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What role was the BBC to play if the cold war became hot? For the first time, the corporation has given detailed access to its plans for a Wartime Broadcasting Service following a nuclear attack. Paul Reynolds reveals its secrets.

Armageddon might have been looming but, in its plans for nuclear war, the BBC was properly prudent with public money. Staff designated to go down into the bunkers from which a Wartime Broadcasting Service (WTBS) would operate were not to be given any special payment but could withdraw up to £250 cash in advance of salary. A special form was provided for this purpose, which the staff had to sign. They were then to leave their families behind.

The BBC’s Director-General, curiously, was not one of those staff. In the final version of the plan the BBC team would have been led by the Controller of Radio 4, perhaps because WTBS would have been a radio-only service. But the names of some of those who were listed in earlier versions have survived in the files. In 1972, four of the most senior staff due to go into the BBC headquarters bunker under the BBC Engineering Training Department at Wood Norton in Worcestershire included Grace Wyndham Goldie, who pioneered television coverage of general elections. Among the ‘first Alternatives’ were the sports broadcaster and BBC executive Peter Dimmock and Paul Fox, then Controller of BBC1. A memo in 1964 named three BBC staff to go to the Prime Minister’s bunker at Corsham in Wiltshire (codenamed Turnstile and later known as ‘Maggie’s bunker’). One of them was Alasdair Milne, subsequently Director-General, who clashed with the Thatcher administration and was forced to resign in 1987.

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