Bluff Cove Disaster by Gareth Smith

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Cornucopia Radio, November 2011
I remember listening to the daily despatches and reading newspaper stories about the Falklands War of 1982, about the time when I finished my undergraduate degree. The entire campaign reinvigorated Margaret Thatcher's Conservative administration, at a time when its popularity was plumbing new depths; while The Sun newspaper in particular conducted a jingoistic campaign praising "our boys" who were crushing "the Argies" into the ground.
Gareth Smith's Bluff Cove Disaster exposed the seamier side of the campaign - in particular the desire of individual officers for personal glory, even if it put their troops at risk. Commander Andrew Matthews is desperate for a medal; to such an extent that he openly disagrees with his superior officer General Hall. The general wants Matthews' squad to play a defensive role; Matthews is committed to the idea of attack. Defying all orders, Matthews commandeers two helicopters and plots a course for Port Stanley. His men quite naturally object, but the commander makes them comply at gunpoint.
The action switches to the British centre of operations, where the General notices two helicopters "joyriding" in the direction of Bluff Cove, not Port Stanley. Bluff Cove is occupied by the Argentinian army; anyone flying in that direction will almost certainly perish. Cooped up in the cockpit, Matthews persists in believing that he is flying towards Port Stanley, not Bluff Cove. The outcome is inevitable: the Argentinians shoot dwn Matthews' entire squadron. Smith's play ends with a flashback to the past - before the conflict began - as one of the soldiers looks forward to seeing his newly-born daughter. Now he will never be able to experience that pleasure.
Smith focuses on the futility of the campaign - especially when a rogue officer takes the law into his own hands and puts his men at risk. Lives are needlessly lost; families are destroyed; and all for the vainglorious pursuit of military decorations. The sense of impending doom was well signalled by the electronic music (by the Celestial Aeon Project) echoing in the background, which rose to a crescendo as Matthews' squadron moved closer and closer towards their doom.
Ably performed by a eight-strong cast - Graham Burgess, Howard Russell, Michael Davies, David Swaine, Peter Beeston, Phil Mason, Rob Atkinson and Kathryn Stanbra - this powerful play, produced for the Sheffield-based Cornucopia Radio by Peter Beeston, proved an uncomfortable listen. It is available as a podcast on