STOP LOOK LISTEN
The Magazine's Public Information Film festival
The conclusion of our festival of public information films looks at one of the most chilling films ever made - Protect and Survive.
You can forget whimsical cartoons or celebrities in swimming pools. You can even forget threatening music and indeed all the other techniques explored in this season of public information films.
Because when it came to making the Protect and Survive films, part of the government's campaign to tell people what to do in case of nuclear attack, no gimmicks were needed to attract people's attention.
This film, entitled Protect and Survive - Action after Warnings, was made in 1975, and was one of a series of 20 made to prepare people for particular aspects of an attack.
Thankfully this, like the others, was never broadcast in anger. Listen carefully and you will recognise the voice: it is ace voiceover man Patrick Allen who later featured in Two Tribes by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and whose faux portentous tones can currently be heard on trailers for the E4 channel ("chucking spunky movies at your tellybox")
(The film starts with an animation of a mushroom cloud. No point in sugaring the pill. A frame says ACTION AFTER WARNINGS, before cutting to a model of a simple house, very much like a child's idea of a house.)
"A warning may come quite unexpectedly. We will now tell you what to do if a warning sounds when you are at home, and then we will explain what to do if you are out of doors. First, if you are at home. If an attack is imminent, you will hear the attack sound like this:
(The familiar WWII air raid siren sounds, and there is a visual representation of it - a swelling collection of vibrating strings. Like a doll's house, the front of the building disappears and shows the layout. One room in the middle is highlighted.)
"So take cover at once. Send your young children to the fallout room, then go quickly and turn off the gas, and the electricity at the mains. Close down stoves, damp down fires, shut windows, and draw curtains. Then go to your fallout room and stay there.
If the fallout warnings are heard, they will be like these:
(Three bangs, followed by three bells, followed by three whistles, each with a visual representation)
"You should now move yourself and your family to the safest area in your fallout room. That is, you should get inside your inner refuge and stay there. After two days, the danger from fallout will get less. But don't take any risks by contact with it.
The longer you stay in your refuge the better it will be for you. Listen to your radio. Stay where you are and keep listening to your radio.
"Now this is what you should do if you are out of doors when the warning sounds. Take cover at once when you hear the attack sound. If you cannot reach home in 10 minutes, take cover in the nearest building. If there is no building nearby, try to find some solid cover.
(Cut to drawing of man sitting under bridge.)
"If there is no solid cover, lie flat in a ditch or a hole, and cover your head face and your hands as fast as you can with some of your clothes. If you hear the fallout warning, seek the nearest and best cover as quickly as you can. But before entering the building or cover, brush or shake off any fallout dust you may have picked up and get rid of it. Change your outer clothing if you can. Stay under cover.
"When the all clear sounds, like this...
(Animation of vibrating strings again, this time green, and staying high pitched)
...it means that you are safe from attack or fallout for the time being and you can go outside again. But keep listening for further warnings or to your radio for further advice.
(Cut to caption of family and slogan Protect and Survive.)
Critics of the Protect and Survive campaign said it was an unrealistic projection of life post-Bomb. In particular the notion of shutting curtains as a protection, or that it might be safe to come out of a house after two days attracted ridicule, and in retrospect this vision of a post-apocalyptic world does seem almost as dated as the WWII sirens.
A modern audience might wonder what protection sitting under a bridge might give, and just how long people might have to wait for that "all clear" to be sounded.
Raymond Briggs' classic graphic novel When the Wind Blows, first published in 1982, gave a terrifying portrayal of the futility of efforts to survive an attack. It was followed in 1984 by Mick Jackson's film Threads, written by Barry Hines, about life in Sheffield after a nuclear attack.
Both gave a very different take on what people might expect after a bomb, and tapped into people's fears of nuclear war, amid rising Cold War tensions.
But as an exercise in conveying information clearly and memorably these films are works of art. Seeing what the fallout warning would sound like, as well as hearing it, imprints the message clearly on the brain. And the portrayal of fallout itself, with its unsettling sound, both gives some explanation of what it is (bad stuff) and how to avoid it (stay in your refuge).
The man who deserves much of the credit for this is Richard Taylor, an animator who produced dozens of public information films throughout the 70s and 80s, including Jobs for Girls and Charley Says.
Throughout the 50s and 60s he says he was strongly opposed to nuclear weapons, and like others worried what a war would mean for his family.
"A lot of this advice was well intentioned but foolish," he says now. "I don't know if people really thought lying in a ditch would give any protection from a nuclear bomb. But I thought that if there was going to be any kind of nuclear war, it was obviously better to have some sort of official advice than nothing at all."
The film's final caption, in which the drawing of what is now known as a nuclear family (dad, mum, two children), embodies the message. The slogan Protect and Survive animates to wrap round the family. And as a little musical sequence reaches a harmonic resolution, the words become a solid line protecting the family - the same symbol used earlier in the film to symbolise the inner refuge. The signal is clear - follow our instructions and things might be all right.
Many people disagreed, of course, and the language of Protect and Survive was soon turned against it. Anti-nuclear campaigners adapted it to "Protest and Survive", and Patrick Allen's appearance on Two Tribes chillingly highlighted some of the advice from a subsequent film ("if your grandmother or any other member of your family should die whilst in the shelter, put them outside, but remember to tag them first for identification purposes").
You've just got one day left to make your own public information film. We've had some great entries so far, and will showcase the best in the Magazine on Friday.
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Stop Look Listen is compiled by Giles Wilson
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
Watching this movie I take great comfort from the thought that someone had our protection in mind and prepared practical advice. To many other opinions on the subject were misinformation either deliberitly or through fear and ignorance - and unfortunitly still are.
"Dumbing Down" was invented to describe this nuclear war "information" film.I remember being terrified that its predecessor "War Games" might actually be shown to us when I was a sixth former, but this childlike public info film scared me more than "Threads" and "War Games" put together.This was because at the time nuclear war seemed so imminent, and the crude slightly amateurish feel of "Protect and Survive" made me feel it had been rushed into production as the unthinkable was about to happen....
patrick mcgowan, Cheltenham, England
This film obviously doesn't think hard enough when it urges "The longer you stay in your refuge, the better for you". While radioactive fallout is a great risk, surely thirst, hunger and disease are even worse, given that people have 10 minutes which would be better spent gathering food and water, rather than closing curtains and shutting off the mains.
S Murray, Chester, UK
I've got a great spoof on the original Protect and Survive booklet called "Meet Mr. Bomb".
I don't know if it's still available - it's as valuable a relic of the Cold War as the original.
nick, london uk
Nice article. Just wanted to point out that CND (in the figure of Peter Watkins) shredded the idea of a 'survivable' limited nuclear exchange in the much more informative public education film, The War Game. This was in 1965, a full 10 years before Protect and Survive. One of its key points was that people were much worse off being propaganderised by lies about how to survive an attack, as they would be less engaged in efforts to avert such a conflict due to these false expectations. Thus, some official advice is not always better than none, as implied above. Why not do an article on this earlier and much more informative public information? The state does not define the limits of the public.
You mentioned that they gave advice to lie down or get under a bridge if out in the open. I seem to remember reading that this is because the initial blast releases different types of radiation that travel at different speeds and in straight lines and get stopped by certain types of material, thus if you wern't in the immediate area of a blast, you could escape the initial radiation burst that does the most damage to human tissue.
Chris Keane, London
This is what Douglas Adams must have been satirising in 'Hitchhikers' Guide', when the pub landlord asks Ford Prefect if lying down and putting a paper bag over his head will help during the impending destruction of the Earth. Ford's answer is something like 'no, but you can do it if you like.'
'Protect and Survive' seems just about as useful as that. I guess that the real point of it was to make the bodies easier to find and identify because at home - or at least to keep corpses off the streets and highways, and to give people something to do other than panic. For the average person without a deep level shelter, it wouldn'y have mattered if they'd stayed in their fallout room, or danced naked in the street - the radiation would have done for them pretty quick. And why is the blast not mentioned at all! As if your house would still be standing! And the cold-war air raid sirens in my town were on lam-posts and buildings. I doubt they'd have been working to sound the all-clear.
Graham Mallaghan, Canterbury
I remember we were shown this at school in about 1980. We had to take a slip home and get parental permission bewfore we were allowed to watch it - that's how "serious" it was senn in those days. Scared me to death at the time, although I think I was probably quite numb to the threat of nuclear war. We lived with the possibility all the time - in my early teens I was convinced there would be a war before I was 20. Thankfully, people had more sense than I gave them credit for at the time.
Andy Greig, Milton Keynes, UK
I think it's a little bit hard to laugh at the advice given in this film. Obviously, a nuclear explosion would have meant the end for people nearby, whatever they did. But at the margins of any blast - conventional or nuclear - there is a zone where being inside, under a bridge, or even in a ditch (and so below ground level) would mean the difference bewteen life and death. (And even the curtains point makes sense, when you realise it's to stop laceration injuries from flying glass if your windows shattered.) OK, so if people had followed this advice most would have died anyway, but there would have been tens of thousands who would have survived - and surely that's worth 3 minutes of anybody's effort.
Grew up during the 80s... and to this day my brother and I call tinned or dried food, "Food for the fall-out room". Stop Look Listen is one of the best things you've ever done. Thanks.
Jane MacGregor, Epsom, UK
The film you highlighted is part of a series of about 9 I think. By far the most chilling is number 7 with its advice about how to handle casualties. Its advice is to wrap dead bodies in bin liners and... "... if you have been in the house for more than 5 days, take the body outside and bury it, in a shallow grave, clearly marking the spot"
James Coyle, London UK
I remember watching 'Threads' at school, they were playing this information on the TV in sheffield days before the attack.
That was a scary film, mind you, I was told if I'd seen Sheffield in 1985, then I would know why they chose it!
Graeme, Northwich, Cheshire
i think the best nuclear aftermath book is probably down to a sunless sea by david graham. The futility of the whole exercise in the event is clearly shown and this protect and survive film just goes to show that the government took us for fools. It may of course have in realisty meant that whitehall had no idea either!
Dave, Chatham UK
Your article says that the title 'Protect and Survive' was adapted by anti-nuclear protestors, who altered it to 'Protest and Survive'. This is correct - but you should have noted that 'Protest and Survive' was, specifically, the title of a hugely influential pamphlet published circa 1980 by the distinguished left-wing historian, Edward Thompson (E.P.Thompson), who became a leading figure in the peace and anti-nuclear movbement of the 1980s.
Martin Ryle, Brighton
People regularly ridicule Protect & Survive, but this is largely due to their awe of the power of nuclear weapons. If you were ten miles from 'ground zero' then, yes, hiding in a ditch could very well mean the difference between being quite alright and receiving third degree burns. They give considerable insight into the stark realities of trying to survive nuclear war.
Ben Turner, London, UK
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