||This article needs additional citations for verification. (July 2008)|
|Directed by||Mick Jackson|
|Written by||Barry Hines|
|Running time||112m 27s|
Threads is a British television drama produced by the BBC in 1984. Written by Barry Hines and directed by Mick Jackson, it is a documentary-style account of a nuclear war and its effects on the city of Sheffield in northern England.
Filmed in late 1983 and early 1984, the primary plot centres on two families, the Kemps and the Becketts, as an international crisis between the United States and the Soviet Union erupts and escalates. As the United Kingdom prepares for war, the members of each family deal with their own personal crises. Meanwhile, a secondary plot centered upon Clive J. Sutton, the Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council serves to illustrate for the viewer the United Kingdom government's then-current continuity of government arrangements. As open warfare between NATO and the USSR-led Warsaw Pact begins, the harrowing details of the characters' struggle to survive the attacks is dramatically depicted. The balance of the story details the fate of each family as the characters face the medical, economic, social, and environmental consequences of a nuclear war.
Young lovers Ruth Beckett (Karen Meagher) and Jimmy Kemp (Reece Dinsdale) decide to marry due to an unplanned pregnancy. As they and their families are introduced into the plot, news reports over the course of several weeks indicate that the Soviet Union has invaded Iran following a coup, and that the United States military, with British support, has intervened. As the situation escalates and events transpire, Sheffield City Council is directed by the Home Office to assemble an emergency operations team, which establishes itself in a makeshift bomb shelter in the basement of the Town Hall.
The crisis deepens as the Soviets use a nuclear warhead, delivered by a surface-to-air missile, to destroy incoming American B-52 bombers attacking a Soviet-occupied airbase in Mashhad. The Americans respond by detonating a battlefield nuclear weapon at the airbase. Hostilities temporarily cease. Britain is gripped by fear: as supplies and food run low, some retailers resort to profiteering, with looting and rioting erupting. "Known subversives" (including peace activists and some trade unionists) are arrested and interned under the Emergency Powers Act.
At 8:30am (3:30am in Washington, D.C.) on 26 May, Attack Warning Red is transmitted, sending the emergency operations team into frantic action. The city's air raid sirens sound, and Sheffield erupts into panic, prompting Jimmy and his workmate Bob to take cover under their van. A warhead detonates over the North Sea, creating an electromagnetic pulse that disrupts power and communications over the region. Minutes later the first salvo of Soviet nuclear weapons strikes NATO targets in Western Europe, including RAF Finningley 20 miles (32 km) from Sheffield. The flash and mushroom cloud cause panic. People caught in the open are injured by flying debris as the blast blows out windows across the city. As the blast wave passes, Jimmy and Bob clamber out and Jimmy runs to his car, shouting that he is going to try to reach Ruth, but the car will not start so he sets off on foot through the chaos. He is never seen again. The Becketts hurry to their basement while the Kemps (Jimmy's parents) desperately rush to finish a shelter they were preparing out of mattresses, bags and doors. Jimmy's younger sister, Alison, was sent to the shops minutes before the attack. Mrs. Kemp is seen shielding her youngest son, Michael, as a blast blows in the front windows of the house. In the ensuring chaos, Michael cowers and cries in the aviary minutes later, and remains there when a larger nuclear warhead detonates directly over Sheffield.
As the exchange escalates, strategic targets including steel and chemical factories in the Midlands are attacked with nuclear weapons, instantly vaporising thousands of people and ravaging everything with fire. The worldwide nuclear exchange is 3000 megatons, with 210 megatons falling on the United Kingdom. Two-thirds of all homes are destroyed by blast or fire and immediate deaths are between 17 and 30 million. Nuclear fallout keeps rescuers from fighting fires or rescuing those trapped in the debris. A montage of a firestorm shows milk bottles melting, animals writhing amid the flames and human corpses burning. The staff in Sheffield emergency operations team are alive (except one member killed by falling debris) but they are trapped beneath the rubble of the Town Hall. Initially, they are able to contact what remains of local fire and police services by radio. It is not possible for rescue teams to reach them, since radiation levels are too high and all approaches are blocked.
Within hours, fallout from a groundburst at Crewe begins descending upon Sheffield. As their severely damaged home offers little protection, the Kemps suffer from radiation sickness, and Mrs. Kemp is also severely burned (the narrator points out: "the symptoms of radiation sickness and panic are identical"). A day after the attack, they stumble outside to search for Michael, looking in horror at the devastation and fires around them. They find Michael, dead, under a pile of wreckage in the front garden. The Becketts are better protected in their cellar, but Ruth's grandmother (who had been sent to live with them as hospitals were cleared for expected casualties) dies. After helping to move her body to the front room, Ruth leaves the cellar and wanders through the devastated city. Little has been left standing and corpses are everywhere along with dazed, traumatised and injured survivors. Eventually, she arrives at a hospital in Buxton, 20 miles from Sheffield. There is no electricity, no running water and no sanitation, and drugs and medical supplies have long since run out. Crowds of people await treatment, with floors covered with blood, pillowcases being torn up into makeshift bandages and injured limbs being amputated without anaesthetic. The narrator points out that the entire peacetime resources of the National Health Service, had they survived, would be unable to cope with the casualties from just the one bomb that hit Sheffield. In the aftermath of a full-scale nuclear attack, "as a source of help or comfort he [a doctor] is little better equipped than the nearest survivor."
When Ruth returns to Sheffield, she goes first to the Kemps' house and finds Mrs. Kemp's body in their shelter. She then returns to her own home, where her grandmother's body is decaying under a blanket. The cellar is full of flies and vermin and she realises her parents, if they are there, must be dead. In fact, as a previous scene has shown, they have been murdered by looters, one of whom is himself shot by soldiers who chance upon the gang leaving the house. By this time order has dissolved and "starving mobs" are seeking food in many places around the city. Looters, including Alison Kemp, are shown being held behind wire. Mr. Kemp is among a rioting crowd at a food storage depot who are dispersed by tear gas and gunfire. He dies some time later from radiation sickness.
One month after the attack, soldiers dig into the town hall basement and find the bodies of the emergency operations staff, who have all died of suffocation. No efforts are made to bury the dead as the surviving population is too weak for manual labour. Burning the bodies is considered a waste of what little fuel remains and so millions are left unburied, which leads to the outbreak of diseases such as cholera and typhoid. The government authorises the use of capital punishment and special courts are given wide-ranging powers to shoot prisoners. As money no longer has any value the only viable currency is food, given as a reward for work or withheld as punishment. Workers who die slightly increase the average daily food rations to the survivors. Due to the millions of tons of soot, smoke and dust that have been blown into the upper atmosphere by the explosions, a nuclear winter develops. Ruth is later working on a farm, having defied official advice and fled the city, eventually giving birth alone in a farm out-building to her daughter, Jane. With nobody to help, Ruth is forced to cut the umbilical cord with her teeth.
A year after the war, sunlight begins to return but food production is poor due to the lack of proper equipment, fertilisers and fuel. Damage to the ozone layer also means this sunlight is heavy with ultraviolet radiation. Cataracts and cancer are much more common. The remaining survivors are weakened from illness and hunger.
A few years on, Britain's population falls to medieval levels, around 4 to 11 million people. The country has managed only very little recovery. Survivors, including Ruth and her daughter, work in the fields. Children born since the attacks are educationally stunted and speak a broken form of English. This is due to the effects of radiation, as children born after the attack suffer from mental retardation and/or physical deformities, including Ruth's daughter. Prematurely aged (possibly as a result of cancer) and blind with cataracts, Ruth dies, survived by her 10-year-old daughter Jane (Victoria O'Keefe).
As shown by screen captures, the country gradually starts to rebuild with limited amounts of coal mining and some mechanisation from traction engines. Thirteen years after Ruth's death, Jane and two boys her age are caught stealing food. When they try to escape, one boy is shot dead as they flee. She and the other boy wrestle for the food and they end up having what the script describes as "crude intercourse". Months later, she is seen stumbling through the rubble of a city, pregnant and at full-term. She finds a makeshift hospital, which has electricity. The final scene shows Jane giving birth and the play ends just as she is about to scream in horror as she looks upon her baby.
Production and themes 
The attack scenario depicted in the play was largely based on Operation Square Leg, a 1980 home defence exercise to assess the possible effects of a Soviet nuclear attack on Britain. Scientific advisors to the production included Eric Chivian, Michael McElroy, Robert Jay Lifton, Joseph Rotblat, Carl Sagan, Richard P. Turco and Duncan Campbell - who wrote the original scenario, informed by his journalism work at the New Statesman.
Like The War Game, which was made in 1965 and dealt with similar subject matter, Threads mixes conventional narrative with documentary-style text screens and narration, in this case by BBC journalist Paul Vaughan. One of the key elements of the play is that much of the reportage of world events leading up to the war is in the background, with few people paying attention until it becomes clear that war is imminent.
A common theme is the importance of interdependence in society, and how a nuclear war can unravel these connections. The story opens with alternating shots of a spider weaving its web and of power lines running over Sheffield, as the narrator points out how interconnected humans' lives are in modern urban society (thus the title of the play). In the initial salvo of the war we see command and control centres disrupted, followed by the destruction of cities as more missiles hit. Law and order breaks down, then people apparently stop caring for each other, probably due to large-scale posttraumatic stress at what they have endured. Eventually, even language, a fundamental building block of human society, has degenerated.
Threads has been compared to The Day After, a 1983 U.S. television film depicting a similar scenario in the United States. (One review of both productions said, "Threads makes The Day After look like A Day at the Races.")
Broadcast and release history 
Threads was first broadcast on BBC Two on 23 September 1984. It was repeated on BBC One on 1 August 1985 as part of a week of programmes marking the fortieth anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which also saw the first television screening of The War Game (which had been deemed too disturbing for television in the 20 years since it had been made). This repeat was also for the benefit of those who had 405-line TV sets at the time of the original transmission, which were incapable of receiving BBC-2. Threads was not shown again on British screens until the digital channel BBC Four broadcast it in October 2003.
Threads was broadcast in the United States on cable network Superstation TBS on 13 January 1985, followed by a panel discussion on nuclear war. It was also shown in syndication to local commercial stations and, later, on many PBS stations. Threads was broadcast in Australia on the Nine Network on 19 June 1985. Unusually for a commercial network, it broadcast the play without commercial breaks. Subsequent broadcasts have often been heavily edited with the most graphic footage removed, including much of the firestorm sequence, Ruth walking through the devastated city and the hospital scene.
Threads was originally released by BBC Video (on VHS and, for a very short period, Betamax) in 1987 (catalogue number BBCV4071) in the United Kingdom but soon went out of print and became a much sought-after item in the 1990s. The play was re-released on both VHS and DVD in 2000 on the Revelation label, followed by a new DVD only edition in 2005. Due to licensing difficulties the 1987 release replaced Chuck Berry's recording of his song "Johnny B. Goode" with an alternative recording of the song.
Threads was nominated for seven BAFTA awards in 1985. It won for Best Design, Best Film Cameraman, Best Film Editor, and Best Single Drama. Its other nominations were for Best Costume Design, Best Make-Up, and Best Film Sound.
See also 
- List of nuclear holocaust fiction
- Nuclear weapons and the United Kingdom
- Nuclear weapons in popular culture
- Protect and Survive, the 1970s British government information films on nuclear war.
- Testament, a 1983 American film which tells the story of how one small suburban town near the San Francisco Bay Area slowly falls apart after a nuclear war destroys outside civilization.
- The War Game, a 1960s BBC docudrama about the effects of nuclear war that was not broadcast until the 1980s.
- When the Wind Blows, a 1986 animated British film that shows a nuclear attack on Britain by the Soviet Union from the viewpoint of a retired couple.
- Threads and Other Sheffield Plays (Sheffield Academic Press, 1990), Page 234
- Bean, Patrick (3 January 2002). "Threads by Barry Hines". Archived from the original on 29 May 2010.
- Clark, Kenneth R. (11 January 1985). "'Threads': Nightmare After the Holocaust". Chicago Tribune.
- "CNN, WTBS plan nuclear Blitz this month". Los Angeles Times.
- The TV Room Plus
- "Clive has a certrain appeal, despite the colonial cringe". Sydney Morning Herald. 26 June 1985.
- "Threads: A Devastating Piece Of TV". The Age. 27 June 1985.
- "Awards database". BAFTA. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
- 'Threads' in pictures at BBC South Yorkshire
- Threads at the Internet Movie Database
- Threads at AllRovi
- Threads at the BFI's Screenonline