In a year where a 19 inch colour TV cost £399, 1981 events are ones not to forget. From the first London Marathon taking place, a Prince getting engaged and married, as well as the arrests of the notorious Yorkshire Ripper and the Atlanta Murderer, 1981 was an eventful year.

If you’re interested in seeing how newspapers reported these events at the time, a 1981 newspaper will provide original clippings from these key events.

1981 Timeline

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January 1: Greece becomes the 10th country to join the European Economic Community (EEC).

January 1: The International Year of the Disabled begins.

January 2: Police arrest Peter Sutcliffe, known as the “Yorkshire Ripper”.

January 5: Peter Sutcliffe was charged on suspicion of murdering 13 women.

January 8: Isabel Allende writes a letter to her dying grandfather – this would later become her first novel The House of the Spirits.

January 9: Francisco Balsamao is elected to become the President of Portugal.

January 11: A British team, led by Ranulph Fiennes becomes the fastest to cross Antarctica, reaching the Scott base after 75 days, and 2,500 miles.

January 12: -35°C is recorded as a state record in Chester, Massachusetts.

January 13: Barbara Sonntag, of Colorado, crochets a record 147 stitches in a minute for thirty minutes.

January 14: The US Federal Communications Commission allows stations to air as many advertisements an hour as they wish.

January 16: Leon Spinks, an American boxer, is mugged. The attackers even take his gold teeth.

January 16: John Lennon releases Woman.

January 19: Boxer Muhammad Ali talks a 21-year old out of committing suicide.

January 20: Ronald Reagan is inaugurated as the 40th President of the United States of America.

January 23: Jochem Bird is elected the Mayor of West Berlin.

January 28: William J. Casey becomes the 13th Director of the CIA. He would remain in this position until 1987.

Ronald Reagan’s presidential inauguration on 20th January 1981
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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February 3: Gro Harlem Brundtland is elected to be the first female Prime Minister of Norway.

February 6: The Beatles members Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison record a tribute to John Lennon, who was assassinated in December 1980.

February 10: At a fire in the Las Vegas Hilton, 8 are killed and 198 are injured.

February 13: The New York Times publishes its longest sentence at 1286 words.

February 13: Due to a series of sewer explosions, more than two miles of streets in Louisville, Kentucky are destroyed.

February 14: Known as the Stardust Disaster, a fire in a nightclub in London kills 48 people.

February 19: George Harrison is made to pay ABKCO Music $587,000 for subconscious plagiarism for his song My Sweet Lord with Ronnie Mack’s song, He’s So Fine.

February 23: Prince Charles announces his engagement to Lady Diana Spencer.

February 24: An earthquake measuring 6.7 on the richter scale hits Athens, destroying buildings and killing 16 people.

February 25: The United States performs a nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site.

February 27: Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder record Ebony & Ivory.

February 28: China removes the Netherlands’ ambassador due to the Dutch selling submarines to Taiwan.

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March 1: Republican prisoners start a second hunger strike in the Maze – among them is Bobby Sands. Bobby Sands was a member of the Provisional Irish Republican army who, on 5th May 1981, died on hunger strike in prison in Northern Ireland, after being sentenced for a firearms possession.

March 2: 2nd March marks the discovery of a minor planet, 5020 Asimov, which is named after the sci-fi writer Isaac Asmiov.

March 5: The US government gifts Atlanta $1 million to aid in the search for the black boy murderer.

March 7: In perhaps one of the most shocking events in this 1981 timeline, an 18-year old boy is stabbed to death in Disneyland.

March 21: During the Five Nations, France beats England 16-12 at Twickenham to win its 7th Championship and 3rd Grand Slam title.

March 22: In the US, the 1st class postage raised from 15 cents to 18 cents.

March 23: The US Supreme Court rules that states could require parental notification when a teen-age girl seeks an abortion.

March 27: John Lennon’s single Watching the Wheels is released posthumously.

March 27: Blizzard of Ozz, the debut solo album by Ozzy Osbourne is released.

March 29: Tiina Lehtola ski jumps the female record of 110 metres.

March 29: The first London Marathon takes place.

March 30: Ronald Reagan, 40th US President, is shot and wounded in an attempted assassination by John Hinckley.

March 31: The 53rd Academy Awards take places, with Robert De Niro and Sissy Spacek winning Best Actor and Best Actress.

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April 1: The USSR introduces daylight saving hours.

April 4: Bucks Fizz win the 26th Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin by singing Making Your Mind Up.

April 7: Willem Klein, a Dutch mathematician, mentally calculates the 13th root of a 100 digit number in 29 seconds.

April 10: A computer glitch leads to the Space Shuttle Columbia grounded.

April 11: Ronald Reagan arrives home from the hospital, after recovering from his assassination attempt.

April 12: Space Shuttle Columbia is launched on its maiden voyage.

April 15: Space Shuttle Columbia returns to Earth.

April 15: Janet Cooke announces that her story about an 8-year old heroin addict is a lie, resulting in the Washington Post relinquishing her Pulitzer Prize for the novel.

April 21: The United States provide Saudi Arabia with $1 billion worth of arms.

April 22: Over 10,000 copper workers in Chile start a strike.

April 22: Nearly 1 million metal workers in West Germany go on strike.

April 22: More than $3.3 million is stolen from the First National Bank of Arizona in Tucson, in what was the largest American bank robbery in history.

April 25: More than 100 workers are exposed to radiation due to repairs of a nuclear plant in Tsuruga, Japan.

April 29: Peter Sutcliffe pleaded guilty to murdering 13 women, therefore admitting he is the “Yorkshire Ripper.”

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May 1: Billie Jean King announces her relationship with Marilyn Barnett, making her the first prominent sportswoman to come out as gay.

May 9: The Motherland Monument opens in Kiev, Ukraine in a ceremony attended by Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader.

May 11: Cats, a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber premieres in the West End.

May 11: Bob Marley dies after a fight with melanoma.

May 13: Pope John Paul II is shot and wounded by a Turkish gunman in St Peter’s Square, in the Vatican City.

May 15: George Harrison, of the Beatles, releases All Those Years Ago.

May 19: 5 British soldiers are killed when their armoured vehicle drives over a Provisional Irish Republican Army roadside bomb near County Armagh.

May 21: Bob Marley receives a Jamaican state funeral.

May 23: Fascists in Barcelona take 200 people hostage.

May 24: The hostage situation ends at Central Bank, Barcelona.

May 27: John Hinckley attempts suicide by overdosing on paracetamol.

The Motherland Monument in Kiev, Ukraine
Image: Flickr

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June 2: Barbara Walters asks Katharine Hepburn “if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”

June 4: Paige Pipkin wins the 54th National Spelling Bee, by spelling “sarcophagus.”

June 5: The AIDS Epidemic officially starts when US Center for Disease Control reports that 5 homosexual men have pneumonia in Los Angeles.

June 6: A passenger train travelling between Mansi and Saharsa in India jumps tracks at a bridge, officially killing 267 with 300 or more missing.

June 11: Issei Sagawa, a cannibal, kills a Dutch student in Paris.

June 12: The first of the Indiania Jones film franchise, Raiders of the Lost Ark premieres.

June 13: A teenager fires six blank rounds at Queen Elizabeth II.

June 18: A vaccine to prevent hoof and mouth disease is announced.

June 18: The AIDS Epidemic is officially recognised by medical professionals in San Francisco, California.

June 20: Pope John Paul II is hospitalised for 55 days for an infection, just 17 days after he was released.

June 22: Mark David Chapman pleads guilty to killing John Lennon in December 1980.

June 24: For Your Eyes Only, the 12th James Bond film, is released.

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July 1: Prince Willem Alexander opens Willems Bridge in Rotterdam.

July 8: Maurois, Prime Minister of France, nationalises the banks, plane and steel industry in France.

July 10: Walt Disney’s Fox & the Hound is released.

July 16: India performs a nuclear test.

July 16: Shukuni Sasaki successfully spins 72 plates simultaneously.

July 17: In the UK, the Humber Estuary Bridge opens, becoming the world’s longest bridge at 1.4km.

July 19: Bernard Hinault, of France, wins the 68th Tour de France.

July 29: In one of the most significant events in 1981, Prince Charles marries Lady Diana Spencer. On this day, she became The Princess of Wales.

29th July 1981. Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer marry at St Paul’s Cathedral
Image: Flickr

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August 1: Endless Love is released by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. It would become the Billboard Song of the Year 1981, as well as Billboard Greatest Song Duet of All-Time.

August 1: MTV premieres at 12:01am.

August 7: In the US, The Washington Star ceases all publication after 128 years.

August 24: Mark David Chapman is sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for the murder of John Lennon.

August 26: Voyager 2 takes images of Saturn’s moon, Titan.

August 28: John Hinckley pleads not guilty of the attempted assassination of US President Ronald Reagan.

August 28: Sebastian Coe, from the UK, sets the one mile record of 3 minutes, 47 seconds and 33 milliseconds. It has since been broken, and the current record is 3 minutes 43 seconds and 13 milliseconds.

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September 1: The first religiously integrated secondary school opens in Northern Ireland.

September 8: Only Fools and Horses premieres on BBC One.

September 12: The Smurfs first broadcasts in North America.

September 15: Vanuatu becomes a member of the United Nations.

September 19: Simon and Garfunkel reunite for a Central Park concert in New York.

September 25: The Rolling Stones begin their 6th US tour, starting at the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia.

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October 9: France abolishes capital punishment.

October 11: An unknown singer, Prince, opens for the Rolling Stones at the LA Coliseum.

October 15: Krazy George Henderson, a professional cheerleader, leads an audience wave in Oakland, California. It is believed to be the first audience wave.

October 19: Nicolaas Bloembergen and Arthur Schawlow win the Nobel Prize for Physics, for inventing the laser.

October 20: A bomb attack on a synagogue in Antwerp, Belgium, kills 1 and injures 80.

October 22: The amount of debt the US tops over $1 trillion. 

October 24: To celebrate his 100th birthday, Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting Guernica goes on display in Madrid, Spain.

October 28: Edward McIntyre is elected as the first African American mayor of Augusta, Georgia.

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November 1: Antigua and Barbuda gain independence from Britain. This date is now celebrated as a National Day.

November 4: Dr George Nichopoluas is acquitted for prescribing addictive drugs for Elvis Presley.

November 12: Great Britain performs a nuclear test.

November 12: Pilin Leon, of Venezuela, is crowned the 31st Miss World.

November 13: Ringo Starr releases Wrack My Brains.

November 16: President Reagan decides to create a plan to block Cuban aid to Nicaragua and El Salvador.

November 20: Ringo Starr releases his album Stop and Smell Roses.

November 21: Olivia Newton-John’s single, Physical, goes to number 1 and remains there for 10 weeks.

Ringo Starr 1967

Ringo Starr back in 1967
Image: Flickr

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December 1: A Yugoslavian flight crashes into Monte San-Pietro in Corsica, killing 180 people.

December 2: The Spanish government requests to be a member of NATO.

December 7: Spain becomes a member of NATO.

December 11: Muhammad Ali fights his 61st, and last, fight, losing to Trevor Berbick.

December 11: Spacelab I arrives at the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida.

December 28: Elizabeth Jordan Carr, the first American test-tube baby, is born in Norfolk, Virginia.

December 30: That Girl is released by Stevie Wonder.

December 31: The Netherlands’ unemployment stands at a record high of 475,000.

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The First London Marathon

The first London Marathon was held on 29th March 1981, with around 87000 people participating. It was created by Chris Basher and John Disley, former Olympians, with the intention of raising money for various charities. The first winners were Dick Beardsley and Inge Simonsen for the men, and Joyce Smith for the women. 

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Prince Charles Marries Lady Diana Spencer

On 29th July 1981, Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in a ceremony held at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The wedding attracted crowds of more than 600,000, with 3,500 guests in attendance. The ceremony was watched by an estimated 750 million people worldwide.

The couple had a difficult marriage, with Prince Charles continuing an affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles, and would eventually divorce on 28th August 1996.

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