BBC Panorama – If The Bomb Drops (1980)

A thoroughly fascinating and horrifying look at the state of British civil defence in 1980 hosted by a strikingly young Jeremy Paxman. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 triggered a new age of fear in the west about the possibility of a nuclear confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union with Europe sandwiched in the middle. This in turn sparked questions about Britain’s preparedness for such an eventuality as well as inspire a new wave of anti-nuclear protests.

Those who have seen the BBC’s Threads docudrama will see a lot of familiar scenes only this time acted out with the people who would have really carried out those roles had war broken out. Threads used both this program and a later program made by the BBC in 1982, QED – A Guide to Armageddon, to formulate its frighteningly realistic script before it aired in 1984.

The documentary makes note of the relatively small amount spent on civil defence compared to the immense sums of money spent on the nuclear deterrence itself. It also makes clear the belief that if the deterrence remains effective then the need for a permanent civil defence force is negated.

For those with an interest in both history and nuclear weapons, this is well produced and must-see program from that troubled time which hopefully has now passed.


7 responses to “BBC Panorama – If The Bomb Drops (1980)

  1. This looks a very interesting film indeed. It would actually be good to see a discussion around the likelihood of survival of a nuclear attack, I for one have always been sceptical of any survival. The explanation of ‘MAD’ actually makes a lot of sense. I shall come back and watch the remainder shortly. Thanks for this Tony.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome Andy and it is well worth a look if for nothing else – Paxman’s pseudo-mullet. Haha. The reason I put this up more than anything else is that while the topic is centered on civil defence it makes the point that actual nuclear deterrence is more important because it guarantees this will never happen in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think anyone would survive a war of this kind. Not even Mad Max and his mates. Think what happens when just a single volcano erupts in Indonesia or wherever. And a nuclear war would be countless volcanoes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very good point John. In fact in the 19th century there was volcano eruption that threw so much ash in to the air that for a year the temperature in Europe dropped several degrees. It is remembered as the year without summer. Essentially the people of the time experienced a glimpse of a nuclear winter.


  3. Pingback: Defence of the Realm – Weapons & Training | Defence of the Realm

  4. In hindsight, that documentary really misses the mark. It insinuates that Britain should have had protective measures in place similar to Switzerland and Russia to prepare us for the possibility of nuclear war but that would have cost billions. Since we were never nuked, that would have been billions wasted. Can you imagine the public uproar if the taxpayer had footed that kind of bill for a war that never happened? Yes, Britain was unprepared for nuclear war, but it didn’t need to be.

    Liked by 1 person

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