The Iranian Embassy Siege

IF you were around at the time, it’s a TV moment you will never forget.
Bank Holiday Monday May 5 1980.
Millions of us are watching Cliff Thorburn playing Alex Higgins in the World Snooker Final in Sheffield.
Suddenly, the programme is interrupted and we’re transported from The Crucible Theatre to drama of a very different kind.
It’s the sixth day of the Iranian Embassy Siege in London. And the green baize has been replaced by black clad figures with guns.
Their “explosive entry” into the building and the incredible rescue which followed was a TV first.
At the time, all we could see was smoke, flames and figures on the balconies at the front of the embassy.
The full story of the SAS raid – hailed as a stunning success – emerged later.

It’s told again at 10pm tonight in Rescue Emergency: The Iranian Embassy Siege on the National Geographic Channel.
There’s a feature in today’s MEN – the online version is here – including details of how scenes of the raid were reconstructed at Manchester’s Chancellors Hotel.
But there’s more to say about the siege which first brought the SAS into the public eye.
Six heavily armed terrorists had burst into the embassy six days before and taken 26 hostages.

Several of the main players in the real life drama were interviewed for tonight’s film, including police negotiator Det Insp Max Vernon.
He says: “I’ve never ever come across a situation where people’s lives depended on what I said. If you make a mistake, somebody dies.”
The SAS had to memorise the exact layout of six floors and some 50 rooms.
They also rehearsed in a mock-up of some of the rooms at nearby Regent’s Park barracks and memorised the faces of the six terrorists.
The killing of one of the hostages was the trigger for the SAS to go in.
Robin Horsfall, a member of the SAS team, tells the documentary: “The whole purpose of an assault is to attack every entry point at exactly the same time, causing the greatest amount of shock and surprise.”
PC Trevor Lock – later awarded the George Cross – had been guarding the embassy when it was stormed by the terrorists.
He was one of the hostages, along with BBC TV sound man Sim Harris, who had been waiting for a visa to go to Iran. Both tell of the ruthless SAS operation.
The terrorists managed to shoot one further hostage dead and injure two more before the elite military force killed four of the gunmen.

One of the terrorists tried to escape by pretending he was a hostage, but was recognised by the SAS team on the embassy stairs.
As he was found to be holding a live grenade, they had no choice: Robin shot him dead.
The sixth terrorist also tried to hide among the hostages.
He was identified, arrested and later sentenced to life imprisonment – the only terrorist to survive.
As for the SAS, they drove back to their base at Hereford and were back at work the next day.
Oh, and Cliff Thorburn won the World Snooker title by 18 frames to 16.
*You can watch the original BBC News footage via their archive page here.
Chancellors Hotel
1980 World Snooker Final
Robin Horsfall
National Geographic Channel