Protect and Survive: 1970s British Instructional Films on How to Live Through a Nuclear Attack

In Walk­ing in Ruins, nov­el­ist and adven­tur­ous pedes­tri­an Geoff Nichol­son’s book about the on-foot explo­ration of Eng­land and Amer­i­ca’s dis­used places, the author devotes a fas­ci­nat­ing sec­tion to an Essex “secret nuclear bunker.” Ren­dered un-secret, and indeed unnec­es­sary, by the end of the Cold War, the whole under­ground com­plex under­went con­ver­sion into a for­lorn tourist attrac­tion. “In some of the bunker’s small­er, emp­ti­er rooms, videos were being shown on chunky old TV sets, doc­u­men­taries relat­ed to nuclear war and its sur­vival,” Nichol­son writes. “They includ­ed the noto­ri­ous pub­lic infor­ma­tion series Pro­tect and Sur­vive, twen­ty short episodes, basic ani­ma­tion, strange­ly ahead-of-its-time elec­tron­ic music, and a voice-over by Patrick Allen, deeply unsym­pa­thet­ic and unre­as­sur­ing, though you imag­ine he was sup­posed to be both. The titles in the series includ­ed ‘What to Put in Your Fall­out Room’ and ‘San­i­ta­tion Care and Casu­al­ties.’ ”

“ ‘Stay at Home,’ ” Nichol­son tells us, “remind­ed us that fall­out ‘can set­tle any­where, so no place in the Unit­ed King­dom is safer than any oth­er,’ and my favorite sin­gle sen­tence comes from the episode ‘Refuges’: ‘If you live in a car­a­van or oth­er build­ing of light­weight con­struc­tion with very lit­tle pro­tec­tion against fall­out, your local author­i­ty will be able to advise you on what to do’ — and there was a car­toon image of a tiny car­a­van that looked like it might be blown away by a good sneeze, nev­er mind a nuclear explo­sion.” The com­pi­la­tion above col­lects 51 min­utes of these and oth­er episodes of Pro­tect and Sur­vive, orig­i­nal­ly com­mis­sioned by the British gov­ern­ment in the 1970s and meant for trans­mis­sion only in the case of an immi­nent nuclear attack on the coun­try. But episodes leaked, and the BBC pro­ceed­ed to broad­cast them absent that imme­di­ate threat, there­by ensur­ing the lega­cy of this Cold War media arti­fact beloved of irony-lov­ing Britons — that is to say, Britons — across the coun­try.

These vin­tage films will be added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Duck and Cov­er, or: How I Learned to Elude the Bomb

How a Clean, Tidy Home Can Help You Sur­vive the Atom­ic Bomb: A Cold War Film from 1954

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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