Film ID:
YFA 5827

NORTHERN LINE: THE UNSLEEPING EYE

1985

Visitor Tabs

Description

Every day at Fylingdales, the Early Warning Missile Base high on the North York Moors near Whitby in North Yorkshire, 5000 space objects come under the day-and-night questioning of 100-ton radar scanners. The basic function of Fylingdales is to alert the West to possible Russian nuclear ballistic attack. Three 'golf-balls' dominate Fylingdales, along with a smaller listening-ear dome which analyses interference from unwanted radio and television signals. This documentary provides a fascinating insight into the function of Fylingdales. We visit the operation room, accessed by a secret 800 metre long tunnel, and find out about the 700 people who man this highly-secret, self-contained township. Peace protestors and CND supporters have their say too.

The film opens showing an aerial view over a town, possibly Tadcaster, with a commentary explaining the preparations for a possible nuclear attack, including 18,000 local warning units.  One of these is the Hare and Hounds pub, possibly at Sutton, near Tadcaster.  The landlord of the pub gives a demonstration of the warning machine he has which he turns with a handle.

The film switches to the North York Moors, where ramblers are out walking looking over the Hole of Horcum looking towards Fylingdales early warning station, seen in the distance, described as “the unsleeping eye”.  The Commanding Officer, Captain Roger Sweptman, drives there, passing the security gate, explaining the role of the station.  The commentary relates that the base was opened in 1963 at a total cost of £43m, of which £8m was covered by the UK, and that it occupies 2,000 acres of moorland.  Some detail is given of the globular radar scanners.  They enter an 800 meter tunnel, especially reinforced to prevent microwave interference.  The CO’s car is checked.  He explains that the base is capable of detecting ballistic rockets, seconds after take-off, who fired it and when it will reach the UK.  However, it cannot detect powered object, like planes or cruise missiles.   It is explained that the base is linked in with an early warning system based in the US, and that its primary mission is to deter the Soviet Union from launching an attack because it can warn early enough to enable retaliatory action.   Its secondary mission is to catalogue all objects in space, some 15,000.  The base is a self-contained township having its own water and electricity supply – eight US built diesel generators.  

The CO states that he wants to refute any suggestion that retaliatory action is carried out at the base, but maintains that it only provides information to the UK Prime Minister and the President of the US.  Once they have carried out this their job is complete.

Outside the base is a small peace camp made up of CND supporters.  One of them is interviewed and states that there should never be any retaliatory action.  Their placards point out the discrepancy between the fact that 3 million children die of starvation every year, and yet £442,000,000,000,000 is spent on arms by the world each year. One woman from Scarborough states that the Fylingdales Base represents death.  The CO argues that they and the demonstrators both want the same thing, but that he believes that deterrence is the only policy that works, and that disarmament has been tried and found wanting.  

A local farmer, Lorn Wilkinson, is interviewed and he states that he supports the base and believes that what they are doing is right.  The only US officer stationed at the base, a liaison officer, Major Jim Webber, is interviewed. He states that the base is entirely UK run, but explains how it fits in with the whole early warning system.  He takes up the issue of retaliatory action, and states that the base could detect “a tea tray over Moscow”.  There is a rehearsal in the operation room, with a scenario of 13 rocket missiles being detected, arriving in just 7 minutes.  In this case planes would be scrambled, nuclear submarines put on standby.  The film shows York Police Station beginning to alert citizens, and the landlord at the Hare and Hounds pub.  The film ends with the message that so far deterrence has worked.

End credits:
1985
Producer/Director - Frank Kilbride Narrator - Paul Dunstan
Yorkshire Television