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Armageddon Out of Here - with a Scarred for Life:Cold War Special

Scarred for Life: Cold War Special, Mockingbird Cinema on 21 May.

Review by David Court

For those of a certain age, it seems nothing short of a small miracle that we managed to survive the eighties with any of our sanity or hope left intact. From the grim and foreboding ‘Protect and Survive’ public information films narrated by Patrick Allen (better known for his voiceover work from the notably less apocalyptic Barratt Homes adverts) to the similarly terrifying video for Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Two Tribes’ and the grimly bleak productions of ‘Threads’ and ‘When the Wind Blows’, you’d have been forgiven in the early eighties for thinking that the world would break out into nuclear war at the drop of an irradiated hat.

Both volumes of the ‘Scarred for Life’ books delight in revisiting the terrifying pop culture of both the seventies and eighties, and 21 May saw its two authors – Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence - presenting a show about the horrors of nuclear war as part of the annual Birmingham Spring Flatpack Festival.

Photo courtesy of David Court

Ably introduced and compered by Bob Fischer (himself no stranger to the macabre nature of certain elements of growing up in the eighties, being responsible for the excellent Web Site ‘The Haunted Generation’), the ‘Scarred for Life: Cold War Special’ (or SFLCWS, as it will now awkwardly be referred to) was a two-and-a-half-hour peek through some of the darker recesses and hidden footpaths just adjacent to memory lane.

In that simpler decade which started with a lofty three terrestrial TV channels and ended with a whopping four, it can be easy to forget how prevalent the looming threat of the apocalypse was for young and impressionable minds. The Cold War and the threat of mutually assured destruction managed to permeate almost every element of pop culture – it was in our TV shows (including the two mentioned in the opening of this review), our pop music (with Nena singing about 99 Luftballons and Ultravox dancing with tears in their eyes on the last day on Earth), our games (both video and board) and our movies.

Photo courtesy of David Court

Considering the grim subject matter, SFLCWS (see, told you I’d use that unwieldy acronym) was an insightful – and often hilarious – look at that particular worrying time in history, one which only really stopped when David Hasselhoff single-handedly demolished the Berlin Wall, ushering in the new era of optimism of the nineteen-nineties.

Bob, Stephen, and Dave were excellent hosts, elevating what could have been a several hour-long misery-fest into a compelling and wry look at a cultural moment that – due to the very nature of the way we now digest our news and light entertainment, no longer confined to such a narrow range – dominated more of our mass media than we could ever have remembered.

Stephen and Dave are excellent writers – the copious fascinating essays in both volumes of ‘Scarred for Life’ are testament to that – and it’s excellent to say that they’re as equally capable of delivering that enthusiasm in person. They’ve been known to tour with ‘Scarred for Life’ in the past, and – on the basis of this brilliant two and a half hours, which frankly flew by – I’d urge you to check them out.

Photo courtesy of David Court

(As an aside, the show ended with a Q&A session that was just as much about the audience sharing their own experiences and memories of growing up under the shadow of the mushroom cloud as anything else, and I got to share a personal recollection that’s haunted me for nearly four decades – February 1984, when the four-minute warning was accidentally broadcast in Coventry in the early hours of a Wednesday morning. Are there any other Midlanders out there who remember that?)

Find out more about the Flatpack Festival at


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