Introduction

Welcome to Communicating the Unthinkable, a blog about how Britain dealt with the threat of nuclear attack during the Cold War period (around 1947 to 1991), told through contemporary documents and media. If you’re not sure where to look first, try the ‘Popular Articles’ link in the menu above.

Since 2020, this blog has become something of a companion piece to my book, Nuclear War in the UK. You can also follow @coldwaruk on Twitter, where I share more bits and pieces, as well as links to new articles on this site.

Women for Peace – exploring the art of Greenham Common

Women for Peace: Banners from Greenham Common (Four Corners Books, 2021) is the latest in the publisher’s Irregulars series, which seeks out overlooked and underground British art and design from the 20th century.

In some cases, the work is overlooked because the creator’s primary intention was not to create a piece of art, but rather to achieve a specific goal – so they may not have seen themselves, or been seen, first and foremost as artists.

This is the case with the banners featured in Charlotte Dew’s book, which were created as part of the long-running anti-nuclear protest held at RAF Greenham Common, which began in the early 1980s. However, while the protest banners were created as functional objects, taken out of context they can also be viewed as works of art.

Above: Women for Peace: Banners from Greenham Common by Charlotte Dew

The timing of the book’s release coincides with the 40th anniversary this month of the original protest activity that led to the Greenham saga. In response to the deployment of US nuclear missiles on UK soil, a group of women marched form Cardiff to Greenham Common, with some chaining themselves to the fence of the airbase. From there, the protest grew to become a ‘Peace Camp’; over the next few years, it developed into a women-only camp that would maintain a permanent protest and vigil outside the base for 19 years.

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Introducing Nuclear War in the UK – the book

Some exciting news! If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll already know that I have a book coming out this week.

For a long time, I wondered whether anyone was going to create the book I wanted to see: a richly-illustrated, well-written history of British civil defence and our governments’ preparations for nuclear attack – equal parts interesting, horrifying and amusing. Eventually I realised that I was going to have to write it – and, several years of work later, here it finally is.

It’s called Nuclear War in the UK, and it’s a potted history of the booklets, pamphlets, leaflets, posters and other ephemera created by British governments in preparation for nuclear attack. It’s a lovely hardback book – the publishers, Four Corners Books, have a background in creating art books and have done an amazing job on reproducing the art brilliantly. Best of all, it costs just £10.

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Threads – the film 35 years on

Radio Times Threads cover
Cover of Radio Times featuring the infamous armed traffic warden

Today marks 35 years since the broadcast of Threads, the BBC’s docu-drama portraying a nuclear attack on Sheffield.

Still shocking today, the film is widely held to be among the more realistic depictions of the effects of nuclear war on British life. Although it has only been shown three times on BBC TV (in 1984, 1985 and 2003), Threads has had an ongoing impact on the British psyche.

Last year saw the release of a remastered Blu Ray of the film, which included a new director’s cut and plenty of extras. There’s never been a better time to revisit this powerful work of nuclear horror. Whether you’ve seen threads hundreds of times, have only vague memories of the film, or have never seen it, this carefully remastered edition has something to offer.

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Building a nuclear bunker: Hogs Back ROC Post

If you have even a passing interest in civil defence and preparations for nuclear attack on the UK, you’ll quickly come across ROC posts.

These are small, three-person bunkers, built by the government in the 1950s, and formerly manned by members of the Royal Observer Corps (ROC).

Known as ‘observers’, the mission of these civilian volunteers was to go to their monitoring post when nuclear attack was imminent, and detect and report the direction and power of any bomb blasts. Readings from several posts could be taken together to triangulate the precise location where a nuclear weapon had hit.

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