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Protect and Survive (1976)


Main image of Protect and Survive (1976)
16mm, 53 min total, colour
SponsorsCentral Office of Information
 Home Office
Production CompanyRichard Taylor Cartoons

Narrator: Patrick Allen

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Series of short animated films ntended to inform the public on means of survival in the event of a nuclear explosion. The films cover the basic facts about nuclear explosion, heat, blast and fall-out.

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From drink-driving to foot-and-mouth disease, since its inception in 1946, the Central Office of Information (COI) has been alerting the public to the ever-pervasive dangers threatening their well-being. With Protect and Survive (1975) though, the COI was charged with preparing the population against a threat of unprecedented gravity - nuclear attack.

Protect and Survive is a series of twenty animated films designed to provide the public with precise instructions on how to improve their chances of surviving a nuclear attack, including recognising warning sirens; choosing the best place for a fall-out space; improvising toilet facilities with a dining chair and bucket; limiting fire hazards, name-tagging dead family members and digging trenches in which to bury them. Each film starts and ends with the same pithy electronic theme tune over an animated mushroom cloud.

Had an attack been deemed imminent by the government, the films would have been transmitted on domestic television and the accompanying Protect and Survive booklets posted to every home in the UK. Thankfully, no such situation arose and the films and booklets were never distributed.

The simple step-by-step approach is common to other public information films dealing with domestic disasters like burst water pipes. But applied in this context, instructions to "draw the curtains" and "brush off any fall-out dust from your clothes", seem somewhat inadequate given the scale of the threat, while the tone oscillates unnervingly between matter-of-fact and portentous. Preparedness might be the key to survival, but the repeated warning sirens are a reminder of impending apocalyptic doom.

Protect and Survive echoes the WWII civil-defence film, Do It Now (1939), also known as If War Should Come, a Ministry of Information film instructing on home safety precautions against air raid attacks. Similar air raid sirens wail in the background and the same practical precautionary measures, such as sand-bagging and constructing a domestic fall-out shelter, are advocated in both films. Protect and Survive's American counterpart came a quarter of a century earlier - Duck and Cover (1951), aimed at a younger audience, features the friendly and industrious cartoon character, 'Bert the Turtle' who advises citizens on how to survive a nuclear attack. Both films have been mythologised and widely lampooned in popular culture for being either futile, or too fatalistic in tone.

Protect and Survive is a fascinating, if decidedly unsettling, document of a time when the fear of annihilation was part of everyday life.

Katy McGahan

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Video Clips
1. Choosing a Fall-Out Room (2:17)
2. Refuges (3:53)
3. Action After Warnings (4:13)
4. Life under Fall-Out Conditions (2:51)
5. Sanitation Care (2:41)
6. Water Consumption (3:28)
7. Food Consumption (1:40)
8. Casualties (1:27)
Advice to Householders (1964)
Charley Says: Strangers (1973)
Jellyfish, The (1974)
Central Office of Information (1946-2012)
Public Information Fillers