Britain Planned Taped Messages After Nuclear War

By: AP
By: AP

LONDON - The doomsday script was never used by the British Broadcasting Corp., but decades later the message remains haunting.

"This is the wartime broadcasting service," the announcement begins. "This country has been attacked with nuclear weapons."

The decades-old statement continues: Communications have been severely disrupted, and the number of casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known. The announcer promises to bring further information as soon as possible and tells listeners to stay tuned.

A draft of the message was released by the National Archives on Friday, along with letters between government bureaucrats and BBC executives offering a rare glimpse at a Cold War secret plan to deal with a nuclear attack.

"This is chilling to read," said Mark Dunton, a contemporary history specialist at the National Archives.

At the same time, he said, the plan reveals the unique place the BBC holds in British life, with the correspondence stressing the need for the BBC to make the announcement.

Government officials planned to pre-record the message in 1974 so it could be used to communicate with the British public if nuclear war broke out.

"You see concern that any such announcements should be made by a BBC voice," Dunton said. "They feel a real need to reassure the public that in the event of a nuclear catastrophe the BBC is still there. This is seen as very, very important."

But some officials cautioned at the time that repeating the same taped announcement might lead people to believe the BBC had, in fact, been destroyed.

"If an unfamiliar voice repeats the same announcement hour after hour for 12 hours, listeners may begin to suspect that they are listening to a machine set to switch on every hour or perhaps even that it has got stuck and perhaps after all the BBC has been obliterated," T.C. Greenwood, an official at the Department of Industry, warned in a letter dated June 20, 1974.

"The reassurance that the BBC is still there would not be gleaned from a recorded announcement," the letter added.

It was eventually agreed that a taped announcement was not ideal but was better than nothing. However, it is not clear from the Home Office files released Friday whether tapes were ever made.

"It sort of peters out," Dunton said of the file dealing with the proposal, which was discussed in 1973-75, a time when tensions between the United States and Russia were high.

The draft script offered the public rudimentary instructions about how to try to stay clear of lethal radioactive fallout and advised people not to flee because they would be safer in their homes than anywhere else.

"You may die" if you go outside, the announcer was to say.

"Remember, there is nothing to be gained by trying to get away," the script reads. "By leaving your houses you could be exposing yourselves to greater danger. If you leave you may find yourself without food, without water, without accommodation and without protection."

The public is told to turn off all fuel and gas supplies and to ration food because no fresh food can be expected for two weeks or longer. Water is also to be rationed for essential drinking and cooking needs — people are told not to flush their toilets because water will be too precious for that use.

"Water means life," the announcement states. "Don't waste it."


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