Here’s a video telling you how to survive a nuclear war – from the late 1970s. It’s absolutely bizarre to anybody today. Duck under a table or hide in a ditch to avoid being irradiated by a hydrogen bomb. Sure – that’ll work!
Government papers released now reveal that within Thatcher’s government there was real concern about sole American control of nuclear weapons stationed in the UK – especially at the time of the Greenham Common protests. Defence secretaries John Nott then Michael Heseltine would have liked dual keys over the weapons of mass destruction but they didn’t get them.
The papers also reveal that civil servants rehearsed for the scenario of a nuclear war and even planned a broadcast by the Queen to the British people. The speech would have said the following:
I have never forgotten the sorrow and the pride I felt as my sister and I huddled around the nursery wireless set listening to my father’s inspiring words on that fateful day in 1939
Not for a single moment did I imagine that this solemn and awful duty would one day fall to me
The sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands War was arguably the most controversial event during that conflict and one that haunted Thatcher for years. The Belgrano itself was an ancient bit of kit, launched in the 1930s, used by the US in WWII and then sold to Argentina in 1951. This would have been one of the last engagements for this warship had it not been hit by a missile fired from a British nuclear submarine.
The question that Thatcher struggled to answer – and we see her here getting an uncharacteristic roasting from a member of the public – was whether the Belgrano was sailing towards or away from the Falklands. Interestingly, Thatcher doesn’t claim that it was either inside the Exclusion Zone or even sailing towards the islands (in fact, she infers it was sailing away).
The Belgrano sinking became as notorious as the sinking of the Lusitania in WWI. That said, sympathy was in short supply among the majority of the population after the attack by Argentina on HMS Sheffield. But for the left, this issue became a stick to beat Maggie and this video certainly makes compelling viewing.
When I was a kid in the 70s, my Dad would take my sister and I down to Petticoat Lane and Brick Lane markets and then round to the Houndsditch Warehouse and the surrounding clothes stalls. When I walk along those streets now, I struggle to make out the places in my memories – so much has changed.
The strongest images in my mind are of orthodox Jewish antiques dealers selling old coins on stalls in a grimy cobbled courtyard. I still have two George III 1797 cartwheel pennies that I bought for about ten pence and now sell on ebay for thirty or forty quid. The Jewish presence in the area was still strong with restaurants and bagel shops – bit of a cursory presence these days.
Somewhere near Houndsditch was what looked like a large shed full of clothes racks and what appeared to be the suits of the recently deceased for sale. I was too young to be into retro clothes in the 70s and by the time I was in the 80s, I was going to Kensington Market and Camden instead. The rag trade in the east end was shifting from being a Jewish concern to Bangladeshi workshops and retailers.
On Petticoat Lane you’d run into a bustle of people shuffling past stallholders selling everything from babywear to toothbrushes. And the obligatory East End salesman giving his patter at full volume to credulous shoppers. One guy, I recall, holding up a luridly coloured toothbrush shouting:
Can’t tell ya what brand madam…but there’s ‘wisdom’ in having one!
Oh I thought as a 12 year old – I get it – it’s a toothbrush made by Wisdom (big brand at the time). I bought the toothbrush only to find the brand name stippled out with a hot pin. And the bristles ended up stuck between my teeth in no time. Think my Dad saw this as a lesson I had to learn. Don’t be taken in by smart talk!
Anyway, for all of you aged over 50 – here is the advertising jingle for the Houndsditch warehouse, which you will not be able to get out of your head for the next six months. Used to be played on LBC ad nauseum.
And Petticoat Lane in the 1960s – some of which hadn’t changed when I was a kid in the 70s.
Papers just released under the 30 year rule show that Thatcher was completely amazed when Argentina invaded the Falklands. I remember seeing the first news of the war broadcast on ITN and it was a bit surreal. There was the footage of Argentine ships heading towards the islands with some admiral on deck with his binoculars.
We look back on the war from the post-1982 world where the Iron Lady looks utterly resolved to defeat the damned Argies. Don’t believe a word of it. The government was caught in headlights. Foreign minister Lord Carrington resigned. There had been warnings about Argentina’s intentions since 1977 and the British embassy in Buenos Aires had been alerting London for months. But when Argentina struck – the Tories initially reeled.
Students of the Thatcher years may wish to investigate what the Tories would have done to the Falkland islanders if the war hadn’t happened. President Reagan and the US establishment wanted Britain to reach some kind of accommodation with the then military dictatorship in Argentina. In those days, the US had installed anti-communists military juntas in Chile, Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America – no talk of democracy back then!
Also, the idea of the British sending troops into the Americas made many in Washington feel a little queasy – wasn’t this what 1776 had been all about stopping?
Here’s some of the stuff that came out during the Falklands War from my extensive archive…
I once heard Michael Foot give a speech at the Gay Hussar restaurant in London just a few years before his death. He talked to a small gathering about a conversation he’d had with the Soviet ambassador in the restaurant about World War Two and as he went on, I realised he was talking about a chat he’d had in 1939!!
Foot was a great journalist, writer but had a tougher time as a politician. He led the Labour Party after James Callaghan threw in the towel. Within Labour, the left and right were at war and the leadership embarked on a series of expulsions of members of the Militant Tendency – none of which helped the party’s electability.
After leading Labour to a shocking defeat in 1983 – he stepped aside for Neil Kinnock. His style of rhetoric was deemed to be old fashioned, over-intellectual and essentially a relic from another age. Listening to his clashes in the Commons with Thatcher – I think he was better than the media reported at the time. But he was an easy target for poison pens on Fleet Street and his image was cruelly lampooned.
Here’s Private Eye sticking the boot in.
Seems like another epoch but you may remember the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp which saw an all-women permanent protest outside the RAF Greenham Common military base for nearly two decades. It started in 1981 at what was a high water mark for CND activity. I went on the huge demo that year in Hyde Park and it really felt like we were making a huge difference.
You have to remember this was the era of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. We also had nuclear friendly Margaret Thatcher as prime minister. The issues have changed massively now but the threat of a nuclear incident is always with us. Here’s anti-nuclear poster I found in my attic that might jog your memories.