How Not to Prepare for Nuclear War

The 1980 Protect and Survive booklet opened government plans to ridicule.

Mail-order radiation protection suits made by Civil Defence Supply, c.1980 © Hulton/Getty Images.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Protect and Survive, the UK Home Office’s guide to surviving nuclear attack, being made available to the public. The embodiment of a government communications campaign gone wrong, the booklet has become a grim touchstone of British nuclear culture. Between its orange covers lay advice on ‘how to make your home and family as safe as possible’ should the unthinkable happen.

Householders were shown how to build a lean-to refuge using household items such as doors, suitcases and cushions – the end result more closely resembling a children’s sofa den than a sturdy fallout shelter. They were also instructed to whitewash their windows – in order to deflect the deadly nuclear heat flash – and to improvise a toilet from a chair and a bucket.

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