During the programme Anyone for Demis, we were introduced to a disturbingly large unit of Soviet soldiers singing and dancing at the Royal Albert Hall. They were over here for a bit of a knees up and not to absorb us into the communist bloc. This Russian bonhomie was not how the politicians of the 1980s would have wanted things. The likes of Thatcher and Reagan were doing their best to accidently stoke World War 3.
Presenter Dominic Sandbrook walked us through a series of Cold War developments with a suspiciously tenuous soundtrack mumbling in the background until the first concrete link between music and the Cold War appeared. It was Frankie Goes to Hollywood and ‘Two Tribes’. Some cheery lag had got hold of a copy of the government’s helpful and top secret ‘ten things to do prior to nuclear annihilation.’ (Protect and Survive) Amongst the suggestions to stock up on tins of peas and leave your tagged dead relatives out with the bins, were directions to save yourself when caught outdoors by lying down in a convenient hollow or hiding under a bridge.
Patrick Allen re-recorded his morbid commentary rather than using the original broadcast in case there was a breach of the Official Secrets Act. The resulting video, showing Reagan and Chernenko clobbering one another in a bull pit was, of course, banned by the permanently squeamish BBC. The ban, like BBC DJ Mike Reid’s earlier ban on Frankie’s single ‘Relax’, guaranteed success and overexposure.
Of course nuclear holocaust is never funny. The broadcasting of the drama Threads, about a nuclear attack on Sheffield, provoked some viewers to contemplate suicide. And when it was all over, when the treaties were signed, the tanks and missiles destroyed, the regimes collapsed and the Berlin Wall demolished (as an indirect consequence of Genesis playing a concert on the other side of it) the first thing East Germans wanted to do was pile into West Berlin’s shopping malls and spend all their cash on crap.
And that was really the biggest lesson learned from Strange Days: Cold War Britain. After the promise of free markets, deregulation and the utopia of unfettered wealth creation and unimaginable prosperity for all, we’re now left instead with the nuclear winter of the financial collapse of 2008. Unsustainable personal debt, extinct social mobility, zero hours contracts, loss of trade unions and workers’ rights, and the uncontrolled orgy of corporate crime and greed. It makes you wonder whether the people of Sheffield would be better off now if that nuclear attack had been real.