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Think it’s hot now? How Britain roasted in TEN-WEEK heatwave during summer of ’76

July 15, 2022

By Paul Homewood

Amid the hysteria over the coming heatwave, the Mail reminds us all about the really roasting summer of 1976:




Wildfires have raged, speed restrictions have been imposed on some railway lines and hospitals have already declared ‘critical incidents’.

The hot weather in Britain this summer is set to peak next week, when the mercury could top 39C (102F) in London.

The current non-stop sunshine has evoked memories of the summer of 1976, when there were 15 consecutive days that saw temperatures of 89.6F (32C) somewhere in the UK.

Overall, there were ten weeks of blazing heat that saw widespread drought, mass standpipe use, and even the pausing of the murder trial of the notorious ‘Black Panther’, after a woman suffering from ‘heat exhaustion’ collapsed.

During a First Division football match between Manchester City and Aston Villa, City player collectively lost four stone in weight, prompting the team’s captain to call for an end to ‘summer soccer’.

At that year’s Wimbledon tennis championships, umpires were allowed to remove their jackets for the first time in living memory, whilst major roads were littered with broken-down cars that had overheated.

The extreme weather also caused an increase in the number of 999 callouts to domestic disturbances, as tempers buckled due to the heat.

The summer of 1976 was caused in part by very hot air that had originated in the Mediterranean. The warm weather and lack of rain began on June 23 and did not abate for more than a month.

The highest temperature recorded in the summer was on July 3, when the mercury hit 96.6F (35.9C) in Cheltenham. The average maximum daily temperature was 67.8F (19.9C).

At the Wimbledon championships, where Bjorn Borg would go on to win the first of his five titles and a young Sue Barker made it to the quarter-finals, 400 people were treated for ‘exposure to the sun’ in a single day.

The conditions were what prompted officials to relax the strict dress code for umpires for the first time since the tournament began nearly 100 years earlier.

The trial of kidnapper Donald Nielson, who was nicknamed the Black Panther and was accused of murdering a 17-year-old woman, had to be suspended at Oxford Crown Court when a woman in the public gallery fainted

In the House of Commons, bar staff walked out in protest when officials refused to allow a similar relaxation in costume rules that would have allowed them to remove their traditional green jackets.

Above them, the Big Ben clock on what is now named the Elizabeth Tower suffered what was its only major breakdown due to metal fatigue caused by the heat. It took three weeks for the clock to be fixed.

Elsewhere, dozens of people desperately dived into the water of Trafalgar Square’s fountains in an attempt to cool off. 

As well as the weight loss seen in the football match between Manchester City and Aston Villa, the Metropolitan Police dealt with 600 more daily calls to domestic disturbances than normal.

As the drought worsened, a strict hosepipe ban was imposed in most places and residents were encouraged to alert the authorities if their neighbours used any water unnecessarily.

Showers instead of baths were encouraged, with the latter only allowed if there was no more than 5inches of water in the tub. 

The drought was worsened by the fact that there had been a lack of rainfall the previous summer, meaning reservoirs and rivers were already low.

The lack of water prompted fires to break out. As well as blazes in Essex and Yorkshire, 300 residents in an old people’s home in the New Forest had to be evacuated when a wild fire took hold nearby.

Farmers struggled too as thousands of acres of crops failed, prompting concerns that there would be huge increases in the price of food.

Street traders in London’s Hyde Park were slammed for charging the grossly inflated price of 40p for a bottle of Coca-Cola, even though they were costing 22p in the Dorchester Hotel across the road.

The weather also caused problems for couples, prompting a newspaper to give them advice on how to keep cool in the bedroom.

The drought became so severe that the then Labour government, led by James Callaghan, considered getting water by tanker from Norway.

Legislation – the Drought Act of 1976 – was passed in rapid time to both impose a nationwide hosepipe ban and to grant the government emergency powers that allowed them to reduce or turn off water supplies to industry.

The then sports minister, Dennis Howell, was made the new minister for drought. 

In Wales, the mains water supply was switched off for up to 17 hours a day.

Each standpipe – an outdoor tap installed on streets – that people had to use was shared between 20 homes.

By late August, there were only 90 days’ of water supply left in London. In Leeds, the figure was 80.

It prompted t-shirt manufacturers to start selling clothes bearing the slogan: ‘Save Water – Bath With A Friend’.

Thanks to the dry reservoirs and sections of rivers, fish died in their thousands, whilst birds died of botulism – a disease caused by stagnant, de-oxygenated water.

The heat also caused an invasion of ladybirds, with their numbers so high that they were often unavoidably crushed underfoot. 

The heat on stricken trains on the London Underground became so severe that people took to smashing train windows. 

The trial of kidnapper Donald Nielson, who was nicknamed the Black Panther and was accused of murdering a 17-year-old woman, had to be suspended at Oxford Crown Court when a woman in the public gallery feinted.

However, a week after Mr Howell’s appointment in late August as minister for drought, the rain finally arrived and the hottest and driest days of Britain’s most famous summer were finally at an end.  It had been the worst drought in England in 250 years.

The hot weather of the past few weeks has prompted many Britons to draw on their memories of the summer of 1976.

On Twitter, one wrote: ‘I’m a survivor of the summer of 1976. What a time to be alive. It was amazing. I was 15 and the No government as I remember instructed me in how to behave.’

Another said: ‘I have no idea how so many of us got through summer of 1976, unscathed. We didn’t have social media to try to frighten the life out of us.’

A third wrote: ‘A few hot days in July and they’re trying to pretend this weather is somehow unusual. Anyone else remember the summer of 1976, when we had comparable temperatures to now, except it went on for more than two months rather than the usual week or two? This is *not* an emergency!’

Their comments came as Downing Street called the week’s second Cobra meeting on the heatwave, with temperatures set to rise up to 39C (102F) from Monday. 

Cabinet Office Minister Kit Malthouse chaired the meeting of the Cobra (Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms) civil contingencies committee, just three days after the first crisis meeting was held on Monday.

Rivers are at 30 per cent of normal levels, farmers are using a third more water and Britons have been told to take shorter showers after the lowest rainfall in more than a quarter of a century in parts of the UK.

Farmers warned today of a ‘significant challenge’ posed by the extremely dry weather as they try to keep crops fully watered in the face of rising fuel, electricity and fertiliser costs during the heatwave gripping Britain.

East Anglia is particularly parched this summer after it saw just two thirds of its normal rainfall in the first half of 2022, making it the region’s driest six-month period since 1996 and the 11th driest since records began in 1836.

  1. July 15, 2022 2:03 pm

    Right. Right right right. I was doing my O levels that summer – the summer of 76 was a LEGEND. The heat when on and on AND ON! Weeks and weeks of it. And I was inside cramming. It was not fun.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      July 15, 2022 11:17 pm

      Few years ahead of you – I graduated in 1976 (still aged 19 by just one day courtesy of a summer birthday and starting Uni a year early) but luckily finals were taken in early June before the heat really kicked off. Fantastic time and fabulous weather. My only worry started with the rumours of the beer running out!

      • Peter Yarnall permalink
        July 17, 2022 11:51 pm

        I was at Saltley College, Birmingham in my 2nd year of Teacher Training in 1976. It was too hot to sleep in our rooms, so loads of us took our sleeping bags on to the grassy college grounds to sleep.
        No apocalyptic weather reports. No dubious pseudo science. It was just a weather event.
        Apparently the temperature halves and it’s going to piss it down this Wednesday here; not unusual, its our real climate!

  2. devonblueboy permalink
    July 15, 2022 2:06 pm

    The major difference between then and now? The presence of social media which allows eejits to spread their hysteria far and wide.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      July 15, 2022 3:04 pm

      Well, just in case eejits don’t manage to scare people through social media BBC WATO this lunchtime had an hysterically serious interview with someone from the MO. You’d think the country was populated by five-year-olds! If I’d given that interview I’d be too embarrassed to go back to the office afterwards.

    • Martin Brumby permalink
      July 15, 2022 3:05 pm

      And how much has the population grown since 1976? Any new reservoirs?

      Oh. I thought not.

      • Ray Sanders permalink
        July 15, 2022 10:57 pm

        Yes it is a scandal that the last reservoir (Carsington) was finished in 1991 a mere 31 years ago and 8 million people more now.

    • Peter Yarnall permalink
      July 17, 2022 11:54 pm

      Have you been watching “The undeclared war”? it certainly answers questions about the origins of the social media spread of the Great Climate Hoax.

  3. Broadlands permalink
    July 15, 2022 2:11 pm

    Similar weather happened in July of 1921.

    BRITISH ISLES: London, July 10. England is sweltering and suffering the worst drought in a century. Today was the seventy-eighth virtually rainless day. For the third successive day temperatures have exceeded 100. The rainfall for the year is less than one-third normal to date.
    FRANCE: Paris July 12. The Senate yesterday… cancelled the usual July 14 military review in Longchamps owing to the extreme heat.
    GERMANY: Berlin, July 27. The potato crop has been the hardest hit of any in Germany by the prolonged dry weather..
    RUSSIA: July 17. Twenty million persons are on the verge of starvation in drought-stricken sections of Russia, subsisting mainly on moss, grass and the bark of trees, according to the Vossische Zeitung, which quotes information from “reliable Russian sources.” The parched earth, it is asserted, is opening up great crevices, and wells and rivers are drying up. Foliage is asserted to have withered on the trees, and a number of villages are reported on fire.

  4. lapford permalink
    July 15, 2022 2:28 pm

    The summer of 1976 stands out in my memory. I was working in Berkhamsted and the river Bulbourne eventually dried up completely providing a useful traffic-free footpath through the town. I don’t know if it has done that again since. Every lunch break was spent at the outdoor pool (since built over). I spent part of the afternoons in a greenhouse type structure, not ideal with the temperature well over 100F in there. Being younger and slimmer helped to cope with that. There was very little rain in July, and just one day with rain at the end of August. The previous summer of 75 had also been hot but not quite as long lasting. Like many who post here, i find the Met Office scaremongering pathetic, it’s all part of the nanny state.

  5. PaulM permalink
    July 15, 2022 2:38 pm

    It was the year I met my wife (still together) and we enjoyed every second, everyone was doing the same. I don’t remember anyone complaining, except about the price of beer!
    It was a wonderful summer, but they were very different times.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      July 15, 2022 11:22 pm

      “I don’t remember anyone complaining,” Me neither except I was concerned about the beer running out. Good luck for the Golden Anniversary – hope the weather is as good then!

  6. Andrew Harding permalink
    July 15, 2022 2:50 pm

    I was 21 in 1976, studying dentistry at Newcastle University, I remember it well. My hay fever was horrendous and had asthma for the first and last time in my life!

    Of course in the forthcoming heatwave temperatures will be record highs. The reason being that there is much more air travel than there was in 1976, The Stevenson Screened thermometers that monitor temperature, do so adjacent to runways. Much of the heat will come from hot air emanating from the tarmac and jet engines on full power for take off and reverse thrust during landing.

    Had they been situated in fields, the correct temperatures would be recorded.

  7. MrGrimNasty permalink
    July 15, 2022 2:52 pm

    Sadly the experiment you can’t do is to have exactly the same weather as 1976, but with all the land use change, urbanisation, increased waste energy, electronic thermometers, etc. of today and see what readings you get.
    Even though blatantly the current heatwave has been a flop so far hyped in the media, it’s likely the whole ‘event’ will be defined by a freak heat burst Monday/Tuesday.

  8. Phoenix44 permalink
    July 15, 2022 3:02 pm

    It was only 2018 when we were told summers were getting wetter based on cricket being rained off according to The Climate Coalition in conjuction with the Priestley International Centre for Climate

    “Six of the UK’s seven wettest summers on record have taken place since the turn of the millennium.”,000_overs_per_year_to_the_weather.html

  9. 186no permalink
    July 15, 2022 3:02 pm

    1976 – roads melted, “I was there”; 1987 high temperatures in Europe led to many heat related deaths in cities – I remember Athens casualties amongst older people well. Many forest fires due to second hot dry summer; in subsequent years, rainfall caused flash flooding – French camp sites badly affected in the Rhone Alpes departement; Danube badly flooded after winter of heavy snow melted; this after scare stories of no snow from 1980’s onwards – fast forward to winter of 1999 and the devastating avalanche season in western Austria, Ischgl, Galtur, Montafon Valley when 4+ metres of snow fell and high winds caused pyroclastic type flow of snow at very high speed due to slab avalanches – we saw the evidence. With the Rhine at a low level is there really an extreme event pending or just variable …weather?

  10. Martin Brumby permalink
    July 15, 2022 3:12 pm

    And t’Old Climate just keeps on a’doing what an Old Climate’s gotta do.

    And none of the ill educated and mendacious Climate Psyentists have the foggiest idea what or why, nor what the weather will be like in a fortnight.

    “Six out of the UK’s seven most ludicrous political cockups have been decided upon since the turn of the millennium.”

  11. Harry Passfield permalink
    July 15, 2022 3:16 pm

    This minor warm period won’t be remembered as we fondly remember ’76 and it won’t be because temps weren’t that hot- it will be remembered in spite of whatever temps are reached because of all the hype over what the MO kept predicting would be reached.
    A letter from our old mate, Bob Ward is laughable in today’s DT (below).

  12. Harry Passfield permalink
    July 15, 2022 3:17 pm

    The heatwave is a disaster killing hundreds

    SIR – The attempts by Sir John Hayes (report, July 12) and Philip Johnston (Comment, July 13) to downplay the risks from the current hot weather are an insult to the hundreds of families whose loved ones are dying from heat.

    Each year the Government publishes figures showing that about 2,000 people in England are killed by heatwave conditions. Although most have underlying health issues, their deaths could be prevented if Britain managed the growing risks properly, for instance, by ensuring homes do not overheat.

    This heatwave is a natural disaster that is killing hundreds of people.

    Bob Ward
    Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment

    • GeoffB permalink
      July 15, 2022 3:31 pm

      Somebody from Grantham was on BBC lunchtime news, standing in front of the UK weather map, all red, pontificating on the up and coming deadly heat wave, reminded me of an article I read the other day that the “nudge unit” identified that weather presenters were trusted people and should be encouraged to push climate change. They should get Oscars for the last few days! Even Rowlett was on, but a bit subdued, just hope it rains on Monday and Tuesday.

  13. Roy Hartwell permalink
    July 15, 2022 3:21 pm

    One thing I remember about the summer of ’76? Well, very few cars other than Bentleys and Rolls Royces had air conditioning. Driving anywhere was horrendous with windows all open yet furnace heat coming in. Nowadays even the most basic cars seem fitted with AC and the heat hits you hard when you stop and get out !!

    • mjr permalink
      July 15, 2022 4:14 pm

      and dont forget plastic car seats.. wearing shorts was lethal . i used to stick to the seats in my ford anglia

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      July 15, 2022 11:10 pm

      Well one thing about the summer of 1976 that is often forgotten is that the exceptionally dry weather had turned the UK into almost desert conditions. The lack of that all important greenhouse gas (Water Vapour) allowed temperatures to rapidly drop away overnight. {This is the reason why the climate change conmen can claim 1976 was not that hot as the cooler overnight temperatures brought down the daily “average”}
      One early August morning there was actually quite a severe frost. I was driving my somewhat
      inebriated boss home in his V12 5.3litre convertible E Type at about 4:00a.m. when I spun 360 on the ice. It was all great fun for me until the boss threw up all over the dash. Happy days?!

  14. Gerry, England permalink
    July 15, 2022 3:36 pm

    Gutted! has removed the record breaking magic 100 degrees for next week. It would be a record for the 7 years I have been living here. Now it just 99F but it might – no, will – change again tomorrow. I wonder what model they use.

    I spotted another hysterical tweet reporting the first EVAH! red heatwave warning from the woke children and snowflakes at the MetOffice. Another distortion of history such as football was invented by the Premier League.

  15. Philip Mulholland permalink
    July 15, 2022 5:36 pm

    I will never forget that summer of 1976, it was astonishing.
    I was on a family holiday in Jersey in June and my return flight to Heathrow was nearly bumped because of reduced takeoff power due to the high air temperature on the short runway at Jersey.
    We made it to Heathrow where the air temperatures were even hotter and it then stayed hot in London for weeks. My walk to my office took me across Kensington Gardens, one morning I saw a grass fire that had gone underground into a hollow elm tree root which was then set ablaze. The soil was bone dry for at least a metre depth. That summer also saw the death of a larger number of shallow rooted ancient beech trees in Epping Forest.

  16. Edward Rodolph permalink
    July 15, 2022 6:27 pm

    Returning travellers to Seychelles had found UK was rather hotter than Seychelles! Climate and temperatures there were stabilised by the surrounding ocean, held to about 75f, -Perfect!

  17. July 15, 2022 7:07 pm

    Reblogged this on delboydave and commented:
    I was working in ’76 and still had to wear a shirt & tie!

  18. bluecat57 permalink
    July 15, 2022 9:25 pm

    I’ve seen TV episodes where that and fog were the background for the ot.

  19. July 15, 2022 10:09 pm

    In 1976 I was working in London, on Euston Road at the corner of Tottenham Court Road. The pub over the road ran out of beer! I was sent to Malta on a job and was delighted to find it was much cooler than in London. I returned on the day the weather broke, to the great relief of us all!
    In the late 1950s, the temperature in Sussex reached 93degF for weeks, there were gorse fires on the Downs and peat fires on the Weald. Humidity was very high and it was impossible to sleep at night in an Edwardian brick house. It is ridiculous to place meterological equipment next to a tarmac runway, only mad dogs and climate modellers would do such a daft thing!

    • Stephen permalink
      July 17, 2022 3:16 pm

      I see you mention humidity. Finally, someone talking about it.
      It’s some comfort to know the dewpoint temperatures look unusually low over the next two days, just 10 or 12C, so 2 days of 38C is not so scary.
      In the one-day heatwave in 2019, the dewpoint was quite a bit higher than forecast for next two days.

  20. M Fraser permalink
    July 16, 2022 7:34 am

    Good morning all, I’ve got wet feet due to the heavy dew on the lawn this morning, must have been quite chilly here in N Wales last night. I also notice the French government didn’t halt ‘le Tour’ due to 37 degrees in the Alps this week, funny that.

  21. eastdevonoldie permalink
    July 16, 2022 2:17 pm

    I remember the summer of 76, I was 22 and in the Army in Germany. I was with 44 Field Support Squadron (Royal Engineers) and spent most of the period May-August in a tented camp on Sennelager Training Area as the Squadron built the runway that was used for the Queens Jubilee Review of the BAOR the following year. Glorious weather for camping!
    The only downside was having constructed the runway we did not get to attend and see the Royal Review in 1977.

  22. Andrew Collinson permalink
    July 17, 2022 12:22 am

    Good Piece,but the average maximum temp for the entire ’76 summer was 21.01c, [not 19.9] still the hottest on record. Andrew

  23. Aaron Halliwell permalink
    July 17, 2022 9:23 pm

    Telegraph July 17
    Heatwave hype
    SIR – We are greatly exaggerating the problem of heat-related deaths (Letters, July 15). According to a recent study in The Lancet, for deaths in England and Wales between 2000 and 2019, annual excess deaths due to heat were 791, and those due to cold were 60,500. The figure of 791 represents 0.13 per cent of overall deaths in 2021, so, while evidently upsetting for families concerned, it is not a matter of national importance.

    We should be more concerned about winter and its effect, particularly on the very elderly.

    Ian Brent-Smith
    Stratton Audley, Oxfordshire

  24. grammarschoolman permalink
    July 20, 2022 5:12 pm

    It should also not be forgotten that 1976 was the year when snow stopped play at a country cricket – only a few weeks before the two months of heat. Goodness knows what little Greta would have made of that!

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