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Remembering the Manchester Bomb

Jon Jacob

Editor, About the BBC Blog

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The Arndale Centre after the Manchester Bomb blast, 15th June 1996.

Euan Doak recalls the day the 1996 Manchester Bomb exploded in the centre of the city, ahead of a special day of broadcasts on BBC Radio Manchester marking 20 years since the blast.

Tell us about what you were doing the day the bomb went off.

I was on a production shift. I’d gone into work as usual, rota’d for the bulletin shift. We received a phone call from a colleague telling us that the police were closing off Market Street, and that there was something going on. Another colleague - Victoria Derbyshire - was in town as well. She did the same thing, telling us that the police were closing off the centre of town. The police confirmed with us that there was a suspicious device in the centre of Manchester and that they were evacuating the area. They asked us to put out a message saying 'don’t come in to town'. That’s when we put out a news flash.

From then on we just waited. We used to have a reporter in those days who worked Saturdays, so we sent him out with his Uher - his reel to reel tape machine - and he walked into town from Oxford Road. He got to about half a mile away when the bomb actually exploded. I think he may have actually been able to switch on his tape recorder because he felt the blast first, it sort of went through him before he heard it. I think he managed to capture the explosion on tape. He certainly captured the aftermath with all the glass breaking. We waited back in in Oxford Road BBC. When the bomb went off it was a little weird for us in Oxford Road. The BBC building we were in was quite well protected, so you felt the blast but not all that much. For people in the city however, they could hear it - even as far away as Oldham and Stockport.

Exchange Square in 1996, and today

A massive blast then … ?

Yes it was. You could see that from the debris afterwards. It’s funny now when you look back because we didn’t have rolling news then - our normal programmes carried on. That day, I think we were doing an OB from the Ideal Home Show in Birmingham. Bizarrely that just carried on. We covered the bomb blast in the bulletins, and then did a special programme at 5 o’clock that night. That sounds crazy now, but that’s the way it used to be.

The news bulletins was where the instant reaction went, so the reporter was on the phone filing phone clips. But those reports were more reflective - a round-up.

What effect did the moment of the blast have on you?

As a journalist you just knew it was the biggest story - it was massive, it couldn’t be any bigger. Everyone came in on the weekend to cover. People who were down in London came back up to Manchester to report on it. People who were all over the place came back because journalistically it was the biggest story.

I went out reporting on the day. The police had cordoned off the whole city centre. We couldn’t get near it. I remember going up to the cordon and seeing the glass and rubble and dust - it was still all in the air. But I actually got through the cordon a couple of days later when Tony Blair - leader of the opposition at the time - came up to visit. He was doing a tour of the area, and we walked across where the bomb had gone off. The destruction was unbelievable – all the rubble and the dirt. It was mind-blowing. It was the radius of the damage that was the most striking.

How did the bomb shape Manchester and its inhabitants from then on?

There’s a bit of a myth that Manchester was better place after the blast, as though the bomb did the city a favour. Personally, I don’t think that’s fair or true really because Manchester had already bid for the 1996 Olympic games, so there was already a sense in the city that it ought to be punching higher than it was.

There was some redevelopment going on. Old unwanted buildings from the sixties got knocked down. The Royal Exchange was damaged - that took two, three years to get repaired. The Corn Exchange was another old building turned into a shopping centre.

I think the blast was certainly a catalyst for redeveloping the city, probably on the back of that there’s been a lot more redevelopment. In some senses the redevelopment hasn’t stopped. You could say in those 20 years there hasn’t been a month where building work hasn’t been going on. That’s probably the same with any city but, you know, it does feel like the blast was a catalyst for ongoing redevelopment. That said, I don’t think the bomb was the cause of it.

What effect do you think it had on the people of Manchester?

It’s very hard to judge, I think the indiscriminate nature of the blast made it a massive shock, because Manchester’s got such a big Irish population. But after the blast, the Saint Patrick’s day Parade continued to be an important occasion in Manchester. I don’t think the bomb has had a lasting negative racial effect. I think in some ways it’s brought the city closer. Manchester is a very multicultural city.

There’s a very strong community spirit in Manchester, and a get up and go attitude too. It's an attitude that you can do better than you’re doing. There’s definitely a feeling that Manchester is going somewhere. I don’t know if the bomb stimulated that or not, but it definitely feels like from that moment on there’s been a real momentum to try and drive the city forward.

What will people remember on 15th?

There’s also a myth that nobody was hurt. There were 200 people injured, some of them seriously. Some were paralysed. People had huge psychological traumas afterwards because going in to the city really worried them. Nobody died but people were injured. Loads of businesses went under too. So there was a lot of damage. And I think that’s often forgotten about. People look at it quite rosily, and say it was kind of a great thing for the city - look where it is now - but it wasn’t. It was hugely traumatic experience. So I hope people remember those who were badly affected by it as well.

What will people hear in the programming for that day?

We’ve got recollections of people on the day - people who were injured, like the couple who were getting married that day. We've traced them and they've shared their stories with us. We’ve also been over to Belfast and talked to Sinn Fein. There will be a lot of recollections of the day on the radio and lots memories of what happened to people after the blast.

The Arndale Centre after the Manchester Bomb blast, 15th June 1996.

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