Protect and Survive

Atomic Culture

When the Wind Blows   When the Protect and Survive leaflet was released in 1980 its contents shocked many people and added to the general air of nuclear paranoia that peaked in the mid 80s. The fact that the government were actually preparing leaflets for distribution in the event of nuclear war made it obvious that they saw it as a real possibility. This inevitably influenced British culture of the time, including films, music and comedy.

Protect and Survive was a major influence for Raymond Briggs' superb cartoon book and film "When the Wind Blows" (1986) the title for which was taken from the introduction to the leaflet.

"When the Wind Blows" tells the story of an elderly British couple building a shelter and preparing for an impending nuclear attack with the help of a government-issued Protect and Survive pamphlet. They are totally unaware that the nature of war has changed from their romantic memories of World War II.

Some examples of ideas taken straight from Protect and Survive and used in "When the Wind Blows" are shown in the following extract:

When the Wind Blows

Protect and Survive - Lean-to Inner Refuge Protect and Survive - Whitewashing Windows  

Threads was a horrifyingly realistic film made in 1984 about how nuclear war affects two families from Sheffield. It includes references to Protect and Survive and extracts from some of the Public Information Films. A detailed synopsis of the film, including stills can be found on Patrick Beans' Threads site.

Several bands were influenced by these UK civil defence campaigns, most notably Jethro Tull who included a track called "Protect and Survive" on their 1980 album "A". The interesting lyrics to this song can be found on The Annotated Jethro Tull Lyrics Page.

The group Big Country also made reference to Protect and Survive on their track "1000 Stars" (1983).

Frankie goes to Hollywood included the voice of Patrick Allen who narrated the Action After Warnings and Casualties Public Information Films, on their track "Two Tribes" (1984). This includes the following lines:

"If any member of the family should die whilst in the shelter from contamination,
Put them outside, but remember to tag them first for identification purposes.
Mine is the last voice that you will ever hear, do not be alarmed."

The elements of black-humour in Protect and Survive are not hard to find and these supplied many 80s alternative comedians with the material for some of their cold-war political humour. The Young Ones episode "Bomb" written by Ben Elton includes the casts following responses to a nuclear Bomb appearing in the kitchen:

NEIL: Seriously, we ought to do something about this bomb! I'm going upstairs to get the incredibly helpful and informative "Protect and Survive" manual! Nobody better touch this while I'm gone!

RICK: What are you doing?
[Neil is reading his survival manual while painting himself white with a paintbrush]
NEIL: Oh, painting myself white to deflect the blast!
RICK: That's great, isn't it, Racial discrimination, even in death! What are these? [indicates a few lunchbags on the table]
NEIL: Oh, sandbags!

[The table now has a drape over it saying, 'KEEP OUT, FALLOUT'. Mike enters carrying food in both hands]
MIKE: Neil, where's the table?
NEIL: Oh, good. You got the provisions.
MIKE: Yeah
NEIL: No, not on the roof man!, put it in the food zone! Anyway, it's got to be tinned if it's going to survive ten years of fallout!

Reading Protect and Survive as a teenager in the 80s filled me with a feeling of cold dread, and I wonder what could have been going through the minds of the people who created it? It's hard to believe that less than twenty years ago this seemed like an all to realistic picture of our imminent future:

Inner Refuge

The overall effect of this booklet is very disturbing. Did the government believe a nuclear war was survivable when they produced these booklets and plans? Did that make nuclear war more likely by upsetting the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) balance between East and West?

Here are some more disquieting highlights:

"Even the safest room in your home is not safe enough" - ah, I see, so, er....what am I supposed to do then?

Where am I supposed to get a box of dry sand for my survival kit from (my local DIY store has had a bit of a run on sand and boxes since the end-of the world was announced), and supposing I do get hold of the specified materials how on Earth do I use them to wash plates?

There is nothing in the book about how to defend your shelter from the rampaging hordes without sand-boxes, in fact you are told "If there is time, help neighbours in need...", oh yes, a very British a apocalypse was being planned for us.

We are constantly told to "Keep the radio tuned for Government advice and instructions."

"DO NOT GO OUTSIDE until the radio tells you it is safe to do so." - what if my radio never tells me anything ever again?

"You should receive radio instructions on what to do next." - if you don't then civilisation has collapsed, government is no more, you are now on your own, good luck!

Finally we are given a little reassurance: "When you hear the ALL-CLEAR this means there is no longer an immediate danger from air attack and fall-out and you may resume normal activities." - if you consider stepping over piles of rubble and bodies whilst searching for uncontaminated tinned food normal!

More interesting thoughts about the effects of Protect and Survive and nuclear paranoia on 80s British culture can be found on this site by Andrew Rilstone.

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Copyright 2002 George Coney
Last updated February 2002
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