Drama illuminating a doctor's efforts to protect the people of Manchester from the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic as millions of soldiers returned home from the Great War.
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This programme contains some scenes which some viewers may find upsetting
Come on. Come on, for God's sake.
You've just cost me a penny, love.
No school today. Ladies, to your work.
There's no schoolroom today.
No teacher come in.
-Right, Mr Stanford.
-They can play out.
-But it's cold!
It's fresh air.
Come on, your work won't do itself.
-Morning, Dr Turner.
-Good morning, Dunks!
-Too early to talk about rat poison?
-Never too early for rat poison.
Morning, Mrs Lytton, can I have the rats and mice quarterlies, please?
Not a very nice subject to start the day with, is it? Vermin?
These are the 1916 ones - I need the current ones.
-I think you should talk to this gentleman.
-Who is it?
Mr Stanford, Queen Street Mill.
-This is for you.
Any more news on Mr Lytton?
Oh. Just one or two days.
-His battalion's on its way home, so they say.
-That's good, in't it?
We can all get back to normal.
Er, that's the one, I think.
Mrs Lytton, forget the rodents.
I need the recent bronchopneumonic figures. Specifically influenza.
There's a child dead at Queen Street Mill.
Flu? We're done with that, aren't we? We had it in August.
Mrs Lytton, leave these.
I'd like you come with me - I may need some help.
I've been in this job for 30 years
and let me tell you, Dunks, it does come back.
They would normally be in school.
We have a little schoolroom for them, but the teacher's sick.
The teacher's sick? Since when?
-How was the teacher yesterday?
-How should I know?
-I need you to find out, Mr Stanford.
Indeed, I need you to find out a number of things.
-Let's start with the lavatories.
You have only one towel, Mr Stanford, for this entire floor.
They CAN bring their own.
How many do? And how many is that one towel supposed to go round?
You must have read my most recent pamphlet,
otherwise you wouldn't have known who to telephone.
Did you read the bit about common towels spreading infection?
I'm running a business in difficult times, Dr Niven.
Along much more charitable lines than a lot of other men.
It's as much as I can do to keep the looms going.
I've no men.
I've had no men for four years.
This is the lady.
What's her name?
What's your name?
What's your daughter's name, Mrs Houlston?
I have to ask you one or two questions
so that other mothers don't go through this.
How long was Ellen ill?
It came on this morning. Right as rain yesterday night.
Have you had other visitors in the house?
Her Uncle Frank came back from France last night.
And how's her Uncle Frank?
I don't know.
Mrs Houlston, I...
-I have to ask you if I can take Ellen's body away with me.
We have to identify what caused this. It'll be of great benefit.
Not to her.
But it might stop it happening to the other kiddies.
You're not going to cut her up?
He wouldn't do it if it wasn't going to help.
Have you got bairns?
Yes. I've got a lad.
And you'd have him cut up, would you?
I'll not have her taken.
I have a husband who I've never buried,
who's lying in pieces somewhere with no grave!
I'll not have her taken.
Now then, Mrs Houlston, if the doctor says he wants to take the child,
then surely he's got good reason. So shall we stop being sentimental?
You've still got other kiddies to feed.
Don't you touch her!
This may signify the start of a new outbreak.
I want an ambulance service
specifically for any child taken with flu at school,
to get them home and quarantined.
So who's supposed to look after them?
Their parents. Health visitors.
There should be a quarantine room in every home.
Bit of a luxury.
Most homes only have two rooms.
Then they can divide the room with a curtain.
All the information is in my last leaflet.
I want 150,000 more made.
I want all public assemblies curtailed,
I want the Sunday schools shut down,
I want the trams stopped and I want the mills closed.
You do aim high, don't you, Doctor?
The girl's ears had turned blue. Heliotrope cyanosis.
It's what happens at the last stages before death.
But you don't have any post-mortem evidence?
Not as yet.
What are the figures?
-We only have confirmed figures from two weeks ago.
-What are they?
Nine deaths from influenza. Nine from pneumonia.
Six from bronchopneumonia. Nine from bronchitis.
In a population of one million,
including Salford, which I suppose we must.
The Evening News says that this winter,
Manchester won't be infected.
I didn't realise the qualification
for writing for the Evening News was a degree in Medical Science.
We did have a very expensive false alarm in the summer, Dr Niven.
I closed things down for you, and there was hardly an outbreak at all.
20% of the people got it.
-The fatality rates were low. You're twitchy.
-Yes, I'm cautious.
It comes back.
Why don't you get me the current figures? I'll see what I can do.
That takes time!
But surely, like the doctor says, prevention's better than cure.
We need to do something now.
It's not my job to close things down, James.
It's my job to keep things running.
And since we're about to come out of this war,
I rather fear that my chief health priority is going to be VD.
You'll be wanting some leave, I expect?
For when Mr Lytton comes home.
Three days enough?
Are you sure?
Thank you, Doctor. That's more than enough.
-I wonder if you would wait a little later this evening?
-Oh, I see.
Yes, it's just that Dunks
is doing door-to-door round the hospital for figures,
and I want some frequency curves by tomorrow morning.
I need something to persuade Mr O'Donnell.
-This is really serious, isn't it?
-Oh, no, you'll be fine.
You're fairly fit, you had it in August.
It's the vulnerable who'll suffer.
When the Russian Flu broke out, long before you were born,
I was just a young doctor just down from Scotland.
We did what we could, but we knew very little.
An awful lot of children died.
But of course, that was then.
-What time is it?
-A little after six.
I'm going to catch the last London train.
-I'll be back as soon as possible.
I want to go and ask an old friend about something.
Oh, and...chin up, Mrs Lytton.
We're going to nip this thing in the bud.
Get inside the house!
I won't tell you again. And the rest of you, get home to your mammies!
I will not tell you again, get inside.
What's up with you?
Mrs Flynn says your John's lot are back -
they've stopped at Salford.
Salford?! Oh, Mam!
He could be walking back from there!
When did she say that?
This afternoon. Her lad sent her a letter.
They're keeping them in Salford a few more days.
She didn't say. You know how the army is.
Why didn't he send ME a letter?
And why on earth are they keeping them?
The war's over, in't it?
It's only paperwork or summat.
You've hardly had him here the last four years, love.
Your John'd be late to his own funeral.
Will you stop saying that, Mam?
This sickness was almost completely unpredictable,
and it is very hard to prepare for something one cannot predict.
This is the second wave of it, Sir Arthur.
One can always predict that there will be a second wave.
The chances of co-ordinating
a nationwide, or even metropolis-wide strategy to any kind of influenza
are so slim they're impossible.
As are Liverpool and Glasgow.
They are the first ports of call.
We have neither the resources nor the personnel to contain this.
With regret, we must just allow it to take its course.
Manchester has hardly been touched yet. And that is why I am here.
You have people working on a vaccine, don't you?
-I beg your pardon?
-I understand you have people working on a vaccine.
I don't know why you would understand that.
It'll be some weeks before the trials are undertaken.
By that time, this outbreak will have passed over.
We can run trials in Manchester now, Sir Arthur.
We can pre-empt it. We can stop it before it starts.
James, you're right.
This is a little more severe than the normal yearly flu,
but it will run itself out.
And it's nothing compared
to what we and public health have been through in the war.
I suggest sticking to the sanitary measures
outlined in my latest memorandum.
Stop men spitting in the streets, ventilate the assembly rooms,
and do what you can in general to keep people away from one another.
Never mind the vaccine.
That'll be the Armistice.
there we are.
How are we supposed to keep people away from one another now?
What's the matter? Eh?
You all right?
Can we get a doctor or a nurse? Can somebody help him, please!
Everybody stand back.
Get him into that waiting room.
Don't touch the skin! Just the tunic, careful.
Just the tunic, not the skin!
We have to clear this waiting room, please. Everybody out.
We need to isolate him.
What are you doing? You can't just leave him!
-He'll need an ambulance.
-There's as many coming as can.
There's sick getting off all the trains!
We need to stop this spreading. We have to seal off the station.
We can't enforce it - I'm the only one here.
Everyone else is on the Armistice party.
-What Armistice party?
Leave him, go.
James, you remember my wife.
How do you do? Can you please send these people home?
There is a lot of infection coming home with the boys.
-The people should not gather!
-Don't be such an old woman, James!
What do you want them to remember in 20 years' time?
The fact they had an almighty party
to celebrate the end of the worst bloody four years of their lives,
or the fact that our municipality sent them all home
cos we're worried they might get a nasty cold?
I've just seen a man coughing his lungs up at Oxford Road.
This is no cold!
-Good afternoon, Doctor. How was London?
-It was full.
Did you get over to the hospital? Did you get the latest figures?
There's not much chance of getting anything today,
-apart from trodden on.
-Sorry. Flat feet.
Good for getting you out the army. Not so good for dancing.
I need to get figures first thing tomorrow morning.
I wish we could close this down!
ANOTHER PHONE RINGS
SEVERAL PHONES RING
BANGING ON DOOR
Heliotrope cyanosis. Purplish tinge to the mouth.
Named after a flower.
My mother has purple hydrangeas in her garden. I can't look at them now.
He's been completely starved of oxygen.
Yeah, and we should expect to see the usual Pfeiffer bacillus influenzae
-God! Smells like gangrene.
His lungs should be white.
Look, they're full.
It's drowned him.
That's the worst I've ever seen.
Not even the Russian flu could manage that.
-How old was he?
Just had a birthday, according to his papers.
Strong as a carthorse on his demob report, then dead within 24 hours.
Who knows what happened to him in France.
-No, I saw this boy off the London train.
He hadn't suffered gas.
This is something entirely new.
Look, I really am sorry - I don't know any more! Doctor,
I'm sorry. I've been entertaining this gentleman of the press
for as long as possible. I probably said all the wrong things.
This Spanish flu, where's it really come from? America?
Regardless, it's here. You can tell your readers to stay inside.
What do you say to the assertion that the majority of American troops
currently stationed at Old Trafford are presenting with the disease?
-What about this immunity we're supposed to have?
Can we assume if you had it in the summer, you won't have it again?
Are you gonna have to close down the city?
I can't answer any of these questions.
And don't make up your own answers and print them.
-Why don't you take a leaflet?
-Print that if you want to be responsible.
Don't panic people and don't print rumours.
Just man to man...
if we had it in summer, are we immune?
We really don't know that.
And are we gonna have to close the city?
You'll hear that from the Town Hall. Thank you.
"Whole families were swept away together,
"but this was indeed at the very height of the distemper.
"Time inured them to it all,
"and they ventured everywhere without hesitation,
"as I occasion to mention at large hereafter."
Daniel Defoe. A Journal Of The Plague Year.
Please tell us that you've found something more recent than that.
What plague year?
-The epidemiology's quite accurate.
A first spread of infection, then dormancy,
during which people start to move about again, then a second spread,
even worse than the first. Dr Niven was right.
That was our first wave back in the spring.
It's not plague? It's flu. Isn't it?
The flu has nothing in common with pneumonic or bubonic plague,
Mrs Lytton. And it is not helpful to refer to it in that way.
Well, except that a second spread is common to most infectious diseases,
if the incubation period is long enough. Same with the Black Death,
the Great Plague, the Plague of Justinian.
Even your Russian Flu, Doctor. Because of human behaviour.
People believe it's over, they start moving about again,
and up it pops. Worse than before.
-All this is medically established.
-Yes, but I'm talking about socially.
Aside from all the other problems,
we need to start preparing for the social difficulties.
It's the same with all significant epidemics. Social order breaks down -
you have looting, fighting, unrest.
-The rich leave and the poor remain to die.
Please, could you keep to the statistics, Mr Dunks.
PHONE RINGS All right.
I found this in the library too.
-Well, not much of any use in there.
-We'll accept the charges.
I thought it wasn't spread by breath - it probably was.
I thought that civil intervention wasn't necessary -
it probably should have been.
I'm afraid I allowed myself be convinced by the powers that be
when they said they didn't want to notify the disease.
-I did better than Sir Arthur damned Newsholme.
-They were dropping like flies when he was in MOH in Brighton.
All right, all right! Just stay with him. All right?
Right, Mrs Lytton, get yourself home right away.
Quickly, we can spare you, please.
I don't want you talking about plague.
People fight on the streets because they get panicked.
And if you say the word "plague" to them,
that's the first thing they'll do.
It is a plague, though. Isn't it?
-He's got the sweats.
-I'm all right.
What's the advice, love?
We're going to keep him isolated... and let's get that window open.
Get some fresh air in.
Weren't we to keep a fire going? Weren't we to keep it warm?
I don't know - isn't that normal flu?
They never said what to do when you've got it -
only what to do to stop it spreading!
Let's wash our hands.
-And I'll get some water from the pump.
Maybe we should move him in there.
You know. Let's get something to put a curtain up there, and...
..we'd better stay in here.
Maybe he needs a mask.
Or maybe we need a mask.
Mam, I don't know.
-Oh, bloody idiot!
-Oh, dear, dear.
Makes me sick, shuffling these damn papers all day. No bloody use.
-Yes, it is. Now stop carping.
-There's a woman down our street
posts a white feather through our letterbox every week.
You are not a coward. You've got flat feet.
-I'm a stupid bloody clerk.
-Stop it, Mr Dunks.
THIS is your war,
if you want to fight it.
We'll have more of Dr Niven's pamphlets printed
and we'll get disinfectant and coal to as many houses as we can.
Hygiene and warmth are the best ways
to prevent the spread of the illness.
Those who are sick will have a shoulder to lean on.
While the rest of us keep our heads down and carry on.
Isn't that right, Dr Niven?
No. That is not what I've been telling you.
We need to close the city.
This pestilence spreads at about the same rate that men travel
and it spreads easily.
We don't yet know how.
Probably by direct contact, skin to skin, and possibly
by contact with infected materials, which we call fomites.
Dirty handkerchiefs, anything which has infected sputum or blood on it,
any soiled clothes or fabrics should be burnt straightaway.
D'you want everybody wandering around naked?
They don't want folk wandering around at all.
You want us all to stay at home, don't you?
-That's what you told your pet journalist, isn't it?
-Yes, I want everybody in isolation.
Close my cinemas? Cancel the trams?
Cancel the trams, close the cinemas, shut the schools,
the mills, the public houses, help the hospitals deal with the patients
that they have and not provide them with thousands more.
Shut the city.
We can't enforce that! We'd need the army.
Half the army are in Salford hospital.
We're not establishing martial law! I wouldn't know how to, in any case.
Short of a miracle cure, this is the only way to stop it.
I've nothing from London on this matter, Dr Niven,
and we must follow London's lead.
London is letting it run its course,
however fatal. This is Manchester. Manchester makes its own choices.
-Its own destiny.
-Too bloody right.
If we do implement these closures, it is to be understood that they
will re-open and be back to normal again as soon as possible.
-That is understood.
-I won't be closing my Sunday schools.
-I beg your pardon?
-As an officer of God's communion,
I refuse to sanction the closing of the Sunday schools.
This thing kills children.
Adults can look after their own spiritual wellbeing.
I will not be turning the children away!
Don't look so depressed, James. They'll come round.
When the children are dead?
We need to isolate now, or this thing will get worse.
We need to cut it off. We need to starve it to death.
Mr Gold has agreed to clear his cinemas.
-That's good. For how long?
-15 minutes between the shows.
I asked him for 30, but 15 is enough to clear the air, isn't it?
-What do you think?
-I think I'm doing my best, James!
You can't isolate an entire city. Even at the best of bloody times,
and certainly not with no police force, the army away,
and people who'll starve to death if they can't get in to work.
Look, be realistic. We're gonna close most of the schools.
You've got that.
And the city'll provide milk, sugar and coal for sick families.
-Immediately - I'm not a monster, James!
-And how will we get it to them?
-I don't know. Door to door.
We'll run out in five minutes.
We cannot abandon people to their fates!
We've moved on from the days of the plague.
-We need a system.
-Well, you provide me with one, then!
Plague? I thought we weren't supposed to mention plague.
I need you to find out the exact quantities that we have available
of milk, Glaxo, coal and sugar, and their costs.
I also need to find out how many men and vehicles
that we have at our disposal.
And don't begin to tell me that there isn't the time!
Meeting in the council chamber - I'm sure Mr O'Donnell can spare you.
Public Monuments and Lavatories
has now been subsumed into Health, gentlemen, please.
Two of you go to the Salvation Army, two of you go to the Boys Brigade,
two of you to the Women's Social and Political Union.
Dr Niven wants at least three volunteers for everyone here.
Come on, this is our war now.
Today will be mainly a paper chase - tomorrow the real work will start.
We will find the homes with children from the school registers.
We'll find the homes without a man from the war casualty list.
We'll find the poor homes from the special assistance register.
I want all these documents here and collated by teatime.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentleman.
Trams have stopped running - prepare for some extra leg work.
Six pounds' worth of milk.
25 pounds' worth of coal. 30 pounds' worth of sugar.
-No. That's for the entire city.
Good Gordon Highland!
Let's see where these depots are, see what we've actually got in them.
These things are miles out of...
Let's stir things up a bit.
Let's get this coal into where it's really needed.
That's like there, there, there... How many delivery men do we have?
-Well, it's changing every day.
-Let's work on the assumption that
-half of them will be ill on any one day.
How many homes can they do in a day?
Well, they can do streets.
No, no, no - I don't want streets, I want it targeted at homes.
-Well, the homes with a family and no man there.
Homes that live on less than 18 shillings a week.
Homes that require assistance!
I don't know where they are!
That's why we sent our people out! They're in there, there and there!
Masks are available for those who wish them.
Over here, please! Over here, thank you!
And take this one... just directly to Stretford Street.
Half a dozen houses there without coal.
Straight on to Heaton Moor, Moss Side and Didsbury, you two.
Homes, yes, yes, homes.
Specific homes, not streets. Homes!
-Oh, no, there's not enough.
There's not enough coal and there's not enough waggoners.
There's more of them ill than we thought.
Then we have to send it to the parts of the city with the most children -
that has to be the priority.
Parts of the city with the most schools.
Can I have those three on that trolley there...?
Yes, will you kindly pass on the message to Sir Arthur?
Well, I'm terribly sorry to hear that, but...
Erm, yes, the message is that we are ready and anxious to conduct trials
of the vaccine here in Manchester to stop this thing spreading further.
Well, would you send someone down the street to tell her?
No, I understand, but what is the point in me dictating a telegram?
In what way is that different
from you sending someone down the road with a message?
Oh, yes, yes, right, I understand.
"Mrs Lytton, please come back to work,
HE PUTS PHONE DOWN
We've lost another 300 since Monday.
And there's something else.
I think there's a pattern.
We expect to find deaths at each end of the spectrum. And there are.
But there are also a considerable number of deaths here,
where there should be very few.
The curve of mortality peaks between the ages of 20 and 34.
Perhaps it's because the very young and the very old are dying at home,
and what we're looking at is the middle group, who die in hospital.
You know as well as I do, they shouldn't be dying at all.
There should be no deaths here at all -
they should be best-equipped to fight it off.
It doesn't make any sense.
For the young, fit, healthy.
Well...troops often expire when they come back home.
No, no, that wouldn't explain it. No, no.
Why are the strongest... now the most vulnerable?
Why are they now in the most danger?
Yes - Dr Niven.
Yes, I am Mrs Lytton's employer.
This is where Mrs Lytton lives.
Yes, Brick Street.
Was Brick Street on our list?
No, no, I don't think so. It's not a priority.
There's not so many schools here.
What did happen to your eye, by the way?
I advised a gentlemen against spitting in the streets.
This was the thanks I got.
Which one is it?
Mrs Lytton's house?
I'm Dr Niven - I received a telephone call.
Is everything all right?
You'd best come in.
He got all the way to Salford.
I'm so sorry, Mrs... So sorry.
Died day before yesterday.
Apparently it were quick.
They buried him already, some of his pals buried him.
Apparently he wrote me a letter, but the...
the sergeant told him to burn it, burn all his stuff.
Oh, God, Peggy, I'm so sorry.
Stops it spreading, doesn't it?
What did you do about the soldiers, Doctor?
What did you do about the grown-ups?
Cos it's not the children, is it?
I mean, he's fine, just a bit off-colour with it.
It's the men that it's killing.
There's three on this road, and now my John.
What's happening with this sickness is...
It does nothing that we expected.
Who's gonna look after this lot if I get it, eh?
You'll be looked after, you'll all be looked after.
A system is now in place...
What...what bloody system? Your system might be working elsewhere,
but it ain't working round here!
I mean, have you been outside lately?
Of course you bloody haven't!
There's people starving behind their own front doors,
cos no-one will go anywhere near 'em!
People are frightened.
You're meant to be in charge!
You're meant to know what to do.
Peggy...the doctor's come all this way to see you.
He only means well.
I will ensure that her wages are paid for as long as she likes.
She can come back to work at any time.
MRS LYTTON COUGHS VIOLENTLY
Take her to the Monsall,
attention Dr Dickinson, if he himself is not ill.
Tell them that she's incubated for query, three days.
Low bloods and fever but no cyanosis yet.
Thank you, driver.
Thank you. Goodbye.
Coming in like clockwork now, every damn day.
Why didn't people give their figures a fortnight ago?
London's a catastrophe. They're losing 1,500 a week.
Starting to call it another Passchendaele.
I don't know what else I can do, Mr Dunks.
I've been doing this all my life.
Ask me to get clean water or milk,
or get rid of rodents, or even stop TB, I can do that. I've done that!
But I can't stop this!
Just arrived from London.
Doctor, limited stocks of prophylactic vaccine -
immediate distribution, please.
Come with me.
Oh, dear God!
why is this lady not in a main ward?
There are no more beds, Doctor.
Her hair has turned white.
-Although that's not critical.
-And look at the fingernails.
It must attack the keratin for some reason.
It's all right. I know it looks terrible,
but I've known them survive like that.
What is your prognosis here, Matron?
She'll be all right, providing she makes it through the night.
If cyanosis presents, it's not so good.
-Yes, but there's no cyanosis presenting.
That's why I insist that she has to find a main ward -
she needs to have oxygen into the lungs as a matter of urgency.
That is the centre of the attack.
I'm aware of this, Doctor.
I know you're under pressure, Matron, but please...
I'll see what I can do, Doctor.
You'll be taken care of, rest assured.
What is this disease doing?
Everyone gets flu. Everyone always gets flu.
But why is it the strongest that die?
And so horribly.
The haemorrhaging in these lungs is the worst we've ever seen.
It's brutal, it's like...it's like they've been attacked.
Well, illness is a battle, isn't it?
It's a war.
Why has this last war been so destructive?
Because it was a war of attrition?
Because we have more horrible weapons,
because each side was equally matched
and couldn't overrun the other one without tearing itself to pieces.
For the past four years,
we've been pounding the same patch of ground into oblivion.
Maybe the flu is like that.
You mean, the stronger the defences of the person it's invading,
the bloodier the battle?
It simply passes over the weak, just overpowers them and moves on.
But with the strong, it stays and fights to the death.
It actually likes a fight.
Thank you, Matron.
Thank you, Doctor.
She'll pull through if she can just hang on.
She won't give up, our Peggy, not without a fight.
She's coming round!
Hello, Peggy, my dear.
Peggy, how are you feeling?
John, my love!
-I think the child should leave now.
-Mrs Kershaw? Mrs Kershaw, please.
It's all right, Sam. It's all right now.
Nurse, cyanosis has presented. Quickly, please.
It's all right, love, it's all right. Doctor...
VERY SLOW TYPING
Well, you've managed extremely well, both of you.
It's your efforts that have stopped Manchester going to hell, the way of Liverpool and London.
How many have we dead?
How many have we dead, Mr Dunks?
-Two and a half thousand.
-Out of a million.
Most of them women.
Many of them were young.
Yes, I appreciate that.
What about this vaccine?
The vaccine's made no quantifiable difference to the rates of infection or mortality.
It might have done...
if we'd had it in time.
A lot of things might have made a difference if we had done them in time.
Oh, we can pat ourselves on the back. Manchester escaped the worst.
Anyway, we've got to get on.
We need to get this city moving again.
Get the schools open.
We think it's the right time to announce the end of the epidemic.
The death rates have dropped.
And we're stretched to breaking.
It's nearly spring. We must get back to work.
Wasn't the Great Plague signed off in the spring, Mr Dunks?
-Yes, that's right.
-This was no Great Plague, James!
And in no small part thanks to you.
But we've isolated this city long enough.
We need to get back to normal.
Let's declare it over,
forget the whole business.
Put this ghastly second wave behind us.
'It is not necessary to understand the epidemiology of influenza,
'to see that more might have been done to limit the spread of the disease.
'And that public health authorities might be expected -
'in future occurrences - to press for further precautions
'to be taken in the presence of a severe outbreak.'
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Drama illuminating one doctor's pioneering efforts to protect the people of Manchester from the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic.
Set against the background of the Armistice in November 1918 as millions of exhausted soldiers return home from the Great War, the film tells the little-known story of Dr James Niven, Manchester's medical health officer for thirty years, and his heroic efforts to combat a second wave of fatal influenza as it spreads across the city and the UK.