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With both Vladimir Putin and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov dropping veiled threats about a potential nuclear confrontation over Ukraine, half-forgotten Cold War fears are starting to resurface for many people.
For Eighties kids, those fears could be summed up in one single TV show: Threads.
The night the showed first aired on BBC Two – September 23, 1984 – was referred to as "the night Britain didn't sleep", so harrowing was the show's portrayal of nuclear war's effects on Britain.
The terrifying show was shown on the BBC once again the following year, before the tape was locked away until a BBC Four airing 18 years later.
It was released on DVD and received a semi-cult status online, but there is no record of it airing anywhere on British TV since UKTV showed it for a final time in April 2005.
And with nuclear war fears growing, BritBox quickly pulled it from their service last month after it was slammed for a poorly-timed release as tensions brewed in Ukraine.
A new generation have been able to pick up on the show, though – posting clips to TikTok that they “can’t believe” were ever broadcast on TV.
One upsetting scene was captioned “who as a kid had nightmares after watching this?” and a comment on another Threads excerpt read: “And to think they showed this in schools in the Eighties. No wonder 80s kids were hard as nails!”
Another said: "This f***** up childhoods!"
Dozens of commenters replied to the clips with their own Cold War memories.
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Seamus Munro said: “I was born in 1960. We lived our childhood and our 20s with this background fear. Seems unreal now but it really did overshadow everything back then,” while CelticGirl 1971 added “I spent most of my childhood worrying about this”.
Another TikTok user, Sarah, said “I’m 49 and my eyes just filled with tears and I was a scared little girl again”. Jasmine Davis replied “this movie f****d me up at 8..still does at 46”.
Mariah called it “the scariest and most horrific film I’ve ever seen,” while Lochaberlass ruefully commented: “Remember this well. Can’t believe we’re back at this point again."
The one-off TV drama, aired on September 23, 1984, showed the effects of a nuclear war between the US and the old Soviet Union, focusing on the city of Sheffield.
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Escalating tensions over Iran lead to a Soviet missile being detonated over the North Sea – in the kind of demonstration that some experts now believe Putin double be considering today.
As the electromagnetic pulse caused by the blast cripples communication in the UK, a second attack destroys RAF Finningley, 17 miles from Sheffield.
The depiction of the actual attack has been described as one of the most “brutal five minutes committed to film”.
The cosy day-to-day atmosphere of the film’s opening minutes lulls the audience into a sense of easy familiarity, making the shock of the bomb’s detonation all the more harrowing.
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As a mushroom cloud blooms over Sheffield a woman, played by drama teacher Anne Sellors in her sole screen credit, wets herself in terror. It’s the human element of Threads that amplifies the shock.
Walls crumble, windows shatter, and human bodies are reduced to ash in a horrifying firestorm.
But it’s the aftermath that’s the most shocking, as hospitals try to carry on with no anaesthetic, where people resort to eating rats to stay alive, and civilisation itself crumbles into anarchy.
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Even bargain basement budget, which forced the filmmakers to use ketchup and breakfast cereal to emulate radiation burns, can’t prevent Threads from being one of the most haunting dramas ever filmed.
Movie expert Leonard Maltin called Threads "unrelentingly graphic and grim, sobering, and shattering, as it should be".
Even director Mick Jackson, who knew in detail how every scene was made, says that after making Threads “it took years to get out of my head”.
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The spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction – the doctrine that one nuclear strike would end in a massive exchange of bombs and missiles spelling the end of civilisation as we know it – is back on people's minds.
In January, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that the hands of the Doomsday Clock were holding steady at at 100 seconds to midnight—the closest it has ever been to apocalypse.
The group said in a statement: “The Clock remains the closest it has ever been to civilisation-ending apocalypse because the world remains stuck in an extremely dangerous moment.”
- Vladimir Putin
- End Of The World
- World War 3
- Russia Ukraine war
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