During the Cold War, the British government developed a ‘four-minute warning’ system to alert the public that the country had come under attack.
In the event of a nuclear strike, British residents would have received one of the most chilling messages imaginable.
A sample script reveals TV programmes and radios would say: “This is the Wartime Broadcasting Service. This country has been attacked with nuclear weapons.”
The message would then continue:
Communications have been severely disrupted, and the number of casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known.
We shall bring you further information as soon as possible. Meanwhile, stay tuned to this wavelength, stay calm and stay in your own house.
Remember there is nothing to be gained by trying to get away. By leaving your homes you could be exposing yourself to greater danger.
If you leave, you may find yourself without food, without water, without accommodation and without protection.
Skip to 1:08 to hear the message:
The script urged people to stay calm, remain in their homes, save water and make the most of tinned food supplies.
We would be warned about radioactive fall-out, ‘which follows a nuclear explosion’ and ‘is many times more dangerous if you are directly exposed to it in the open’ – “Roofs and walls offer substantial protection. The safest place is indoors.”
If you live in a fall-out area, the message would advise to ‘stay in your fall-out room until you are told it is safe to come out’. Sirens would sound a ‘steady note’ when the immediate danger has passed with the ‘all clear message’ being given through the radio.
It would warn to ‘not, in any circumstances go outside the house’ or ‘be outside the room for a minute longer than is necessary’.
The message would continue:
Radioactive fall-out can kill. You cannot see it or feel it, but it is there. If you go outside, you will bring danger to your family and you may die.
We shall be on the air every hour, on the hour. Stay tuned to this wavelength, but switch your radios off now to save your batteries. That is the end of this broadcast.
Thankfully, this broadcast was never aired, and the government scrapped the four-minute warning in 1992.
However, three of the world’s most unpredictable leaders currently hold power over their country’s nuclear codes, and in light of recent global tensions, the government may be planning to reintroduce a variant of this warning system.