I have a little project that I’ve been putting off for quite a while as it involves a little work (!). I did most of my growing up in the 1980s. For the most part that was a decade of mullets, leggings and the first wave of banking types making an absolute bloody mint then buggering it all up. More importantly though, the 1980s were a period when people were legitimately afraid that the world might imminently end in a nuclear fire ball. At various times during that decade, we really did come very close to the missiles being let loose.
Leeds, a city of (then) around half a million people in the North of England played host to a faded football team (now freshly faded following an all too brief return to success) and a lot of dead industries. It also had a council which like most outside the South of England was run by a vaguely left-wing (note for modern day conservatives, when I write “vaguely”, you may read, “rabidly”) Labour council which insisted that Leeds was a ‘nuclear free zone’. However silly a designation this might have been (and it was silly as there was not a nuclear power station within 100 miles and the river Aire isn’t suitable for sailing nuclear submarines), it did mean that the council put considerable effort into explaining the precise impact on Leeds that a putative nuclear strike might have.
The result of these efforts was the production of an amazing pamphlet called, “Leeds and THE BOMB” [original emphasis]. This thing was a wealth of horror for a young boy – I absolutely loved it. Between incredible graphs and diagrams (using a design that is absolutely of its time but which still looks great today) showing estimated casualties and fatalities were interspersed descriptions of the injuries that people would likely suffer. For an eight year old, these were quite clearly the stuff of nightmares. Consequently, I couldn’t stop reading it.
For years, I forgot about it, then recently had a discussion with a friend where we discussed ‘Threads‘. This film, a fictionalised account of post-nuclear-holocaust Sheffield (another Yorkshire town – I wonder to what extent the inherent ‘grimness’ of England’s North contributed to an obsession with nuclear destruction) was another great source of nightmares, albeit in my teens. The upshot of this conversation was that we both remembered this brilliant pamphlet but could find simply no trace of it on the internet.
This was a bit of a surprise frankly. How could something so brilliant not be available online? I intend fixing this frightening omission and plan over the next few days to finally get scanned copies of the pamphlet’s pages up onto the Web in all their horrible glory. Luckily for posterity, my mother found a copy lurking in a box somewhere and has been kind enough to scan the pages. Sadly, her scanner isn’t much cop and when I’m back in Europe I will get better versions done. For now though, they are legible and a great reminder of quite how bloody terrifying it could be growing up in the 1980s.
Just to whet your appetite, this two page spread shows the likely impact of blast, burn and fallout damage across Leeds resulting from a (comparatively small) one megaton bomb. To get a feel for how I felt about this diagram at the time, I lived right, bang, smack in the middle, where it says ‘University’.
More to come over the weekend. Hopefully, over time I will be able to get together some of the history behind this pamphlet including who produced it and what discussions were had about its likely effect (including on impressionable young science fiction fans like my young self). I might also do a few comparisons between the diagrams in ‘Leeds and THE BOMB’ and some of the more modern simulators such as HYDEsim.
Edit (10th January 2011): I have now put the full version of the pamphlet on-line.