Government leaflet gave tips on coping in nuclear war

How to survive a nuclear war in 1980: Government leaflet told Britons to bring kitchen utensils, a radio, bucket and TOILET PAPER into a makeshift ‘fall-out room’ in the event of an attack

  • The British Government produced a public information campaign during the 1970s amid Cold War tensions
  • The ‘Protect and Survive’ series included the eventual publication of a pamphlet in 1980
  • It outlined how to plan for survival and advised what to do in hours and days following nuclear weapons use
  • It said to prepare a ‘fall-out room’ where Britons would need to store enough food and water for two weeks 
  • Were also advised to bring likes of kitchen utensils, a portable radio, toilet paper, a bucket and a first aid kit 

When Russia’s tyrannical president Vladimir Putin put his country’s nuclear forces on high alert last week, many feared the devastating consequences if the weapons were to actually be used.

The escalation in tensions was roundly condemned and provoked memories of the decades of the Cold War – when the world teetered on the brink of nuclear conflict on several occasions.

Amid the stand-off with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, the British Government produced a public information campaign that advised ordinary Britons on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack.

The ‘Protect and Survive’ series included the eventual publication of a pamphlet in 1980 that detailed the effects of nuclear fall-out, outlined how to plan for survival and advised what to do in the hours and days following the use of nuclear weapons.

Britons were told to prepare a ‘fall-out room’ in which they would need to store enough food and water for two weeks.

They were also advised to bring the likes of kitchen utensils, a portable radio, toilet paper, a bucket and a first aid kit.

Shortly after the leaflet was released, expert critics said the advice would not be helpful. One said the protective measures were ‘illusory’ because people would immediately ‘panic’ in the event of a nuclear attack.   

The leaflet was issued after relations with the Soviet Union had taken a turn for the worse when the country’s then dictator Leonid Brezhnev launched an invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.


Amid the stand-off with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, the Government produced a public information campaign that advised ordinary Britons on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. The ‘Protect and Survive’ series included the eventual publication of a pamphlet in 1980 that detailed the effects of nuclear fall-out, outlined how to plan for survival and advised what to do in the hours and days following the use of nuclear weapons

Britons were told to prepare a ‘fall-out room’ in which they would need to store enough food and water for two weeks

The Protect and Survive campaign was produced by the Government from 1974 until 1980.

As well as the leaflet, it included newspaper advertisements, radio broadcasts and public information films.

Whilst the campaign had been intended for use only in an emergency, it came to public attention in a series of newspaper articles.

The Government then decided to publish the leaflet in May 1980 and the public information films were leaked to the BBC and anti-nuclear group CND.

The leaflet gives tips on how to make a fallout room and tells Britons to construct within it an inner refuge to protect from radioactive fallout dust.

Individuals were told they would need three-and-half gallons (16 litres) of water each and were told to store clean water in the cisterns of their toilets.

They were also advised to bring the likes of kitchen utensils, a portable radio, toilet paper and a first aid kit

The leaflet advised that Britons should try to stock twice as much water as they would need for drinking, so they could also wash. Foods to bring included sugar, jam, meat, vegetables and fruit. People were also told to bring a radio into their fall-out room

Britons were also advised to bring a tin opener, cutlery and crockery, along with a portable stove and changes of clothes

The UN last week slammed Russia for its attack on Ukraine and cautioned that heightened nuclear threat levels showed all of humanity was at risk from Putin’s invasion.

Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet warned that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine was ‘generating massive impact on the human rights of millions of people across Ukraine.’

‘Elevated threat levels for nuclear weapons underline the gravity of the risks to all of humanity,’ she added.

Her comments came after Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces be put on high alert.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had previously accused Western politicians of fixating on nuclear war.

‘It is clear that World War Three can only be nuclear,’ Lavrov said in an online interview with Russian and foreign media.

‘I would like to point out that it’s in the heads of Western politicians that the idea of a nuclear war is spinning constantly, and not in the heads of Russians,’ he said.  

Bedding, sleeping bags and a portable stove were also advised, whilst a makeshift toilet could be made using a bucket and a chair with the seat cut out.

On the subject of the construction of the fall-out room, Britons were told: ‘The further you can get, within your home, from the radioactive dust that is on or around it, the safer you will be.

‘Use the cellar or basement if there is one. Otherwise use a room, hall or passage on the ground floor.

‘Even the safest room in your home is not safe enough, however.

‘You will need to block up windows in the room and any other openings, and to make the outside walls thicker, and also to thicken the floor above you, to provide the strongest possible protection against the penetration of radiation.’

If someone were to die, Britons were advised to place the body in another room and cover it as securely as possible, whilst also attaching identification.

A survival kit list included biscuits, meats, fruit, vegetables, sugar cubes, jam, crockery, notebooks and pencils for messages.

A radio was useful to listen out for public announcements following an attack.

If people were not at home during the nuclear strike, they were told to ‘lie flat (in a ditch) and cover the exposed skin of the head and hands’

However, critics quickly took aim at the information that the Government had put together.  

Quoted in the Daily Mail in 1981, Professor Josef Rotblat, who was an expert on nuclear fallout, said: ‘If there is a war there will be all-out nuclear war.

‘Under these circumstances, the whole concept is unrealistic of people preparing themselves. There will be no time for preparation.

‘There will be panic. People will not stay indoors for long enough. They will go outside. All the protective factors are illusory.’


Britons were also given tips in a video that was produced for the campaign. The warning sound of a nuclear attack was revealed in the video. 

During the fears of a nuclear attack, the Government also had a nuclear bunker built deep in the Essex countryside, beneath a non-descript cottage. Kelvedon Hatch had capacity for up to 200 civil servants to hold out for 14 days in the event of a nuclear strike on Britain

Without revealing its precise location, the Home Office allowed TV cameras from ITV programme the Thames Report into the bunker

Around the same time, nuclear fall-out shelters were also on the market, as were protection suits costing up to £200, which equates to nearly £1,000 in today’s money.

One firm, named Civil Defence Supply, supplied suits from the Lincolnshire village of Wellingnore, near Grantham.

The Government also had a nuclear bunker built deep in the Essex countryside, beneath a non-descript cottage.

Kelvedon Hatch had capacity for up to 200 civil servants to hold out for 14 days in the event of a nuclear strike on Britain.

If London were to be wiped out, a junior minister based in the Essex bunker would be elevated to have dictatorial powers over survivors.

Without revealing its precise location, the Home Office allowed TV cameras from ITV programme the Thames Report into the bunker.

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