Protect and Survive is a DVD collection of six pieces of historical content made by the UK Government around nuclear war and the Civil Defence. The main content is a collection of 20 infomercials that were made in the 1970’s intended for helping the public prepare for nuclear war. It is both creepy and awkward and has become a bit of a cultural phenomenon in the UK.
The disasters faced
Nuclear war, heat flash, fall out, being ‘caught out of doors’, staying inside and enjoying the creepy electronic soundtrack on the way to death.
Whilst not a story per se, the UK Home Office and UK Civil Defence combined their efforts to make a secret collection of public announcements for TV and radio. They were all about how to prepare and survive a nuclear war. These would be accompanied by a pamphlet which you should keep with you in your shelter. It all feels one step away from a weird QVC sales pitch.
Protect and Survive contains six separate programmes that are spread between 1951 to 1976.
Protect and Survive are the cartoon like infomercials featuring a dolls house being opened up and little characters moving around. It has a warped tape feeling to it and the narrator and soundtrack are both calm and creepy at the same time. What starts out as simple preparations concludes with how to bury bodies in your front garden. All whilst being calm and considerate. You can see why these were never broadcast! These 20 shorts are repetitive but utterly compulsive viewing about how Government communications ran at that time. Hiding under a table to avoid a H-Bomb. OK then…
The Walking Point is a 1951 recruitment campaign video for Civil Defence Volunteers. A man who just wants some quiet time after the war has his child get into an accident and the Civil Defence rescue his son. Upon joining them as a thank you he gets recruited to help others and the film concludes with a fever dream of a bomb being dropped and not enough volunteers are able to help get everyone to safety.
Sound An Alarm is an interesting 1971 docudrama that shows how the UK Warning and Monitoring Organisation works. A doctor visits them to when three nuclear bombs drop and he sees the whole operation play out before him.
The Warden & The Householder was made in 1961. It is a training film to show how Civil Defence Warden’s could help their community prepare for war. He chats with locals, prepares his house, tells the neighbours their pets will die and then deals with all the petty arguments that escalate. It also uses some horrifying images from Hiroshima to shock you into focus.
Two other short newsreels show two large Civil Defence exercises where a town is blown up and civilians are placed to allow the volunteers to practice rescues. These are short but fascinating with some dated comical newsreader prompts.
Why is it worth watching?
This collection taps into the very public fear of Nuclear War – especially in the late 70’s. These Protect and Survive clips were never aired and were only declassified after much public interest. It is an eerie snapshot in time that we forget. Government communications were cold and stern but also calm and creepy. None of today’s buffoonery. They were as much designed to keep law and order than actual survival I’d imagine. It is quietly terrifying.
The other big surprise was how well put together the other films were. You can see how the country still needs us and how its everyone’s civic duty to help. The moments of propaganda towards Asia are very telling too – deciding this was the next threat for war. Again, intriguing and fascinating.
Protect and Survive is more creepy because of how low-fi it is. A dolls house – creepy synth music – super imposed flames in a window. Audio tape hiss. What more could you want? The other movies have higher production values and The Waking Point in particular features some impressive crowd shots of panic for what is a simple 1951 recruitment video!
Whilst there are no characters in Protect and Survive, I did find a few interesting characters in the other movie shorts. Spot a Dads Army cameo in The Waking Point. Wilson the Warden is like a nosy but nice neighbour as the Warden whilst Mrs Jameson is everything cliche about a 1960’s British mum. It is quite endearing really.
Food! Miss Jameson – That’ll be you!Wilson the warden beautifully ordering around gender stereotypes in 1961.
Three memorable moments
- That terrifying audio cue that concludes every Protect and Survive clip. It is permanently etched in my mind.
- The opening clips of Hiroshima from The Warden & The Householder are iconic.
- Being told to pop a tag on your dead body with their name and address if they’ve been dead for more than five days and if you can – bury them in the garden.
The obligatory weird moment
Aside from the narrator talking about keeping books to hand so you stay comfortable, the best weird bit comes from the ‘700 Practice Civil Defence’ newsreel. The news reporter says ‘One thing a Civil Defence volunteer will need to cope with is hysteria’ and it cuts to a woman crying and shaking her head around like crazy. The news reporter then says ‘… and what an actress! Is there a talent scout in the building?!’ I genuinely burst out laughing.
Also if you see the film Threads – watch out for a Protect and Survive cameo!
The drinking game
Is that a fall out siren or three bang salute I hear? Drink!
More historical quirk than actual entertainment, I really enjoyed diving into these films to see the kinds of thing a Government will do to recruit volunteers and try to prevent mass panic. It is delivered in a British Stiff Upper Lip mentality and many cups of tea were drunk. I’d have no idea what we’d do today and if it’d be any better, but these are chilling enough!
Rating – 3 /5 Good
If you enjoyed Protect and Survive then you may also like…
- Threads – The grimmest nuclear war film ever made.
- When the Wind Blows – the UK animated story of an elderly couple in war.
- The Day After – A more Hollywood polished nuclear war film but still impactful.