I am currently reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy and I’m planning to go and watch the big-screen adaptation of it next week. All this post-apocalyptic drama reminds me of the life-changing drama-documentary the BBC made in the 1980s called Threads, which depicted a nuclear attack on Britian through the experiences of ordinary Sheffield folk.

That description might make it sound like Coronation Street with a mushroom cloud. But it was a truly shocking film which terrified and politicised me in all manner of ways. I was 12 when I watched it. Some years later I looked back on it in an article for the men’s magazine Loaded. This is that article:

Great Moments In Fright Nuclear TV Drama – By Chas Newkey-Burden

Nuclear missiles were never feted for their subtlety or charm, but when I sat down as a 12-year-old lad to watch a film about them, I wasn’t expecting the visual and emotional onslaught I received. Threads was a life-changing moment for a generation of youngsters and the peak of a decade of nuclear paranoia.

The 1980s had begun with the government distributing a public information booklet called Protect And Survive. It instructed the great British populace in the fine art of building nuclear bomb shelters from an ingenious combination of books, doors, towels and Lego. All very Blue Peter. It also assured us: “When you hear the all-clear, this means there is no longer an immediate danger from air attack and you may resume normal activities.”

For those of us in any doubt at all about what exactly constituted ‘normal activities’ in the aftermath of a nuclear strike, Threads offered a graphic account. A comprehensive destruction of society, diseased survivors fighting over the right to eat dead, plutonium-rich sheep, casualties having limbs sawn off without anaesthetic in makeshift hospitals. Not forgetting, of course, the stillborn babies, burning cats, formation vomiting and those mutilated characters tilling a barren earth under a nuclear winter sky. This was truly horrific television, even more terrifying than Grange Hill bully Gripper or those uncompromising Don’t Play With Fireworks ads.

As if in sympathy with the radiation stricken cast, I literally threw up with fear while watching Threads. Although my generation was aware of truly catastrophic events, most were well in the past; whereas the events depicted here were in the future, at a date to be arranged – quite possibly next week. Make no mistake about it, as far as we were concerned during the 1980s, it was merely a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ the bomb dropped. For months afterwards we walked around stiff with fear, every passing plane momentarily inspected before normal breathing rate could be resumed.

I had an ugly row with my family the day after Threads was broadcast. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps it was reasonable for Dad to want to keep the door on his garage. And I suppose Mum really was too busy cooking the tea to drive up to the builders’ merchants and procure those sandbags. I guess I shouldn’t have been so disappointed that I didn’t finish building that nuclear bomb shelter. It was hardly the end of the world, was it?

You can watch Threads online here. But do you even want to after reading the above? Sicko…

3 Responses to “Sheffield Ignited”

  1. Flaming Fairy says:

    Bloody hell, that was a depressing experience. It got quite compelling once you started watching it, so I had to see it through. This should be shown to all those numpties who are so blase about Iran getting nukes or the Taliban gaining control of a nuclear Pakistan

  2. Chas Newkey-Burden says:

    Yes, good point especially about Iran. Hope you feel better soon having watched it!

  3. Paul Potter says:

    I saw it for the first time on Thursday 28/01/2010. Oh man! Very powerful. Don’t eat whilst watching!

Leave a Reply

© Copyright Chas Newkey-Burden. All Rights Reserved. Thanks to Chris Morris.