For some inexcusable reason, I have merged the first time I saw one of these Protect & Survive infommercials with watching kids TV on a Saturday or summer holiday morning. Let’s say, I saw them after re-runs of The Banana Splits and before My White Horses. I’m no doubt wrong but that’s how I like to remember these “chilling” ads instructing the plucky British nation on how best to “protect and survive” a nuclear attack. Fat chance, I hear you say, and I would certainly agree—as the government’s suggestion of some quick DIY (taking doors off their hinges to form a makeshift shelter) and stockpiling food, water and medical supplies within the allotted four minute warning before a nuclear attack was highly optimistic.
Twenty of these short Protect and Survive films were made in 1975, and were certainly screened at some point during that decade and during the 1980s. I know because I recall thinking it very unfortunate that my parents had glass doors throughout their house, which meant any unhinging or using of these doors as possible shelter was utterly pointless. It struck me then that such makeshift bunkers made from leaning a door against a wall and reinforcing it with furniture, suitcases, bedding and, er, sandbags (as if anyone had these lying around) were in reality coffins, graveyards for the millions of English, Scots and Welsh who would have been wiped out in an attack.
Of course the UK government knew this as they had secretly run a mock nuclear attack to estimate the actual number of dead and injured. Called “Operation Square Leg,” the exercise assumed that “131 nuclear weapons would fall on Britain with a total yield of 205 megatons: 69 ground burst; 62 air burst.” This would leave 29 million dead or 53% of the population; with 7 million or 12% seriously injured; and 19 million or 35% of the population remaining as “short-term survivors.” In other words, we were all fucking doomed.
Still, perhaps those in charge hoped these little films would offer a tiny glimmer of hope to those who thought the government knew best, or in my case some scary Saturday morning entertainment. The voice-over for these infomercials was supplied by Patrick Allen—-who was also at this time presenting a host of adverts selling timber-framed homes to first-time buyers. Some of his lines from these films were re-recorded and inserted into “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood notably:
“Mine is the last voice you will ever hear. Do not be alarmed.”