When the Wind Blows (comics)

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When the Wind Blows is a 1982 graphic novel, by British artist Raymond Briggs, that shows a nuclear attack on Britain by the Soviet Union from the viewpoint of a retired couple, Jim and Hilda Bloggs. The book was later made into an animated film.


The book follows the story of the Bloggses, characters previously seen in the book Gentleman Jim. One afternoon, the couple hears a message on the radio about an "outbreak of hostilities" in three days' time. Jim immediately starts construction of a fallout shelter (in accordance with a government-issued Protect and Survive brochure), while the two reminisce about the Second World War. Their reminiscences are used both for comic effect and to show how the geopolitical situation has changed, but also how nostalgia has blotted out the horrors of war. A constant theme is Jim's optimistic outlook and his unshakeable belief that the government knows what's best and that it has the situation under full control, coupled with Hilda's attempts to carry on life as normal.

During their preparations the action is interrupted by two page dark illustrations. With the first being a nuclear missile on a launch pad, labeled "MEANWHILE, ON A DISTANT PLAIN...." The second a squadron of Warthogs, labeled "MEANWHILE, IN THE DISTANT SKY...." And third a nuclear submarine labeled "MEANWHILE, IN A DISTANT OCEAN...."

The Bloggses soon hear of enemy missiles heading towards England and make it into their shelter before a nuclear explosion. They spend all the first day within the fallout shelter, but leave the shelter on the second day, and move about the house, exposing themselves to the fallout. But undaunted, they try to continue life as normal, as if it was the Second World War again. They find the house to be in shambles, with both the water and the electricity cut off. On the third day, misreading advice given in government leaflets of having to stay in the fallout shelter for 48 hours instead of 14 days, they go outside, exposing themselves to a huge amount of radioactive fallout. While outside, they comment on the smell of cooking meat, unaware that it is the burning corpses of their neighbors.

Jim and Hilda exhibit considerable confusion regarding the serious nature of what has happened after the nuclear attack; this generates gentle comedy as well as darker elements: amongst them, their obliviousness of the fact that they are probably the only people left of their acquaintance. As the novel progresses, and with what has survived of their emergency water supply all gone, they have to end up collecting rainwater. Though they are wise to boil it, it is still contaminated with radiation, and thus their situation becomes steadily more hopeless, as they begin to suffer more effects of radiation sickness. At first they suffer headaches and shiverings, moments after the bomb. Then, from the second day, Hilda suffers with vomiting and having diarrhea. On the fourth day, Hilda's gums began to bleed, and is also showing blood in her diarrhea, which they mistake for hemorrhoid. On the fifth day, Jim also shows bleeding gums; both are suffering blue bruising but mistake these for varicose veins. And finally, Hilda's hair begins to fall out. From then on, she insists that they go into the paper bags and go back into the fallout shelter, and wait for help to arrive, which through the situation of M.A.D., would never come.

The book ends on a bleak note, when at night, Hilda insists Jim should pray; he then begins uttering the Lord's Prayer, which pleases Hilda, but then, confused, he switches to the first lines of the "Charge of the Light Brigade", which upsets her, as she weakly begs for him not to continue. The paper bags that they were in then darken, symbolizing their ebb of consciousness, growing debility and ultimate deaths. This is then followed by the next page, in which is a blank white page, symbolizing that they have peacefully gone to those green pastures.



The book was made into an animated film by director Jimmy Murakami in 1986. The couple are voiced by Sir John Mills and Dame Peggy Ashcroft. The soundtrack consists of songs, many with an anti-nuclear theme, by prominent pop singers and groups, including Roger Waters, Genesis and David Bowie.


There was also a BBC Radio 4 dramatisation in 1983, with the voices of Peter Sallis and Brenda Bruce. A stage version, created at around the same time, has been performed several times since.

Other appearances[edit]

"The song stems from two ideas. One is something that mothers say to their children about pulling faces. They say the child will stay like that when the wind changes. The other idea is inspired by the anti-nuclear cartoon book When The Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs." —Roland Orzabal[1]

  • Licensed images from When the Wind Blows appear in the short book Sussex After the Bomb - What Will Happen to Newhaven, Lewes, The Ouse Valley, Seaford, Eastbourne and Brighton published by The Profession for Peace (1984).
  • The Iron Maiden song "When The Wild Wind Blows" from their 2010 album The Final Frontier is loosely based on the graphic novel When the Wind Blows. In the song, however, the couple commit suicide thinking the tremors shaking up their hideout are the nuclear Doomsday they had been expecting. They are found like this by the rescue team going through the ruins after what was 'merely' a strong earthquake, on "just another day the wild wind blows".

Critique of preparations for nuclear war[edit]

After the bombing of Hiroshima, people with patterned clothes got burned where the pattern was darkest - while others had their shadows burnt into the road.

The two pamphlets mentioned in When the Wind Blows are based on actual pamphlets.[2] These sort of pamphlets go back as far as 1938, when the British government put out a leaflet titled The Protection of Your Home Against Air Raids.[3] This was updated after the Second World War into Advising the Householder on Protection against Nuclear Attack[4] which was originally published in 1963, around the time of the Cuban missile crisis, and the other was Protect and Survive which was published in 1980, shortly before Raymond Briggs began work on When the Wind Blows.

Many of James and Hilda’s preparations came directly from these pamphlets:

  • Page 10 of Protect & Survive provided James with the directions for making the lean-to from doors to protect you from radiation.
  • Page 14 of Advising the Householder demonstrates how whitewashing your windows will reduce fire damage by reflecting the heat from the nuclear blast.
  • Page 16 of Protect & Survive illustrates the box of sand for washing dishes.

Briggs wasn’t the only one to criticize these pamphlets[5] about preparation for nuclear war. One of the best-known critiques was E. P. Thompson’s anti-nuclear paper called Protest and Survive,[6] playing off of the Protect and Survive series.

Criticisms like Protest and Survive point out the inadequacies of the preparation procedures posed by the pamphlet Protect and Survive. In contrast, through the comic format or graphic novel genre, Briggs is able to depict a more realistic account of the effects of nuclear attack on civilians like James and Hilda. In When the Wind Blows, James makes reference to the bombing of Hiroshima and uses his knowledge of that event to infer what could happen to him and Hilda and to make sense of his own experience before and after the nuclear attack. Unlike the nuclear preparation pamphlets, Briggs's depictions of James and Hilda’s experience with radiation sickness actually align with real accounts.[7]


  1. ^ Interview with Roland Orzabal: Scenes From The Big Chair
  2. ^ "An Interview with Raymond Briggs". 
  3. ^ "The Protection of Your Home Against Air Raids". Retrieved 30 October 2012. 
  4. ^ "Advising the Householder on Protection against Nuclear Attack" (PDF). 
  5. ^ Barkham, Patrick (2 August 2004). "Whitewash your windows, then await further instructions". The Guardian (London). 
  6. ^ "Protest and Survive" (PDF). 
  7. ^ Ishikawa, Eisei (1981). Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Physical, Medical, and Social Effects of the Atomic Bombings. New York: Basic. p. 706. ISBN 978-0465029853.