Hull and the Bomb

In researching my recent essay for Plaza Protocol, “The Geology of Malls”, I ended up thinking quite a bit about Hull’s strange post-war nihilism. It is a city that has a very peculiar relationship to its own destruction. There, I wrote that “Hull’s creativity is inextricably tied to the history of its own destruction”, highlighting how the Adelphi Club, with its infamous bombed-out car park, has even lampooned its own brush with annihilation. A “culture bomb”, installed over the club’s entrance, is tongue in cheek, but it also speaks to a persistent feeling that has long defined the city — that its culture is a direct byproduct of its historical pummelings.

I think this is broadly true. I don’t think a group like COUM Transmissions, for instance, or a mind like Philip Larkin’s, could have thrived anywhere else. How that has been used in more recent years is another matter, however. It is a sentiment that has no doubt helped it in the twenty-first century, when cultural opportunities have made its own phoenix narrative an easy play for PR firms looking to sell an easy redemption story. But there’s still a blackened and burnt underbelly that I genuinely miss. There’s a charred and hardened humour to Hull’s sense of itself that I miss whenever I live anywhere else.

Anyway, I could have gone on a whole other detour about this in my essay but decided against it. However, I did come across this pamphlet at the time that I’ve had pinned to my blog drafts ever since. Produced by Hull City Council, this pamphlet was an attempt to educate the public about the reality of an impeding nuclear war but also explain what it’s impact would be locally.

It’s part PSA, part bomb porn — at least in hindsight. And whilst it’s a fun little novelty, I actually found loads of examples of Hull’s particular pamphlet online in various places. This is to say that, whilst various UK cities produced these sorts of things at the height of the Cold War, it is Hull’s that seems to continually be brought up in various local contexts, not just as a historical novelty but as some sort of relic that speaks to its very core.

I wanted to post this back in November 2020 when I first came across it, but I’ve been holding off on it until “Geology of Malls” was out in the world. Now you have the context, it feels a good time to post this fascinating little bonus. So here you go.

1 Comment

  1. Wow! What an incredible document. One of my sixth-form projects was about the effects of 10 megaton bomb dropped on central London and how that would affect where we lived, about 35 miles out in Hertfordshire. This would have been 1979 or so. It was very much in the air. I joined CND.

    I sometimes wonder what difference it’s made to more recent generations, not growing up under the shadow of world destruction. I suppose they have had other anxieties. I remember talking to my son when he was about 10 and the concept of war came up and he seemed surprised and alarmed – “what, you mean there could still be a war?”. He seemed to be under the impression that wars were all in the past. I gently pointed out that the USA was technically at war at the time, or at least engaged in occupation and overseas military actions. It didn’t impinge on his consciousness at all. But equally, he has never watched a war film in his life, whereas when I was growing up WW2 films were on the telly constantly.

    Nuclear war and AIDS were the two big shadows for my generation of youth. Now it would be terrorism (and increasingly domestic far-right terrorism) and the climate crisis.

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