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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Transition to war in the 1970s

Transition to War

This unusual diagram shows the shape that Wiltshire County Council believed the descent into nuclear war would take. Officials prepared the confidential document in the late 1970s to help train ‘community advisers’ – volunteers ready to help in time of crisis leading to a potential nuclear attack.

The chart is a reminder how quickly things could have escalated from ‘the ups and downs of everyday life’, through a bad international situation, concern among the public and in parliament, the breakdown of order as the public started to panic, and finally the attack itself.

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Protest by Post – the Cold War activism of Leeds Postcards

Leeds Postcards was founded in 1979, with the intention of using postcards “as a political tool and agent for change”.

They quickly became well-known, producing some iconic work with activist groups such as the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (MCANW) and CND branches across the country, and artists including Peter Kennard and Steve Bell. They are still publishing postcards today.

Throughout the 1980s, Leeds Postcards published a number of cards satirising the threat of nuclear war, and celebrating the movement against the bomb, which I’m sharing here (with their permission). I’ve quoted the text from the back of the postcards for some context, as well as the artist and date, where known.

Greetings from Nuclear Free Leeds, unknown artist, 1981

On 30 July 1980 Leeds City Council adopted a resolution from Councillor Michael McGowan which expressed grave concern at the build up of nuclear weapons and agreed to contact other cities about action against the nuclear threat.

On 24 June 1981 Leeds became a Nuclear Free Zone. the City Council promotes peace education and peace exhibitions, and published Leeds and the Bomb to inform the public of the effects of a nuclear strike on Leeds.

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Domestic Nuclear Shelters

Domestic Nuclear Shelters was the UK government’s attempt to bring nuclear bunkers to the masses.

Whether you wanted a deluxe, professionally-installed bunker, or would make do with a hole in the ground with a couple of doors for a roof, this guide had you covered (in more ways than one).

It was published in 1981, and – as you may have spotted from the ‘nuclear family’ symbol on the cover – was part of the same public information campaign as the ill-fated Protect and Survive.

There were two publications under this name – Domestic Nuclear Shelters, a thin A5 pamphlet, and Domestic Nuclear Shelters: Technical Guidance, a beefier A4 book. The former was intended as the most basic introduction to bunker-building for ordinary householders, while the bigger tome was aimed at tradesmen and engineers (and maybe the more dedicated/paranoid amateur).

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