Don't mention the war: BBC plan for surviving nuclear armageddon

Hundreds of security-vetted BBC staff and a select band of unnamed radio artistes were to be clandestinely dispatched to transmission sites across the country at the first signs of international tension.

Just before the first missiles had reached Britain, the BBC was to use regional centres in Birmingham, Sheffield, Bristol and Middlesbrough to broadcast a national service that the Government hoped would create "a diversion to relieve strain and stress".

By 1960 the BBC had stockpiled thousands of recordings of "war" programmes and records for possible broadcast at the height of an attack.

How much of a boost to Britain's morale these programmes would have really been is highly questionable. Another set of secret documents detailing the horrors of nuclear warfare reinforces the huge challenge facing the BBC.

In a military briefing held at the BBC on 18 February 1955, senior staff were told by a General Kirkman of the War Office that, if a BBC building took a direct hit, "even those within a distance of about 30 miles downwind who escaped the blast would die from radiation effects."

Staff who lived within a 50-mile radius from the burst would develop serious radiation sickness.

General Kirkman concluded: "If one were to envisage half a dozen hydrogen bombs falling on the United Kingdom, very large numbers of people might be infected by radiation and it would be essential for those who had escaped to keep themselves free from contamination, in order both to rescue the victims of the fall-out ... and to restore life to the country."

With these survivors in mind the BBC and the government set out a strategy for broadcasting programmes that would boost morale and help the public cope with nuclear catastrophe. A BBC briefing paper written in 1957 declares the objectives of the broadcasts were to provide "instruction, information and encouragement".

The paper adds: "The only practicable means of providing programmes in war for the purpose of 'diversion to relieve strain and stress' would be by records and recorded programmes. To enable such programmes to be added to during the course of the war, the necessary artistes, facilities and staff should be dispersed to ... [existing] BBC premises [outside of London]."

Long before war was declared the BBC hoped to have dispersed 1,500 staff and artistes around the country. The remainder of the corporation's employees would be evacuated just before the first bombs fell, leaving a small nucleus in London "until it becomes untenable, or the seat of government leaves London". Preparations were begun on building fall-out bunkers in BBC buildings such as Broadcasting House.

The advent of television brought a new means of communication with the public during a nuclear war. But memos and letters, written in the early 1960s and originally deemed too sensitive for publication until 2015, indicate tensions between the BBC and War Office over who should have control of these facilities.

The military wanted to take over as soon as a nuclear threat became imminent, a plan resisted by the BBC. This issue was drawn to the attention of the Home Office and led to one minister observing: "An abrupt discontinuance of the television service in the preparatory period would have considerable effect on public morale and it would be desirable that the television service should continue, as far as possible, up to the outbreak of the war."

1955: The BBC's scenario

* THE KILLING ZONE: Staff living within a distance of about 30 miles downwind who escaped an initial blast would die from radiation effects.

* RADIATION SICKNESS: Gamma rays would gradually destroy individuals' white corpuscles. Cuts or bruises would become septic and colds would not get better. The only cure was careful nursing.

* BUILDINGS: Full protection would be provided by two to three feet of earth or equivalent screening by bricks, concrete or sandbags. A well-built house would provide only 20 to 40 per cent protection as rays would penetrate roofs.

* LENGTH OF TIME IN HIDING: BBC staff were told to stay in shelters for 14 days before it was safe to leave. It was estimated that it took this long for radioactive particles to decompose.

* EVACUATION: It was doubted whether evacuation before fallout arrived would have been possible.

Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
Arts and Entertainment
books The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?