A new history of the governments cold war public information reveals a range of sometimes alarming, often ridiculous propaganda

Even if you didnt buy a copy of Protect and Survive in 1980, you may still be familiar with the UK governments official guide to surviving nuclear war. The British publics reaction, when they learned that their government had been making preparations for a nuclear conflict for almost three decades, was both immediate and very British: they made fun of it.

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  • Make a lean-to with sloping doors taken from rooms above or strong boards rested against an inner wall, suggested Protect and Survive.

The 32-page booklet, which contained instructions for civilians on how to best prepare their homes the contents for a good survival kit, how to build a toilet from a chair and a bucket, and what to do with your loved ones when they died was a unique combination of sinister and silly; societal collapse and radiation poisoning dont really suit the bland language of bureaucrats. Previously only distributed to journalists and emergency planners, it had remained a badly kept secret until 1980, when The Times ran a campaign challenging Britains preparedness should the cold war turn hot. Finally, the government published it.

A promotional booklet from 1974.
  • The structure of the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation (UKMO), and its role in warning the nation, are outlined in this promotional booklet from 1974.

In a 1982 Young Ones episode, the hapless housemates hide under tables after finding a bomb in their kitchen, with Neil announcing: Im going to consult the incredibly helpful Protect and Survive manual! Jethro Tull wrote a song about it. (They said protect and youll survive / But our postman didnt call.) It spawned countless parodies by the peace movement and inspired similar guides in everything from the BBCs Threads (under the title Advising the Householder) to the video game Fallout 2. One illustration from it, of a family glumly looking at their shelter, became the cover art for Radioheads single Karma Police.

Protect

But Protect and Survive was not the first guide produced by the UK government on surviving nuclear war. Taras Young, author of a new history titled Nuclear War in the UK, estimates he has collected 500 booklets, pamphlets and posters produced by national and local government, volunteers and businesses.

Until you see them all in one place, its hard to appreciate the scale of how much of this stuff was being produced, he says. There was so much more going on than Protect and Survive.

Despite describing them as sinister yet pathetic, Young, who works in marketing but is about to start a PhD on the guides, has loved them since discovering Atomic Warfare (1961) in his grandparents attic when he was 10 years old. It hasnt got a good cover, but finding that was quite exciting. They were essentially advertising campaigns. For me as a marketer, its like the ultimate form of marketing can you convince people that theyre going to survive when they wont?

hydrogen bomb
  • The Hydrogen Bomb (1957).

The first pamphlet distributed to the public was Civil Defence and the Atom Bomb, published in 1952. In 1955, the Strath report a government-commissioned investigation into how Britain would cope after a nuclear war found that the country would be left on the brink of collapse with millions dead. This made the next pamphlet, 1957s The Hydrogen Bomb, hugely popular.

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  • Bomb booklets from 1983-84

Bomb booklets from 1983-84

By 1963, Advising the Householder on Protection Against Nuclear Attack had a print run of 500,000 copies. Meanwhile, councils across the UK were producing localised guides that imagined nuclear war decimating their high streets, with everywhere from Hull to Bristol getting their own dedicated pamphlets.

There were so many that Young says there is now a steadily growing community of collectors in the UK. Some have personal connections to the countrys preparatory efforts, like former volunteers of the Royal Observer Corps, a civilian volunteer force who crewed around 1,500 tiny, three-person bunkers across the UK, many on farming land. Some volunteers have even gone on to buy the bunkers they once served in and turned them into museums.

The Home Office produced a set of training posters in 1958 which depicted typical British street scenes before and after a nuclear attack.
  • The Home Office produced a set of training posters in 1958 which depicted typical British street scenes before and after a nuclear attack.

The dilemma for the government since the 1950s, Young says, was that they knew that their guides werent necessarily particularly useful.

But at the same time, they had to be seen to be producing something, as they couldnt just admit that wed all die, he says. If they produce the stuff, people will criticise it as being useless. If they dont produce it, then theyll be criticised for not doing anything.

interactive
  • The Home Office produced a set of training posters in 1958 that depicted typical British street scenes before and after a nuclear attack.

The pamphlets were less about imparting knowledge and more about preventing negative public responses such as riots, Young says. While researching his book, he found a note by one of the civil servants preparing Protect and Survive: It said something like, We must make people believe that they can survive. Not that they could survive, but they needed to believe they could that kind of sums up the whole thing. And even if you did survive, then what? Youve survived into hell on Earth. Is there any point in living with envy of the dead?

After the humiliation of Protect and Survive, the government stopped distributing guides to the public, and quietly sent them only to emergency planners. In 1986, home secretary Douglas Hurd said: If new material was issued now, everyone would throw it into the wastepaper basket or make fun of it as they did with Protect and Survive. I dont think theres a sensible purpose in it.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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