BBC Planned Reassuring Message for Nuclear War | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 03.10.2008
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BBC Planned Reassuring Message for Nuclear War

During the Cold War, the question of who would calm and instruct the masses in the event of a nuclear strike was a very real concern. Newly released archives reveal that the BBC had an answer.

US and British flags behind the Berlin Wall, symbolizing the Cold War

Britain had prepared for the worst

Archives released Friday, Oct. 3, reveal that the BBC planned to transmit reassuring messages in the event of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. The broadcast would have been repeated every two hours, and told people to "stay calm," remain indoors, and conserve food and water.

According to archived documents, the message would have been: "This country has been attacked with nuclear weapons. Communications have been severely disrupted, and the number of casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known."

It would go on to remind people that there was nothing to be gained by trying to get away, and warned people that by leaving their homes they could be exposing themselves to greater danger, as radioactive fall-out, which follows a nuclear explosion, is many times more dangerous when one is directly exposed to it in the open.

Familiar radio voices

The mushroom cloud from the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan by the United States during World War II.

Nuclear attack was a very real threat during the Cold War

The transcript was part of files declassified by Britain's National Archives, which releases official documents after 30 years. The threat of a possible nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union was very real from the time the Second World War ended to when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. During this time, public service films gave information about how to prepare for a nuclear attack.

In addition to the script, the archive files included recommendations that the BBC continue to give live updates emphasizing that the broadcaster had not been "obliterated." There were also letters detailing discussions between the BBC and various government departments on the use of familiar voices, which were deemed necessary to reassure people "the BBC is still there."

"The reassurance that 'the BBC is still there' would not be gleaned from a recorded announcement by an unfamiliar voice," wrote Harold Greenwood from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications in a letter dated June 1974.

"Indeed, if an unfamiliar voice repeats the same announcement hour after hour for 12 hours listeners may begin to suspect that they are listening to a machine set to switch on every hour (or even that it has got stuck) and that perhaps after all the BBC has been obliterated," he added.

Conserve resources after attack

The carefully-worded draft script included advice on how to conserve resources while inside after a nuclear strike.

"Stay in your own homes, and if you live in an area where a fall-out warning has been given, stay in your fall-out room until you are told it is safe to come out," it read. "The message that the immediate danger has passed will be given by the sirens and repeated on this wavelength. Make sure that the gas and all fuel supplies are turned off and that all fires are extinguished. Water must be rationed, and used only for essential drinking and cooking purposes. It must not be used for flushing lavatories. Ration your food supply: it may have to last for 14 days or more."

The message was meant to end with telling people that the BBC would repeat the broadcast in two hours' time. It asked them to stay tuned to that wavelength, but reminded them to switch their radios off in the meantime to save batteries.

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