Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Who wants to 'Protect And Survive'?

Best joke of all is 56 seconds in - at least with 2009 hindsight!

Those of us the wrong side of 40 are today being given an interesting glimpse into our own past with the release of the Government War Book, the official strategy manual for dealing with an escalation of hostilities during the Cold War. Throughout the era, Whitehall's finest would regularly carry out a full-scale theoretical exercise to test the contingency plans (replacing real Cabinet Ministers who were, to be honest, a bit rubbish at it).

Meanwhile, the Government's general information leaflet, optimistically entitled 'Protect And Survive', had a horrible fascination back in the 70's for those of us still living at home with our parents - the idea of being confined to the cupboard under the stairs for two weeks with the whole family coming pretty close to a teenager's definition of hell.

The general opinion, as far as I can remember, was that all this whitewashing and taping up of windows was an inspired ruse to keep us all out of the way while the Government and civil servants convened on their reinforced concrete bunkers. The rest of us lesser mortals would, of course, have to make do with a creative arrangement of doors and mattresses.

In our case, this would have been a fairly pointless exercise, given the nearby 'secret' submarine base - a prime target. In theory, we could have constructed a proper concrete shelter, but my father, on learning that the only local safe refuge was to house the Regional Council, announced that he had no intention whatsoever of surviving to emerge into a post-armageddon world populated by cockroaches and local politicians.

It's an interesting thought that the generation who fuelled the excesses of the 80's were subjected to all this at an impressionable age; eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!


  1. One of these places is now open to the public, and I took a look see. What was unnerving was what an amateurish, disorganised, and probably useless facility it was. But that was the common feature of much of our defence provision, outside the nuclear weaponry. But it seemed to be much the same on the other side. Apart from their nuclear capability the only sure thing the Soviets had was their willingness to lose millions of men in any conflict.

  2. Neither side was going to worry too much about casualties in the event of actual GTW.

    'Protect And Survive' was really designed to reassure an anxious public, or to keep us busy while we subsequently succumbed to radiation sickness.

    I don't think anyone - British, American or Russian - really believed that much would be salvaged from the ashes of a direct strike, but they had to keep the myth going for obvious reasons.

    After all, 'Protect, Then Die Horribly Ten Days Later' doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

  3. Thanks for that. I 'came over all sentimental'. I went to see Jasper Carrot the night before my Government, Economics and Commerce 'O' level back in '76.

    I think I saw Dr Feelgood, also at Manchester's Free Trade Hall, the night before French.

    Somehow passed both.

  4. Gregg; perhaps there's something to be said for the calming effects of humming 'Milk and Alcohol' on the way into an exam - it certainly works for me in traffic jams.


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