Monday, 23 September 2013
When the Wind Blows...Radio Four
It's an incredibly effective moment coming after the speaker bursting roar of a Russian nuclear bomb hitting Britain in the 1983 Radio Four adaptation of When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs.
Brenda Bruce plays Jim's wife Hilda and it is through the eyes of these two aging characters that we see the story of the aftermath of a nuclear attack. Jim is a stickler for rules and he has constructed his fallout shelter by following the instructions in a government handbook. While sheltering the couple reminisce about the second world war which provides much gentle comedy as the play gets darker and darker. Soon the aged couple are suffering from radiation sickness - Hilda loses her hair and her gums start to bleed, while both of them suffer bruising due to the radioactive fallout. They mistake these bruises for varicose veins as neither of them fully understand the full implications of a nuclear war. As far as they are concerned they have survived the blast and soon things will return to normality.
'When the authorities come, ' the ever optimistic Jim tells his wife. 'They'll probably spray us with some detergent and then we'll be fine.'
However they both realise that things will never be fine again
I've experienced this powerful tale in many ways - the animated film, the original graphic novel and once saw the play staged by a local amateur dramatics group. I've also rocked to the Iron Maiden song based on the original graphic novel, but this radio version is probably the most effective way I've ever experienced the story. The climax in which the couple pray as death approaches is both touching and chilling.
I'm not sure if the play is available on CD or as a download - An Amazon search revealed only the original graphic novel.
I found the play on an old C90 cassette that I came across when cleaning out the loft. I remember recording it directly off air in the early eighties when the threat of an imminent nuclear war seemed very real. The sound quality on the cassette is very good with the exception of a few minutes where there is hissing on the tape, and I plan to convert this tape into a digital copy along with many of the other cassettes. Some of the cassettes are not labelled and I've got to go through them to find what they contains, but I've been recording radio plays for many years and hopefully I'll discover several treasures amongst all these dusty cassettes.
It is worth noting that the two pamphlets mentioned in the play are based on actual official documents.
From the WIKI - Protect and Survive is a public information series on civil defence produced by the British government during the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is intended to inform British citizens on how to protect themselves during a nuclear attack, and consists of a mixture of pamphlets, radio broadcasts, and public information films. The series had originally been intended for distribution only in the event of dire national emergency, but provoked such intense public interest that the pamphlets were authorised for general release. Following the government's abandonment of its nuclear civil defence policy in the 1990s in response to the altered geopolitical situation, it was tacitly acknowledged that Protect and Survive had little real value beyond providing the public with something ostensibly positive to focus its energies on in the last days before a nuclear war, thus theoretically minimising civil unrest