How accurate is Contact (1985)?

Hi all,

As someone born well after the main clashes of the Troubles, I watched Contact recently and was truly surprised to see what kind of operations took place in NI during the 70s and 80s. There's not much film/TV sources on the conflict and as the director was an ex-Para, I was wondering how accurate the whole thing was, as it seemed fairly authentic from a viewer's point of view.

Some questions:

The main character from what I could grab was a Captain, was it normal for a Captain to be leading the patrols in NI like that? I always thought officers were tactically in the middle.

The shooting at the beginning, did occurrences like this happen all the time? What kind of motive did they have to shoot? Prior intelligence?

Was it normal for Paras to conduct night patrols and clandestine ops, surveilling IRA movements? I would have thought this was more SF/Intelligence ops.

The scene with the villagers coming out of the house and the Paras pointing their weapons and then casually walking off and continuing the patrol, how accurate was that? Were British troops super aggressive with the local populace.

Generally on Op Banner, were there a lot of patrols by infantry in South Armagh? I'm a bit confused as to the point of this strategically, the soldiers just seemed like moving targets for the IRA. Wouldn't it have made sense to focus on raid/surveillance type ops considering the local situation?

Super interesting movie that doesn't seem to be promoted enough!
 

AlienFTM

MIA
Book Reviewer
I found it on YouTube when things were in ten minute bits.

It made absolutely no sense at all. Then I realised that I'd watched the ten minute bits in the order presented, not the order intended. Just call me Dick.

Then a year or two back I found it for Kindle. Made a lot more sense. Although my time was more mobile across Tyrone and Fermanagh, and things were different (and my troop leader was a Staff Sergeant), nothing ever occurred to me to make me call bullsh¡t.

Others more familiar with the area and the role may have differing opinions.
 
It's very accurate.

But, it condenses everything that might have happened to a whole battalion during a single tour into the experiences of a single platoon.
 
One thing that came across particularly well in Contact was the numbing fatigue brought about by the endless patrols, duties and working hours. When the guys came in they were like zombies.
 
Covert OPs and covert operations were carried out by all line units on Op Banner, not just SF.
Obviously, the more high profile ones were Special Branch/SAS.
The British Army were not super aggressive with the locals, and we only point our weapons at people if we intend to use them.
I'm not saying that over the course of thirty years, with tens of thousands of troops that it never happened, but artistic licence may have been used by the films directors.
@CSM's Despair.. Makes a valid point...a six month tours worth of incidents condensed into a couple of hours, for the Hollywood effect.
 

slick

LE
Hi all,

As someone born well after the main clashes of the Troubles, I watched Contact recently and was truly surprised to see what kind of operations took place in NI during the 70s and 80s. There's not much film/TV sources on the conflict
Try searching for the TV series Panorama or World in Action from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s. TV at the time was awash with NI current affairs programmes, although the coverage of operations would have been extremely limited for obvious reasons.
and as the director was an ex-Para, I was wondering how accurate the whole thing was, as it seemed fairly authentic from a viewer's point of view.
The director was Alan Clarke, while the writer was A.F.N. Clarke (ex Para), two different people.
Some questions:

The main character from what I could grab was a Captain, was it normal for a Captain to be leading the patrols in NI like that? I always thought officers were tactically in the middle.

The shooting at the beginning, did occurrences like this happen all the time? What kind of motive did they have to shoot? Prior intelligence?
The chap in the car was armed, they removed a sidearm from the body afterwards.
Was it normal for Paras to conduct night patrols and clandestine ops, surveilling IRA movements? I would have thought this was more SF/Intelligence ops.
I took this as normal patrolling, the scene where they lay in wait for the arms deal would`ve been based on intelligence gained elsewhere.
The scene with the villagers coming out of the house and the Paras pointing their weapons and then casually walking off and continuing the patrol, how accurate was that? Were British troops super aggressive with the local populace.
The house was a ruin, as I understood it the couple were guilty of nothing more than having an al fresco shag there, something which the Officer realised.
 
Hi all,

As someone born well after the main clashes of the Troubles, I watched Contact recently and was truly surprised to see what kind of operations took place in NI during the 70s and 80s. There's not much film/TV sources on the conflict and as the director was an ex-Para, I was wondering how accurate the whole thing was, as it seemed fairly authentic from a viewer's point of view.

Some questions:

The main character from what I could grab was a Captain, was it normal for a Captain to be leading the patrols in NI like that? I always thought officers were tactically in the middle.

The shooting at the beginning, did occurrences like this happen all the time? What kind of motive did they have to shoot? Prior intelligence?

Was it normal for Paras to conduct night patrols and clandestine ops, surveilling IRA movements? I would have thought this was more SF/Intelligence ops.

The scene with the villagers coming out of the house and the Paras pointing their weapons and then casually walking off and continuing the patrol, how accurate was that? Were British troops super aggressive with the local populace.

Generally on Op Banner, were there a lot of patrols by infantry in South Armagh? I'm a bit confused as to the point of this strategically, the soldiers just seemed like moving targets for the IRA. Wouldn't it have made sense to focus on raid/surveillance type ops considering the local situation?

Super interesting movie that doesn't seem to be promoted enough!
Is this for your school homework, numpty ?
 
The British Army were not super aggressive with the locals, and we only point our weapons at people if we intend to use them.
I'm not saying that over the course of thirty years, with tens of thousands of troops that it never happened, but artistic licence may have been used by the films directors.
Patrolling at night along roads in urban areas it was difficult to avoid being lit up or silhouetted by the lights from passing cars. It was SOP in my unit to point weapons at cars which approached with headlights on main beam or dipped and to track the car keeping the weapon in the aim until they had passed.

Many drivers would switch to sidelights and slow down to show they were not a threat.
 
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Patrolling at night along roads in urban areas it was difficult to avoid being l;ight up or silhouetted by the lights from passing cars. It was SOP in my unit to point weapons at cars which approached with headlights on main beam or dipped and to track the car keeping the weapon in the aim until they had passed.

Many drivers would switch to sidelights and slow down to show they were not a threat.
Yep, fair point, as soon as I posted I remembered that we did that, and routinely aimed at potential sniper points in houses and other buildings.
Though I think the question was more about aiming at crowds, which we were encouraged not to do.
Regarding the main beam, on a couple of occasions, whilst in APVs patrolling rural areas, some scallies often thought it would be amusing to tailgate us with full beam on.
A blast of Sharkeye straight at the drivers side soon discouraged that.
 
Covert OPs and covert operations were carried out by all line units on Op Banner, not just SF.
Obviously, the more high profile ones were Special Branch/SAS.
The British Army were not super aggressive with the locals, and we only point our weapons at people if we intend to use them.
I'm not saying that over the course of thirty years, with tens of thousands of troops that it never happened, but artistic licence may have been used by the films directors.
@CSM's Despair.. Makes a valid point...a six month tours worth of incidents condensed into a couple of hours, for the Hollywood effect.

There was all kinds of wildness, especially during the early days of the troubles. Check out the murders of Michael Naan and Andrew Murray for an extreme example.

Certain units acted like they were in the Wild West. At one point the QLR was out of control. The battalion was relieved of its duties and its troops confined to their bases for 3 days by the Brigadier. The Kings and RHF (the Glasgow branch of the UDA) were equally rough in their treatment of the locals. What happened with 1 Para in the Bogside is well known...

Everything portrayed in Contact is readily believable.
 
Generally on Op Banner, were there a lot of patrols by infantry in South Armagh? I'm a bit confused as to the point of this strategically, the soldiers just seemed like moving targets for the IRA. Wouldn't it have made sense to focus on raid/surveillance type ops considering the local situation?
Patrols took place in all areas, Green, Orange or neutral, rural or urban.
The point of a patrol is to discourage terrorist action by showing a presence, setting up VCPs to try and catch them before they've been naughty, or to engage them if neccesary.
Soldiers of all nations are moving targets once they deploy on an operational tour, regardless of who and where.
 
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It's very accurate.

But, it condenses everything that might have happened to a whole battalion during a single tour into the experiences of a single platoon.
This.


Also incorporates some of the stuff he saw in Belfast when he was a Tom. He was my platoon commander in XMG, at the back of the book there is a photo of One Platoon - I’m second from right in the front row.


Yes I know, I’m quite a looker.
 
There was all kinds of wildness, especially during the early days of the troubles. Check out the murders of Michael Naan and Andrew Murray for an extreme example.

Certain units acted like they were in the Wild West. At one point the QLR was out of control. The battalion was relieved of its duties and its troops confined to their bases for 3 days by the Brigadier. The Kings and RHF (the Glasgow branch of the UDA) were equally rough in their treatment of the locals. What happened with 1 Para in the Bogside is well known...

Everything portrayed in Contact is readily believable.
Indeed, which is why NITAT was formed.
In reality, some of the things which happened were truly brutal and uncalled for.
But with tens of thousands of troops, hundreds of thousands over thirty years, percentage wise, the professional outweighed the unprofessional.
 

Bubbles_Barker

LE
Book Reviewer
I commanded plenty of patrols as a Captain in the mid to late 80s, if I hadn’t the subbies and SNCOs would never have had any down time at all.
 

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