Communicating the Unthinkable

About

This is a blog where I share documents + artefacts from the Cold War. It focuses on British civil defence and 'domestic propaganda' from 1950-1990, with other bits thrown in from time to time.

To stay up-to-date, follow the blog on Twitter:

@coldwaruk

More info

Categories

1950s · 1960s · 1970s · 1980s · 1990s · Administration · Advertisement · Analysis · Booklet · Central Government · Central Office of Information · Civil Defence · Civil Defence Corps · Cultural responses · Document · Emergency planning · Exhibitions · Home Office · Infrastructure · International · Leaflet · Local Government · Media · Medical · Military · Ministry of Defence · Postcards · Protest · Public Information · Royal Observer Corps · Training and Tools

Recent posts

Displaying posts tagged 'General'

I wrote a book! Introducing “Nuclear War in the UK”

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 it costs just £10.

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Airdropped leaflet from the Grapple nuclear tests

This is a leaflet produced by the British government in 1957 and intended to be airdropped over the Pacific Ocean. Unlike most airdropped leaflets, this one isn’t propaganda – it’s a very real warning to get out of the area, or risk being nuked.

Operation Grapple was a series of nuclear weapons tests carried out by the UK in the Pacific from 1957 to 1958. The first tests, Grapple 1, 2 and 3, featured Britain’s first ever thermonuclear weapons – what most of us know as hydrogen bombs. Up to this point, Britain had had fission (‘atomic’) bombs, but H-bomb tests by the U.S. and Russia in 1952/53 meant the UK had to be seen to be up-to-speed. Britain had to test its own H-bomb or risk losing its place on the world stage.

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Welcome

Hello! I’m Taras and I research and collect Cold War documents. That’s me on the right, half way out of a nuclear bunker.

This is my blog, which loosely focuses on British civil defence and ‘domestic propaganda’ from around 1950-1990.

Why?

As a teenager snooping around my grandparents’ attic, I found a dusty copy of an early 1950s Civil Defence booklet called ‘Atomic Warfare’. This piqued my interest, and led – a few years later – to my first purchase: a copy of the infamous ‘Protect and Survive’ booklet.

Later still, as a postgraduate studying communication and public affairs, I based my Master’s dissertation on the items in my burgeoning collection of public information documents. Like this blog, it was titled ‘Communicating the Unthinkable’, and it looked at how the British government chose to communicate large-scale threats to the public.

A decade in the making…

I got a kick out of researching and analysing the documents, and decided to set up a blog. That was back in 2007. Real life got in the way, and I shelved the idea… for ten years. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it – or collecting.

The delay was probably for the best. My collection now contains well over 300 items, ranging from the curious, to the frightening, to the hilarious. Often, as with most Cold War stuff, it’s a bit of all three.

The scope of the items I’ve collected means I can make connections that wouldn’t have been possible when I was just starting out.

Beyond ‘ooh, wasn’t it scary?’

It would be easy, and probably quite boring, to just post scans of documents without any context or thought, perhaps with a bit of stock ‘wow, those were some scary times’ commentary. Instead, I want to share some more useful insight into these artefacts, joining the dots between them, and bringing them to life.

I will try to post often as I can, with the aim of something new at least once a week.

Please follow @coldwaruk on Twitter for updates to this site, and direct any comments or ideas to me. Now that’s out of the way… let’s get started. I hope you enjoy this frequently rather bonkers side of 20th century history as much as I do.


Thanks in particular to Danny Birchall, Prof John Preston, Dr Becky Alexis-Martin and Dr Nick Blackbourn for prodding me into finally getting this thing up and running.