Communicating the Unthinkable


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.

It's written and edited by me, Taras Young. I collect this stuff. I try to post something new as often as I can, at least once a month.

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Threads – 35 years on

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, so there is no excuse not to have seen this powerful work of nuclear horror.

Help from the Home Office

In researching Threads, director Mick Jackson actually had the help of the Home Office. He was allowed to observe a run of the training exercise, HOT SEAT, at the Home Defence College at Easingwold. HOT SEAT would normally only have been open to senior officers from organisations like local authorities, the Police and Fire services. It simulated pre- and post-nuclear attack situations in a fictional English county, and was designed to prepare officials for the real thing.

Jackson then requested a set of training notes from the exercise, which the Home Office reluctantly – very reluctantly – sent him. Their reasoning? “To refuse to let him have a copy of the notes could cause offence and give the impression that we had something to hide.” They decided against editing out anything embarrassing, on the basis that Jackson would spot the omission and play it up in his film.

Promoting Threads

Below you can see the original press releases for Threads, which was promoted alongside On the 8th Day, a documentary about the ecological impact of nuclear war, with a particular focus on “nuclear winter” (you can watch On the 8th Day online). Click or tap a thumbnail image to view the full page:

Picking up the threads

The Radio Times famously published its Threads special issue (which you can see at the top of this post) to coincide with the film’s original broadcast. This included several features on the film and its production.

One of these articles, Acting Armageddon by Jim Crace, gave some insight into the making of Threads. I have transcribed the article and you can read it here.

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Posted on September 23, 2019 by Taras Young