The behaviour of thin layers of solid materials under drop-weight impact is studied with the aid of high-speed photographic and pressure-measuring techniques. Photographic sequences taken with a high-speed framing camera show that explosive materials suffer large-scale deformation before initiation of explosion. The sample may undergo plastic flow in bulk, show evidence of partial fusion, and even (with PETN) melt completely. There is also evidence of Munroe jetting and instability of flow of material at the anvil/layer interfaces. The flow speed of the sample during these processes is considerable and may reach 300 m/s. When ignition of the layer occurs it does so at a small number of local hot spots, following which rapid combustion develops at speeds of 200-700 m/s. Strain-gauge measurements show that the pressures attained during drop-weight impact are typically 0.5-1 GPa (5-10 kbar) and the duration of impact 300-500 $\mu $s. In the course of impact of a thin layer of granular material a sharp pressure drop may occur, frequently from several hundred MPa down to zero. With an explosive layer, ignition occurs immediately following the instant of the pressure drop. The sudden fall in pressure is due to mechanical failure of the sample, and correlation of the two experiments shows that this is the cause of the very high flow speeds attained during impact. On the basis of these results a possible mechanism of ignition is suggested.