1983 was a turbulent time, with the rise in tensions surrounding nuclear weaponry the Cold War was on everybody’s minds. Nuclear cruise missiles owned by America and Russia began arriving in Europe, and the IRA was terrorising the UK.
This year wasn’t all bad though. Technological advances were occurring almost every day, with the development of Compact Disc players and frequent space missions launched by NASA and the Soviet Space programme science took a massive leap forward in 1983. Below are just a few significant events, with more to be found in our 1983 newspapers.
Space Shuttle Challenger lands safely, completing mission STS-6
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Turn the page to:
- Thriller goes to number 1 in the US 200 Billboard album charts
- Dennis Nilsen sentenced to life imprisonment
January 1: The Internet takes another step towards its creation as ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) is moved to TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol).
January 3: Original production of musical Annie plays its final show on Broadway after 2,377 shows, making it the third-longest running musical of the ’70s.
January 3: Kīlauea, one of Hawaii’s active volcanoes erupts. It continues erupting until 2018 making it the longest observed eruption since records began.
January 24: 25 Red Brigades are sentenced to life for kidnapping and murdering Italian Christian Democrat politician Aldo Moro in 1978.
January 25: Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) is launched. This is the first satellite telescope to survey the sky using infrared resulted in some unexpected discoveries. These included six new comets and evidence of other solar systems centring around the stars Vega and Fomalhaut.
January 26: The UK is hit with red rain. The weather phenomenon has been dubbed blood rain and is caused by winds in the Sahara Desert causing sand to enter the atmosphere. This sand is then carried back to earth within raindrops. On this date, the sand within the rain is so dense, the droplets appear red in colour.
January 27: The Seikan Tunnel first connects the North Island of Honshu and South Island of Hokkaido in Japan. Construction began in 1971 after being planned since 1939 and incorporates the world’s longest stretch of tunnel underneath the seabed.
January 29: Though originally released as a B-side in 1981, Men at Work’s single Down Under tops the UK chart.
January 30: Super Bowl XVII. Miami Dolphins are beaten by the Washington Redskins 17-27.
January 31: Law is passed that all drivers and front seat passengers must wear a seatbelt when driving in the UK. The law for mandatory back seat seatbelts won’t be passed until 1989 for children and ’91 for adults.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
February 4: Singer and drummer of The Carpenters, Karen Carpenter, dies from complications caused by eating disorder anorexia nervosa, age 32.
February 6: Gestapo and SS officer, Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon” faces trial in France and is convicted of crimes against humanity.
February 8: London born Eric Peters completes his sail from the Canary Islands to Guadeloupe. His voyage took 46 days and was done in a 5’8″ barrel, setting the record for the smallest craft to cross the Atlantic.
February 8: Thoroughbred Shergar is kidnapped in an armed robbery. A ransom of £2 million is demanded for the horse but communication with the thieves breaks down. The ransom is never paid and Shergar is never returned.
February 11: American man, Giovanni Viglotto is given a prison sentence for polygamy and fraud. Viglotto married 105 women; he would marry them, convince them to sell their home, and then disappear with all their belongings which he would then sell at flea markets.
February 16: Australian bushfires in Victoria and South Australia, known as the Ash Wednesday bushfires, destroy around 2,000 homes and kill 75 people, 17 of which are firefighters battling the blaze.
February 22: The Nellie massacre occurs in India. Over 2,000 Muslims are killed as a part of the Assam Movement. Most of the victims are women and children who were in the region as Muslim immigrants from East Bengal.
February 24: The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, created by US Congress, declares that the Internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War was unjust. It is recommended that the detainees receive $20,000 compensation.
February 26: Michael Jackson’s Thriller goes to number 1 in the US 200 Billboard album charts for 37 weeks, setting a world record for the amount of time an album stays at number 1.
February 28: The most-watched finale of a TV show ever shown, 105.9 million viewers tuned in to see the last ever episode of M*A*S*H. It goes on to remain the biggest television event ever (in terms of numbers watching) until Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.
A pine forest devastated by Ash Wednesday fires
Image: Wikimedia Commons
March 1: Los Angeles is hit by a tornado with wind speeds somewhere between 113mph and 157mph. Buildings and property were destroyed but there was no loss of life. 30 people were recorded as injured making it the most destructive and dangerous tornado in California’s history.
March 2: Though already available in Japan and Europe, Sony and Philips released their CD players in America. Though a compact disc player costs over $1000, they prove to be extremely popular.
March 9: Though the patent won’t be filed until 1984, Chuck Hull invents 3D printing, though he calls it stereolithography.
March 11: The 9th Annual People’s Choice awards take place. Awards are presented to Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda, and David Hasselhoff, to name a few. Favourite Motion Picture is awarded to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
March 21: The West Bank fainting epidemic begins. Up to 1000 young Arabs living in the West Bank became ill with symptoms of nausea, abdominal pain, and fainting. Accusations of chemical warfare, deliberately targeting schools, are made by both Palestinian and Israeli leaders. The CDC investigate and the incident is deemed to be a case of mass-hysteria.
March 21: Time Magazine publish their first typo when ‘contol’ rather than ‘control’ is printed on the front cover. All issues are recalled by the publisher.
March 31: Colombia’s Popayán earthquake kills 267 people. Local infrastructure and buildings are devastated, resulting in new laws which required zones at high risks of tremors to have dwellings made to be earthquake resistant. It had previously been believed that buildings less than two storeys high were not susceptible to earthquake damage.
March 31: Monty Python’s Meaning of Life is released in the United States.
April 1: In Berkshire, a protest by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament creates a human chain formed of tens of thousands of people. The chain is 14 miles long and stretched between three nuclear weapons centres.
April 4: One of the major events in 1983 was biggest theft of cash in British history. £6 million in cash is taken at gunpoint from a Security Express van during a robbery. Actress Barbara Windsor’s former husband, Ronnie Knight and his brother are jailed for 22 years after they are arrested for the crime in 1984.
April 7: Astronauts Peterson and Musgrave perform the first spacewalk of the shuttle program during NASA’s STS-6 mission. The spacewalk lasts over four hours.
April 8: David Copperfield astounds a studio audience as he makes the Statue of Liberty disappear.
April 9: Corbiere wins the Grand National jockeyed by Ben de Haan and trained by Jenny Pitman. Corbiere is the first horse trained by a woman to win the Grand National.
April 11: The 55th Academy Awards take place. Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi is awarded eight of the 11 Oscars it was nominated for.
April 18: Alice Walker is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel The Color Purple which was published in 1982. Walker is the first black woman to be awarded the prize.
April 21: Great Britain introduces the pound coin as phasing out of £1 bank notes begins.
April 22: German magazine publisher Stern announce the discovery of 25 diaries written by Adolf Hitler. The diaries turn out to be a hoax after being forensically tested.
April 25: Unmanned spacecraft Pioneer 10 crosses the orbit of Pluto, making it the first craft to go beyond our Solar system.
David Bowie singing on stage during his Serious Moonlight Tour
Image: Wikimedia Commons
May 2: Earthquake registering 6.5 on the Richter scale hits Coalinga, California.
May 7: Sunny’s Halo wins the Kentucky Derby, for Jockey Ed Delahoussaye. This is his second consecutive win.
May 7: August Hoffman Jr. sets the world record for consecutive sit-ups, completing 29,051 and entering the Guinness Book of World Records.
May 11: Aberdeen win their first European trophy beating Real Madrid 2-1 taking the European Cup.
May 17: Israel and Lebanon sign an agreement to take a step towards peace.
May 20: Two independently researched scientific papers are published with proof that AIDS is caused by retrovirus HIV. The publication is one of the biggest medical events of 1983.
May 21: David Bowie’s single Let’s Dance hits top spot in the United States Billboard chart. Let’s Dance is Bowie’s only single to reach number one in both the UK and USA.
May 25: Return of the Jedi is released for the first time and becomes the highest grossing film of 1983.
May 26: Manchester United beat Brighton at Wembley to take the FA Cup. The match is a replay after the teams drew 2-2 five days previous.
May 26: An earthquake in the Sea of Japan creates a tsunami which kills 100 people.
June 2: A fire breaks out in the toilet of Air Canada flight 797, killing 23 people. As a result of this tragedy the aviation authority rule that all passenger jets should be fitted with smoke detectors, track lighting on the floor of the cabin, fire extinguishers and that all flight crew be trained in fire safety. It is also ordered that materials to make the seats within aircraft be made of a more flame retardant material.
June 5: Musical Cats is awarded best musical at the Tony Awards.
June 6: The latest James Bond film Octopussy premieres in London. Royals Princess Diana and Prince Charles of Wales attend the showing at the Odeon in Leicester Square.
June 6: In Queensland, Australia, a message in a bottle is found on the beach. It was written 73 years earlier by a passenger aboard the SS Arawatta in 1910 as it travelled between Cairns and Brisbane.
June 9: General election in the UK sees Margaret Thatcher, leader of the Conservative party, remain Prime Minister.
June 15: Rowen Atkinson’s comedy Blackadder is first shown in the UK on BBC 1. The series often uses excerpts of Shakespeare’s works within the dialogue and even includes the bard’s name within the end credits.
June 18: Sally Ride becomes the first American woman to launch into space. Her supporters at the launch wear t-shirts printed with lyrics from Wilson Pickett’s famous song Mustang Sally: “Ride Sally, Ride!”
June 22: With the use of a robotic arm, shuttle mission STS-7 is the first time a space shuttle retrieves a satellite from orbit.
June 25: After being performed 1,567 times, the musical Evita completes its run on Broadway.
June 27: Russian space mission Soyuz T-9 is launched, carrying cosmonauts Vladimir Lyakhov and Aleksandr Aleksandrov to the Salyut 7 space station.
July 3: United States athlete, Calvin Smith shaves 0.02 seconds off the world 100m record set in 1968, running the distance in 9.93 seconds.
July 7: In Virginia, a baby girl is born via caesarean section despite her mother being brain-dead for 84 days.
July 7: American schoolgirl and peace advocate, Samantha Smith visits the Soviet Union. She had been invited there by Yuri Andropov after writing him a letter about her concerns over nuclear war.
July 11: Lorraine Elizabeth Downs from New Zealand is crowned Miss Universe.
July 14: Arcade game Mario Bros. is released in Japan. The arcade game, produced by Nintendo paves the way for future Mario games to become one of Nintendo’s greatest creations.
July 16: A British Airways helicopter flight crashes off the Isles of Scilly. 20 people are killed, and the event is deemed the worst ever helicopter disaster in the UK.
July 19: The first time a human head is recreated three dimensionally using a CAT scan.
July 22: Australian aviator, Dick Smith sets the world record for being the first person ever to fly solo around the world in a helicopter.
July 25: A baboon embryo is successfully ‘conceived’ in a laboratory dish in San Antonio, Texas.
Arcade Game Mario Bros.
August 3: John Slain sets the world record for the largest construction made from playing cards. He uses 3.91 million cards and his record remains until 1992.
August 4: Thurston House Danielle Steel’s fifteenth novel is first published.
August 6: The first ever NFL game played in Europe takes place at Wembley stadium. The Miami Dolphins play the New York Giants and are defeated 13-10.
August 6: A synagogue in Johannesburg, South Africa is bombed but there are no fatalities.
August 7: The first ever World Championships in Athletics are opened in Helsinki, Finland.
August 8: Another military coup in Guatemala. Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores overthrows Dictator and former General Efraín Rios Montt.
August 18: Storm Alicia becomes a hurricane and strikes Texas. 22 people are killed and billions of dollars’ worth of damage is caused before the hurricane finally dissipates.
August 18: After swimming for a total of 15 hours 27 minutes, 12-year-old Samantha Druce becomes the youngest person to swim the English Channel.
August 30: Another astronomical event in the 1983 timeline; NASA launches mission STS-8, putting Guion Bluford’s name in the history books as the first African American to be sent into space.
September 1: Flight 007 of Korean Airlines from New York to Seoul via Alaska is shot down by a Soviet Su-15 interceptor, killing all 269 people aboard.
September 4: Scott Michael Pellaton from California sets the world record for speed while barefoot water-skiing. Pellaton travels at a break-neck speed of 119.36mph.
September 12: Albert Rizzo of Malta treads water for 108 hours and nine minutes, setting two world records at once: longest time treading water, and first Maltese person to be included in the Guinness Book of World Records.
September 16: US president Ronald Regan announces that GPS will be made available to the public, though it was originally intended for military use only.
September 18: For the first time American rock band Kiss appear on MTV without their make-up.
September 22: Ten years after their last performance, the Everly brothers perform in Albert Hall.
September 23: 117 people are killed when Gulf Air Flight 771 crashes in the United Arab Emirates. The crash is found to be caused by a bomb in the baggage compartment which exploded as the plane approached Abu Dhabi International Airport.
September 25: In Northern Ireland, 38 IRA prisoners from Maze Prison take part in the biggest escape in British history. Three guards die during the escape and 19 escapees are later apprehended.
September 26: The Soviet Union’s nuclear early-warning system is triggered. Luckily Stanislav Petrov, who was manning the system believed the warning to be a false-alarm and did not report it. The system was later confirmed to have been malfunctioning.
September 26: Soviet shuttle Soyuz T-10 explodes. The crew survive by using the launch escape system and later go on to complete future missions.
October 4: In Black Rock Desert, Nevada the Land speed record is set by Richard Noble, travelling 650.88mph in British built car Thrust2.
October 5: The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Polish Politician and Labor Activist, Lech Wałęsa for his work in establishing rights for workers to create their own organisations.
October 17: Paul McCartney releases his album Pipes of Peace in the UK.
October 19: The US senate declares there will be a national holiday each year in honour of Martin Luther King Jr.
October 22: Over a million people demonstrate against nuclear weapons at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament march in London.
October 23: 400,000 demonstrate in Brussels, Belgium against cruise missiles from the US and Russia being stored in central Europe.
October 25: When discussing what happened in 1983, an often overlooked event is the first release of infamous processing system Microsoft Word, though the first version designed for the Windows operating system will not be released until 1989.
October 25: The sovereign state of Grenada is invaded by the United States as an effort to prevent Soviet-Cuban militarisation.
October 29: In The Hague, Holland the largest non-violent protest against nuclear cruise missiles takes place. Over 550,000 people participate in the pacifist movement.
October 30: After seven years of military rule, the first democratic elections in Argentina are held.
Poster for TV movie The Day After
November 4: In the UK the serial killer, Dennis Nilsen is sentenced to life imprisonment.
November 5: Off the coast of Norway, 5 divers are killed and 1 severely wounded on Byford Dolphin drilling rig when the bell jar is opened too quickly and explosively decompressed.
November 11: American cruise missiles arrive in the UK at RAF base Greenham Common, Berkshire.
November 16: Despite defeating Luxembourg in their qualifier football game, England do not go through to Euros. Following the game, more than 20 England fans are arrested while going on a violent rampage in the city of Luxembourg.
November 18: In Liverpool, England 31-year-old Liverpool woman Janet Walton gives birth to six girls following fertility treatment. The babies are the first all-female sextuplets to survive.
November 19: Aeroflot Flight 6833 in Soviet Georgia is hijacked, resulting in a standoff for 2 days. The seven hijackers try to divert the flight to Turkey, but the pilot, refusing to give in to demands circles Tbilisi airport and later lands there. The hostage situation ends when the plane is stormed by an elite Soviet special unit. Three of the hijackers die, along with three crew members and two passengers.
November 20: The Day After, an American film depicting what would happen if nuclear war broke out, is first aired on TV.
November 20: Terms of Endearment starring Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine, premieres in New York.
November 26: An estimated £26 million worth of gold bars is stolen from the Brink’s-Mat vault at Heathrow Airport. Most of the gold is never recovered, and only two men are tried and convicted of the crime.
November 30: Kidnapped beer magnate, Alfred Heineken, who had been missing since 9th November 1983, is freed by Police in Amsterdam.
December 2: Michael Jackson’s video for Thriller is aired on MTV for the first time.
December 6: At Harefield hospital in England the first full heart and lung transplant is successfully carried out.
December 7: 93 people are killed when 2 jets collide on the runway at Madrid Airport in Spain.
December 10: The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded to Lord of the Flies author, William Golding.
December 11: Pope John Paul II becomes the first ever pope to visit a Protestant church by visiting Rome’s Lutheran Church.
December 12: The American Embassy in Kuwait is hit by a truck loaded with plastic explosives. The detonation does not go as planned and only five people are killed, but within the same hour, five other explosions are also attempted. Targets include the French Embassy, an oil refinery, the control tower at Kuwait International Airport as well as water and petrochemical plants. Though the bombs explode, few people are injured as the bombs fail to detonate properly.
December 16: The Who announces the group is disbanding (for the first time) as Pete Townshend, the group’s guitarist, wishes to leave the band.
December 17: A fire in nightclub, Alcalá 20, in Madrid results in the death of 83 people. It is found that fire exits had been blocked or intentionally locked, which results in an overhaul of fire-safety laws in Spain.
December 17: A car bomb kills six people and injures 90 when it explodes outside Harrods in London. The IRA issued a warning 37 minutes before the bombing, but the scene was not evacuated.
December 20: Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Yasir Arafat evacuates Lebanon along with 4,000 loyalists.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, released in 1982, would go on to break many records in the couple of years that followed. Between 1983 and 1984, it was the best-selling album in the United States, which meant it was the first album to be a best-seller two years in a row. On February 26, 1983, it would reach the Billboard 200.
While reaching number 1 on the Billboard 200 was impressive enough, the album would remain in that position for a record 37 weeks, until April 14, 1984. At the peak of the album, one million copies were sold per week worldwide. Thriller is regarded as one of the most influential pop albums in history, so finding its way onto the Billboard 200 on February 26 was just the beginning of its fame and entry into the record books.
Dennis Nilsen was a serial killer and necrophile from Scotland, who killed at least twelve boys and young men between the years of 1978 and 1983. Once Nilsen had been caught in February 1983, he proceeded to tell the police details of the murders he had committed. However, at his trial at the Old Bailey, he pleaded guilty to all the counts he had been charged for. The main debate at the trial was not whether Nilsen had committed the murders, but his state of mind when the killings took place. The prosecuting counsel claimed he was sane and had killed with premeditation, and the defence counsel stated he had suffered from diminished responsibility.
Nilsen was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment on 4 November 1983, and was recommended to serve a minimum 25-year sentence, later changed to a whole-life tariff. He was convicted at the Old Bailey of six counts of murder, and two counts of attempted murder. Nilsen was at HMP Full Sutton prison from 2003 until his death on 12 May 2018.