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1981: Coup in the Cortes
The 1981 attempted coup in Spain shocked the nation.

TV viewers watched images of the rebel army leader Lieutenant Colonel Tejero brandishing a pistol as his followers fired over the heads of terrified members of the Spanish parliament, the Cortes.

King Juan Carlos was instrumental in ending the rebellion by announcing on national TV that such action would not be tolerated.

Realising they had little support, the rebels finally surrendered and let go their captives.

The coup had lasted 18 hours but it was 18 hours the 350 politicians held overnight at gunpoint will never forget.

Your stories

My great uncle was the army leader of this coup.

He was clearly mistaken in his actions, but I would suggest that only hindsight teaches us that. Spain is now a very successful democracy, which is prosperous and attracts tourists all over the world.

At the time, however, everything was still uncertain. Maybe what was needed was this attempted coup to prove and allow the fledgling democracy to develop fully.

Everything was uncertain when Franco died and Juan Carlos became king. The king was able to assert his authority and appear strong.
Luis Antonio Tejero, London, UK

I was deployed from Heidelberg Germany to participate in an exercise - Crisex 81.

Nato wanted to get Spain back into the fold. We trained the Spanish Army in Valencia and on the coast for 93 days. King Juan Carlos attended the amphibious landings on the coast.
J Moore, USA

At the time of the attempted coup I was learning Spanish, and practised regularly by letter with a lady from Madrid.

On the night in question she telephoned asking what I knew of the event since Spanish radio stations were broadcasting military music.

She, Ana Elisa, believed there to be a BBC crew in the Parliament and thought it possible that I would know more.

I was able to relay to her such reports as we received here by phone, and with the consent of my then wife, knowing Ana Elisa to be of left-wing political views, offered her refuge in our home in the event of full scale civil war breaking out in Spain.

Fortunately, thanks I believe to the efforts of King Juan Carlos, this did not happen but Ana Elisa and I remained good friends and in 2001 became a partnership, with me commuting between my responsibilities in the UK and my home with her in Madrid.
Christopher Rutt, UK

I was teaching in a company when the security guard brought the news.

My students offered me a lift to the airport!

I stayed, and that night there was a decent film on Spanish TV for the first time in living memory, a Bob Hope comedy.

The King was also impressive - he made us feel much safer by being unequivocally pro-democracy.
Pat Donovan, Spain

I was eight years old and I remember that when I woke up, my parents where very tired because they had "stuck their ears" to the radio sets (as we say in Spanish) for the whole night.

And my brother did not go to school because he had seen all the movies that were played during the night on TV!

I remember the great happiness and pride of my parents when they saw that the King had intervened to stop the coup and to support the newly-born democracy.

From that day they we were "Juancarlistas".
Omar Ali de Unzaga, UK ex-Spain

I had recently moved to a new job in Barcelona and was watching the TV when it suddenly switched to a news report showing live pictures from inside the Cortes.

The insurgents had ordered the TV cameramen out but the TV cameras were left running!

My Spanish then was not good enough to follow the reports but I realised it was serious. I recall the firing of automatic weapons and the rough handling of an old, respected deputy.

I spent most of the night wondering if I would be repatriated to England and remember asking at work the following day if what I understood to have happened was correct. It was of course.

The event dominated the TV news with pictures of tanks on the streets of Valencia. Then King Juan Carlos came on TV and earned the respect of so many Spaniards (and the world) by his refusal to back the coup and ordering of the soldiers back to their barracks.

He was not going to bring back the repression, despite apparently having been groomed by Franco to maintain his regime.
David Ellison, England

I was married to a Spanish girl at the time, so it was of particular interest. I remember seeing the events in the Cortes on the BBC and thinking it looked a bit like a comic opera coup.

But, I was still relieved when the whole thing collapsed.

My mother-in-law in Madrid made a classic comment when she heard of it, apparently she said: "Oh dear, we'd better have eggs for supper."
Nigel, UK

I was hitchhiking through Spain at the time of the attempted coup. For three days I couldn't get a ride and felt that there was something strange happening because the people who drove by were acting really weird.

One man was waving his hands in the air frantically as if to say, "Don't you know what's going on?" Even the police acted very strange towards me.

They told me to hitchhike from the other side of the road in the opposite direction I was going. I couldn't figure them out. At this time I didn't know what was going on. I was stuck for about 3 days in the wilderness.

Finally I did get a ride through a mountain area. I did see a military convey and the driver in the car I was riding mentioned some thing about the king.

I decided to take a bus to a city call Murcia or something like that and then I was informed by some youth on the street about the attempted coup that was all over.
Paul, USA

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King Juan Carlos
King Juan Carlos sent out a message the coup would not be tolerated


Armed soldiers take over the Cortes
Politicians took cover as soldiers fired into the air in the parliament building

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