This crew soon became overwhelmed by the volume of fire and the senior of the two made the decision to withdraw. Progress out was slow as a large amount of electrical cabling was hanging from the ceiling and the Crew were becoming entangled in it. They were also feeling the first signs of heat exhaustion.

At this point the First Assistant Divisional Officer (Chief) arrived on scene and took over command of the Incident from the Station Officer, fire was seen to be extending into the 8th floor so Pumps were made up to ten and additional Aerial Appliances were requested.

Up on the 7th Floor the Crew inside had actuated the Automatic Distress Signal Units (ADSU’s) two emergency Crews were sent in to rescue the team, one of the Firefighters had become disorientated and wandered back into the fire where he soon collapsed. His partner quickly located him and was able to drag him back toward the exit where they were rescues by the other teams. It is worthy of note that at this time the Firefighter who went to the aid of his stricken Brother was also suffering from severe heat exhaustion and had only been out of Training School for three weeks.

The Crew was removed to the Staging area on the 6th floor where their SCBA and turnouts were removed and water was given to them to assist in re-hydration and cooling, paramedics were summoned to the area and the Crews were removed, The first Firefighter was admitted to Intensive care with sever heat exhaustion and burns, his partner and saviour was also admitted for heat exhaustion but was released the following day. After a stay in hospital this Firefighter is well on the way to recovery while the other has returned to duty.

Unfortunately this period of rescue activity coincided with the withdrawal of the Crew from the 8th floor, the Crews that were scheduled to replace him were held up by the greater priority of assisting in the Rescue of the Crew in distress, this allowed the fire to auto extend unchallenged into the 8th floor via open windows.

Pumps were eventually made up to twenty with four Aerial Appliances. With the Duty Assistant Commissioner in overall command of the incident.

Fire eventually consumed the whole of the 7th to 10th Floors. 4 Aerial monitors and a high flow ground monitor used from the roof of an adjacent building assisted in controlling the fire on the lower floors while a valiant and successful effort by SCBA Crews eventually limited the spread of fire to10% of the 11th Floor by 02:00 hours the following morning. Over 150 Firefighters on more than 35 Appliances fought the battle through the night as Crews remained on the scene until well into the next day.

The missing person was found safe and well elsewhere and the fire is believed to have been started by faulty electrics. London Underground Limited working with the London Fire Brigade were able to put into place their Disaster recovery Programme. All personnel based within the building were relocated to other sites across the capital the following day.

The South Side of the Building on the following morning. The fire started in the area arrowed.

The North side of the Building; although Fire started on the opposite side, damage was greater on this side due to air currents.

Inside the 7th Floor looking at the area where fire started.

Inside the 11th floor where the battle was eventually won.

"No one understood better than Stalin that the true object of propaganda is neither to convince nor even to persuade, but to produce a uniform pattern of public utterance in which the first trace of unorthodox thought immediately reveals itself as a jarring dissonance." Leonard Schapiro

Joined: 1:46 AM - Nov 26, 2005

7:57 PM - May 08, 2007 #5

I attempted to find the Kings X Fire Inquiry Report soon after discovering Peter Power's role in this. It isn't available on line and when I contacted an anorak site they very kindly bought a copy and scanned it: ... ventID=138

The Inquiry report made no mention of Peter Power and had this about the role of the MPS:
Metropolitan Police

58. The role of the Metropolitan Police at the King's Cross fire was
primarily a supporting one, but since there are several lessons to be
learned, I propose to review their part shortly.

59. King's Cross station lies within the Kentish Town police division but
is close to the divisional boundary with Holborn. At about 19:35 the
Duty Inspector at Holborn, Inspector Coleman, was alerted by a call
from Woman P.C. Ashley to a fire in the Underground. Inspector
Coleman responded quickly and taking Sergeant Martin as his driver,
set off in the Holborn duty car. The car was in position as the forward
control post at the junction of Euston Road and Pancras Road shortly
after 19:45. Inspector Coleman told the Investigation that he had
received no special training. Nevertheless with admirable speed and
decisiveness he initiated the major incident procedure of the
Metropolitan Police. It was no doubt crucial to the success of that
procedure that Inspector Coleman was able to use a specially reserved
radio channel which was allocated to him and linked his car with
Kentish Town and Holborn police stations. That procedure laid down
the responsibilities of the first senior Metropolitan Police officer on the
scene and the sequence and priorities that he should adopt, bearing in
mind the type of incident that had occurred.

60. Meanwhile the central command complex at New Scotland Yard had
been alerted by the London Fire Brigade Wembley control room at
19:41. Seven minutes later the British Transport Police indicated that
they were dealing with the matter.

61. Following the Metropolitan Police procedure, Inspector Coleman
established a rendezvous point for ambulances in Pancras Road and
then sent a request for more ambulances to New Scotland Yard. He also
asked for traffic units to close all the roads and this message was
relayed at 19:56. Fortunately, a main police traffic garage was situated
only two streets away at Drummond Crescent and motor cyclists were
quickly deployed at 20:01.

62. Thereafter Inspector Coleman continued to act in the role of the police
Incident Officer, requesting reinforcements to deal with the heavy
traffic and further ambulances (20:12). He mobilized the despatch of the
major incident box from Holborn police station to University College
Hospital (20:13) and organised a press rendezvous point together with
a request for the area press and publicity officer from the Metropolitan
Police to attend. At 20:20 he made his car (a brown Maestro), which had
been the police forward control post, the rendezvous point for doctors
and nurses attending the disaster.

63. The Metropolitan Police assumed the primary responsibility for
organising traffic at the scene. The area was cordoned off with special
units to deal with traffic congestion and maintain routes for the
emergency services. They also arranged for a helicopter to transfer
urgently required medical supplies between hospitals, besides
providing support units at University College and St. Bartholomew's

64. Over 100 Metropolitan Police officers were on the scene by 21:00, and
at the height of the mobilisation by midnight some 190 officers were present.

65. The organisation of the central casualty bureau at New Scotland Yard
was a major task requiring immediate staffing by an inspector, 3 sergeants, 40 constables, together with another 37 police staff for relief purposes. The unit was supported by the divisional casualty bureau and received a total of 14,107 telephone calls during this period. The identification of bodies and the provision of mortuary facilities were further major tasks for police together with numerous other minor jobs.

66. It is apparent that the Metropolitan Police had a properly planned and
coordinated major incident procedure which Inspector Coleman was
able to initiate with speed after a prompt reconnaissance. In the result
an efficient and effective back-up was available to deal with the results
of the disaster. I recommend that all emergency services should have
and be prepared jointly to implement such a plan. The Metropolitan
Police major incident procedure is clearly an ideal base upon which to
�To those who are afraid of the truth, I wish to offer a few scary truths; and to those who are not afraid of the truth, I wish to offer proof that the terrorism of truth is the only one that can be of benefit to the proletariat.� -- On Terrorism and the State, Gianfranco Sanguinetti

Joined: 2:18 AM - Jul 05, 2007

12:04 AM - Jul 31, 2007 #6

amirrortotheenemy @ May 8 2007, 05:59 PM wrote:Aldwych, 18th February 1996

The bus had travelled over Waterloo Bridge along Lancaster Place and was passing a Ministry of Defence building and turning onto Aldwych when the bomb exploded.
By Steve Macko

One person was killed and eight others were injured when a bomb ripped through the top portion of a London double-decker bus on Sunday night. London police said that they did not receive any prior warning of the blast, as is the usual case. Speculation is now centered around the bomb accidently went off and the bus was not the target of the blast. The person who was killed most likely was an IRA terrorist transporting the device from one place to another.

The bomb exploded in the late evening at 10:38 p.m. (1738 EST) in the Aldwych area of central London, near the intersection of Wellington Street near the Strand. The bus exploded near the Waldorf Hotel and had been any other night than a Sunday, the street and bus probably would had been filled with theater-goers.

The Number 171 bus had reportedly just crossed Waterloo Bridge and turned into Aldwych when the bomb went off. The area of the blast is near the London School of Economics, the headquarters of the BBC World Service and Somerset House, which is a palace that was built in 1550.

Witnesses said that the explosion ripped the bus apart like a sardine can. The entire top of the bus was ripped open and the lower portion was gutted by fire. One witness to the blast said, "I was walking down the road and I saw a big white flash in the sky. I looked and then I saw a double-decker bus but there was nothing left of it. It was completely blown to pieces." Another man who witnessed the tragedy said, "The bomb was on the bus. It blew the whole top deck clean off. It was definitely planted on the top deck. There was no ceiling, no roof.

Five pieces of fire equipment and a number of ambulances immediately responded to the explosion and were on the scene within moments. London Ambulance Service said that a total of eight victims were taken to area hospitals. Another witness told, "I saw one woman who looked severely injured, she was lying in a pool of her own blood, there was blood on her head. She was motionless."

Six of the injured victims were taken to nearby St.Thomas' Hospital. A doctor at St.Thomas' said, "Five men and one woman, all relatively young adults, were brought by ambulance to the hospital. Three of them have significant head injuries, one lady and two men." The other victims that were brought to the hospital were said to have only minor superficial injuries and lacerations to the body. The doctor also said, "The man with the most severe head injuries has significant facial injuries and arterial bleeding."

The director of the north-east division of the London Ambulance Service said, "The staff in central ambulance control heard the explosion and were therefore able to mobilize necessary resources immediately. I am delighted that once again LAS staff responded in such a professional manner." Emergency workers who responded to the scene of the blast were amazed that there were not more casualties.

On Monday, the Belfast, Northern Ireland, office of the British Broadcasting Corporation received a telephone call stating that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was claiming responsibility for Sunday's blast.

In a statement to the BBC, the IRA said, "The bomb which exploded last night was one of our devices. We can say at this stage we regret the loss of life and injuries which occurred."

Commander Tony Rowe of Scotland Yard said that police are working on the theory that the bomb went off accidentlly while it was being transported to its target. Police believe that the person who was killed was the bomb carrier. It would not be the first time that an IRA bomb had gone off accidentally killing the carrier.

This was the third bombing attack in nine days in London by the IRA. It is believed that the terrorist organization intends to target London and not Northern Ireland in its campaign of terror. The main reason for targeting London is because of the publicity that it can receive.

© EmergencyNet News Service, 1996, All Rights reserved.
Ceasefire plot of IRA bus bomber
By Michael Smith

AN IRA man blown up by his own bomb on a London bus had been plotting terrorist attacks throughout the ceasefire, an inquest was told yesterday. Edward O'Brien, 21, died when the bomb he was carrying in a hold-all exploded prematurely on the No 171 bus at Aldwych, Westminster, on Feb 18.

He had been sent to England when the Northern Ireland ceasefire was announced as part of a "duplicitous" campaign, Westminster Coroner's Court was told.

Cdr John Grieve, head of Scotland Yard's Anti-Terrorist branch, said O'Brien was "an active, committed and fairly experienced terrorist who had been on the mainland since August 1994 and had been involved in terrorist activities throughout the ceasefire".

O'Brien's death almost certainly brought a premature end to a major bombing campaign in London that had begun three days earlier when a similar bomb was left in a West End telephone kiosk. That bomb, in a sports hold-all similar to one found in O'Brien's flat, was made safe, but Det Supt William Emerton told the inquest that it was intended to be the first of many. When police searched O'Brien's bed-sit at Lewisham, South London, they found five Semtex bombs.

Even as President Clinton was visiting Northern Ireland, O'Brien was drawing up a list of potential targets

O'Brien, a labourer from Gorey, Co Wexford, was a so-called "lilywhite" - a volunteer with no known link to the IRA - sent as a "sleeper" to be activated once the ceasefire broke down.

But even as President Clinton was visiting Northern Ireland and shaking hands with Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, O'Brien was drawing up a list of potential targets, the inquest heard. Mr Emerton said: "I can prove that from August 1994 O'Brien was in London operating on behalf of the IRA and indulging in criminal activity. I can prove that in October and November 1995 he was collecting targeting information and assembling his bomb-making equipment in his flat, clearly intent on carrying out the intentions of the Provisional IRA."

At the time of Mr Clinton's visit last year, it was "clear that O'Brien was collecting his murderous equipment and planning his criminal activities", said Mr Emerton. "I think the word duplicitous summarises this activity." The bomb went off at about 10.40pm on Sunday, Feb 18. The double-decker bus was turned into a twisted heap of metal and a number of passengers were injured.

Dr Iain West, consultant pathologist at Guy's Hospital, said O'Brien was killed instantaneously. His body had to be brought to Guy's in four separate bags, Dr West said. His legs were blown off and his lungs and internal organs torn apart by the blast. The body parts were "peppered" with shrapnel in a way that was consistent with someone carrying the bomb in a bag in his right hand, Dr West said.

"I saw the bus and it looked like there was a huge bite mark where the door should have been"

Pc Miles Manning, the first policeman on the scene of the explosion, said: "There was an almighty explosion, one of the biggest bangs I have ever heard. As I came around the corner, it was completely quiet. I saw the bus and it looked like there was a huge bite mark where the door should have been. Lying in this bite mark was a white male, who was still alive and murmuring."

He saw a pistol lying nearby. It was later found to have O'Brien's fingerprints on it. "Then I looked up and saw the deceased," said Pc Manning. "He was sitting in a seat next to the door. He was lying back in the seat. It was obvious he was dead. His legs had been blown off."

Allen Feraday, of the Forensic Explosives Laboratory at Sevenoaks, Kent, said the scientific evidence confirmed that O'Brien had been carrying the bomb in a bag. The most likely causes of the premature explosion were human or mechanical error, although he did not rule out the possibility detonation by waves from a radio or mobile phone.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, Dr Paul Knapman, the coroner, said: "It is clear that this was unintentional. It was an accident. This is the fourth incident where somebody has been killed while carrying a bomb. I forebear from stating the obvious. One would extend sympathy to his family, but it is clear that while embarking on this potentially murderous crime, he was the author of his own misfortune."
Source: ... mba17.html
But Duncan, what men believe isn't important - it's our actions which make us right or wrong. - Alasdair Gray - Lanark

Joined: 2:18 AM - Jul 05, 2007

11:58 PM - Aug 07, 2007 #7

Harrods, 1983
Ian McKellen's perspective ... 34,00.html
............He is British theatre's greatest contemporary actor, much loved, much respected, yet not remotely pompous or precious. He is one of those fortunate people who charms everyone, almost as a reflex. This was exactly what he did to me 10 years ago when I first saw him at a Guardian party in Soho I was a student and he was the guest of honour. He asked me for a light and handed back the matches with such courtesy and such a gorgeous smile I remember thinking: 'How amazing. He is even nice to the small people.'

That party took place just after McKellen had finally ripped off his mask and come roaring into the world as a Gay Man, something very many people knew or took for granted, but which he had never formally announced. It was like being born again for McKellen, and, indeed, had a similar proselytising effect: for years afterward, he talked about being gay endlessly and threw himself into founding and supporting the campaigning group Stonewall. ('He is,' one observer grumbled at the time, 'becoming a gay bore.') McKellen has now worried and chewed over the subject so much he would probably happily never talk about it in public again, but unfortunately these things have a momentum of their own. The week before we met, McKellen had appeared on Sir Jeremy Isaacs' television interview series, Face to Face, where he was quizzed once again on the effect of his secret homosexuality on his personality and why it took so long for him to come out in the first place.

The great revelation was, in fact, unplanned. McKellen was being interviewed on the radio by Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, and Worsthorne kept referring to gay people as 'them' apparently, if this is possible, with perfect courtesy. Finally, McKellen told him quietly: 'I am one of 'them'.' Ironically, both were knighted in the same honours list in January 1991. McKellen's statement put an end to a lifetime of public, if not private, deception neither his stepmother nor his sister (his parents were dead) officially knew he was gay. The Observer library still holds cuttings of the yellowing interviews in which McKellen felt obliged to lie to protect his reputation. He told an adoring Daily Express journalist in 1971 that: 'I couldn't marry or take on the responsibility of being a father at present. I'm always aware that I have to give a performance.' And that is exactly what he did for decades both on and off the stage. 'It was no inconvenience to me in interviews,' McKellen claims now. 'The question of whether I was married, or those intimate questions, were easy for me to dodge.'

But they weren't always. One of the two times that McKellen got really angry during our interview was when he mentioned the young diarist who used to follow him round with the vague idea of outing him. 'He would approach me on public occasions if I was with my boyfriend at the time and he would be terribly friendly to us. And I found out he worked for the press and was with the William Hickey column. And I remember I wished something awful would happen to that person because I didn't like his attitude to me. Which appeared to be very friendly, but wasn't. And,' McKellen continued neutrally, setting his coffee cup on the floor, 'he was blown up by the IRA.'

By the IRA? Good God. Was he pleased?
'No, of course, not. But it's difficult to remember what my feelings were about it. (It is quite clear it made him furious). But I think it was annoying to me that people would write about something which I wasn't prepared to talk about. If he'd actually come up to me and said, 'I want to do a piece about your being gay,' or, 'Are you gay?' or something like that. But nobody ever did say that.'

But he wouldn't have admitted it. 'Well, then I would have considered the question, and who knows what I might have done.'

(Later, I found out the diarist was a 24-year-old called Philip Geddes. An Oxford graduate, he was blown up by the Harrods bomb in 1983 while doing his Christmas shopping; he was identified by his dental records.)

McKellen had started fidgeting again, and as he did so a small brown mouse emerged from the corner, spotted us, veered wildly across the room, and dived into the skirting board. At this he was transfixed. 'Oh, there's a mouse!' he cried, his voice rising several octaves. 'Did you see that! Put that in the interview! I can't believe it! Did you see it?'
'A mouse!'
He started craning over to see where the mouse could have come from..............
But Duncan, what men believe isn't important - it's our actions which make us right or wrong. - Alasdair Gray - Lanark