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Fire in the Night

Tue Jul 9, 9-10.30pm, BBC2

The GDP-boosting gush of North Sea oil remains a relatively underacknowledged factor in Britain’s 1980s economic boom. Accordingly, the Piper Alpha disaster – which happened 25 years ago – is sometimes forgotten too. This moving film doesn’t attempt to place the tragedy in its historical context or make political points. Instead – aside from pointing out that significant maintenance work was being carried out while the rig continued to produce oil – ‘Fire in the Night’ concentrates on the stories of the men who experienced the trauma at first hand.

And what trauma it was. The film of the explosion itself remains utterly terrifying; the conflagration seems to turn day into night in an instant. The sound design is superbly visceral, doing its best to conjure up the hellish noise of this giant blowtorch as it consumed 30 tonnes of gas per second. And the memories of the survivors are scarcely believable. One man recalls the top of his head ‘starting to cook’; another the deck he was standing on beginning to melt. ‘I thought drowning might be an easier death than burning,’ remembers another.

It’s astonishing that they made it back to dry land at all – this film feels like a worthy tribute to the 167 people who weren’t so lucky.