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.
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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.