‘The Bedford Incident’ Remains Highly Relevant

Sir Sidney Poitier, who has passed away at the age of 94, was one of the greatest actors of all time – he invested his roles with integrity, passion and sheer humanity, not least during one production set aboard an American warship.

Sidney Poitier (left) playing a photo-journalist aboard a US Navy destroyer hunting a Russian submarine in the North Atlantic. Richard Widmark (centre) and Eric Portman (right) played the warship’s CO and a former U-boat captain (turned tactical advisor) respectively. Imagery: Columbia pictures.

I first saw the Poitier movies ‘In the Heat of the Night’ and ‘The Bedford Incident’ when I was a kid and both remain supremely relevant to this day, though for very different reasons – asking us the big moral questions about topics many people just don’t want to even think about.

Here’s the link to the trailer from ‘The Bedford Incident‘. It was so controversial in the mid-1960s the US Navy refused to help the movie-makers by loaning them a warship (as they do with many other productions), so the Royal Navy stepped in with a vessel for a few exterior at-sea scenes.

Art work from the movie ‘The Bedford Incident’. Imagery: Columbia pictures.


In simple terms ‘The Bedford Incident’ is about a US Navy destroyer – the fictitious ‘USS Bedford’ – pursuing a Russian submarine into Arctic waters. It investigates the life-or-death dilemmas thrown up aboard the pursuer in deciding how hard to press the quarry when both are heavily armed and even a minor slip-up could see the Cold War turn hot. It is also about cutting edge technology overwhelming humans pushed to the limit mentally and physically.

Poitier’s photo-journalist is the at the core of the story during a truly scary episode in the Cold War face off at sea. The confrontation finale was especially chilling to watch in the early 1970s when NATO and the USSR faced each other in a nuclear-armed stand-off.

‘The Bedford Incident’ features superb acting performances across the board and – with news about today’s hypersonic missile development and a Russian submarine coming dangerously close to a British frigate – seems eerily prescient.

The Russian frigate RFS Admiral Gorshkov test-fires a hypersonic missile last year. Photo: Russian official.

There again during the Cold War there were many such episodes, and lots more dangerous than what happened between HMS Northumberland and a Russian boat in late 2020.  We just didn’t get to hear about them at the time and to this day certain governments refuse to comment.

Seafarers UK

Even so, the ‘Northumberland Incident’ – only brought to light because a Channel 5 TV crew was filming aboard the British frigate, in slight echo of Poitier movie – plus talk of terrifying new missiles and ‘acts of war’ by senior naval officers (serving and retired) in the media of 2022 makes ‘The Bedford Incident’ essential viewing. It shows how a series of events can build into a major disaster for us all due to human error, especially when one war vessel is getting dangerously close to another.


Sorry, comments are closed for this item