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Comic Book / When the Wind Blows

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"The powers that be will get to us in the end."
Jim Bloggs

When the Wind Blows is a 1982 comic book and 1986 animated film written by Raymond Briggs. There was also a BBC Radio adaptation of the original comic. It concerns the Bloggses, a mildly dim but cheerful elderly English couple, and their preparations for an imminent nuclear war. This war commences mid-story, and the focus switches on their efforts at keeping a stiff upper lip while waiting for help, all the while succumbing to radiation sickness.

A classic weapon of the anti-nuclear weapon movement, When The Wind Blows uses its bright colours, eccentric characters and art style similar to Briggs's classic children's story The Snowman to hammer home the horrors of nuclear war, and make dark satire about government leaflets advising how best to survive a nuclear attack. Naturally, its child-like style in both art and the characters' personalities make it one of the more famous examples to come from the Animation Age Ghetto.


Inspired a song of the same name by Eric Bogle.

Compare to The Day After and Threads, and the Japanese Barefoot Gen and Grave of the Fireflies.

Not to be confused with the novel by James Patterson.

When the Wind Blows provides examples of:

  • Accidental Pun: Done several times, and not for comedy, since Everybody's Dead, Dave.
    • Hilda: He may be closed due to the bomb, dear.
      Jim: What, old Sponge? Heh heh. Miss a day's trade? Oh not him. He'd rather die.
    • Hilda: The milkman's not been yet. He's late.
      Jim: Oh, well, that's logical. He's bound to be a bit late, after the bomb.
      Hilda: Perhaps he's been called up — to fight, or something.
    • Hilda: [Smelling burning corpses on the wind, which she can't identify] It's like roast meat.
      Jim: Yes. Roast dinners. I expect people are having their Sunday dinners early this week.
    • Jim: Ron will be all right. He won't go to pieces. The whole family will stick together.
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  • Art-Style Dissonance: The art style is really cute and a little simplistic. The comic and film are anything but "cute".
  • Black Comedy: After the blast, Hilda wonders what the smell is (implied to be burning corpses). Jim suggests the neighbours are cooking roast pork for Sunday dinner.
  • Blood from the Mouth: When Jim sings "Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag And Smile, Smile, Smile" to keep Hilda's spirits up, he starts bleeding from the mouth hard enough to stain his shirt (which is a sign of the radiation sickness consuming both him and Hilda).
  • Break the Cutie: The Bloggses are perfectly nice and harmless people, but Mutually Assured Destruction and radiation poisoning don't care about that. Eventually becomes a case of Kill the Cutie.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "It's the correct thing!"
    • "Crumbs!"
    • "The powers that be will get to us in the end."
  • Comically Missing the Point: Deconstructed. The Bloggs, especially Jim, make repeated misinterpretations about the severity of the fallout (eg. believing the burning smell is the neighbours cooking dinner, or the lack of water and electric being due to the government taking wise safety precautions). The Bloggs' whimsical obliviousness leans it into Black Comedy, though as things go on, the ramifications hit in and it falls more cleanly into Dramatically Missing the Point.
  • Cosy Catastrophe: Deconstructed. Jim and Hilda both lived through the Blitz when they were young, so they adopt the same attitude towards nuclear war. That attitude turns out not to help them at all, since it has blinded them to the true horrors of war and the aftermath of nuclear war is much worse than the Blitz. It also doesn't help that the instructions the British government provides for dealing with the fallout are completely useless.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Hilda points out they could have used their root cellar instead of a makeshift shelter built out of wooden doors.
  • Despair Event Horizon: When Hilda's hair starts to fall out.
  • Doomed Protagonist: In an anti-war comic/film like this, what would you expect? With the looming threat of nuclear war and the Bloggses' blissful ignorance of how serious the situation is, it's clear that things won't end well for them.
  • Downer Ending: Hilda and Jim eventually die from radiation sickness some days after the bombing. Just after this, the skies clear, and it seems that the nuclear fallout is gone, only for an off-screen telegraph to tap out M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) in Morse code at the end of the credits. Either this wasn't a one-off nuclear attack, and a war is about to ensue, or the war is over and NATO and Warsaw Pact have wiped each other out. Alternatively, if peace does prevail, anyone who survived the nuclear bombing and the hell that followed may now stand a chance.
  • Dramatic Irony: Played for Drama. Most readers will understand that they were doomed from the moment the bomb fell, but Hilda and Jim never realize that the end of the world has come even when both of them are at death's door from radiation poisoning, both of them still clinging to the idea that the "The Powers That Be" will get to them in the end (when in reality, everyone else is already dead).
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Deliberately invoked. Jim's quintessentially British respect for authority means he tries to follow the government's advice regardless of how self-contradictory it is, exposing all its flaws. Hilda spots a few of the flaws as well (How are you supposed to close the doors to prevent a fire spreading if you've used them to build your Inner Core Or Refuge? How are you supposed to get a whole family into a makeshift shelter that can barely hold two pensioners?), but they both just brush them off.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: After the bomb drops, the Bloggses (and the viewers) find no other signs of human life. The only wildlife that can be seen are a few rats, a dog (which is heard), and a dying bird.
  • Fallout Shelter Fail: The British government provide instruction on how citizens can build their own fallout shelters out of doors and cushions. Not realizing that this advice is shoddy placebo-based rubbish, Jim Bloggs takes the leaflets seriously and builds his "inner core or refuge" right in the middle of the house - declining to use the root cellar. Combined with the limited supplies and the simple fact that the Bloggses don't really understand the threat of radiation, the shelter is hopelessly inadequate. Even before Jim and Hilda make the mistake of leaving the shelter two weeks early, they've already been exposed to a lethal dose of fallout, and the book ends with the two dying of radiation sickness.
  • Fate Worse than Death: What's worse than being killed by the bomb? Surviving the bomb. Emer Provost, in his (glowing) review of the movie, accurately described it as "winning the world's worst lottery".
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Being kindly English folk, the strongest language used in the comic is "Blimey!" and Hilda does scold Jim on the language. In the film, on the other hand, James calls Hilda a "stupid bitch" to hurry her into the inner core or refuge once the nukes start coming down. This has the effect of slowing her down as she stops to demand an apology.
  • Happily Married: Jim and Hilda are an old married couple and are so sweet and innocent, all of which is just used to drive home the true horror of what becomes of them harder.
  • Headache of Doom: The first hint Jim and Hilda have been exposed to radiation are the headaches and shivering spells they suffer in the wake of the initial blast.
  • Idiot Ball: Partially due to not taking the whole thing seriously at first, and partially due to not fully understanding the concept of radiation, and simply misunderstanding the pamphlets leads the Bloggses to make some big mistakes. It only makes the situation that much more tragic, although the fact that their house was caught in the blast made their death by fallout extremely likely anyway.
  • Ill Girl: Both Jim and Hilda falling ill of radiation sickness.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Jim and Hilda believe living through a nuclear war will be no different from living through the Blitz and, once the Bomb has dropped, think all they have to do is hold on until help arrives. It never seems to occur to them that no help is ever going to come. Also, at one point, they mistake the smell of burnt corpses for people cooking their Sunday dinners. In the film, they think a howling dog is merely hungry; it's more likely that the dog is in pain from radiation sickness and/or injuries sustained in the blast. And, when (in both the film and the comic strip) they develop radiation sickness, they fail to recognise the symptoms for what they are, instead putting them down to things such as ill-fitting dentures (bleeding gums) and "varicrose veins" (radiation sores).
  • Insistent Terminology: "Inner Core or Refuge". Jim's deference to authority is so strong, and unthinking, that he doesn't drop the "or" and call it either an "Inner Core" or a "Refuge".
  • Irony: In the final moments of the comic, the couple begin to pray, but cannot recall any prayers. In his desperation to say something poignant-sounding, James inadvertently quotes Tennyson's poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, the famous story of a cavalry unit who followed incorrect orders to their certain deaths.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Jim, despite professing to be very well-read and keeping abreast of the current situation, is shown to understand the concepts of pre-emptive nuclear strikes and megadeaths, and that tensions are escalating, but very little beyond that. Most of the time when he's holding forth with grand-sounding speeches, it's clear that he's only working off third-hand information he partially remembers and drawing conclusions from that as if he's an expert, or unquestioningly repeating what he's been told by official pamphlets. At one point, he claims that only the smallest possible bombs would be used because large explosions would be very wasteful, given the energy crisis.
    Hilda: Who's in charge of the Russians, dear?
    Jim: Oh... er... it's Shivinski, isn't it? Or Molotov... no, Molotov is just a cocktail, I think. Kruschev! Yes! That's right! He bangs his shoe — B and K — Bulgaria and Kruschev! That's them. And that bloke Marks has got something to do with it. [...] Yes, then there's the usual Committee, of course. The Commontern, they call it — the Soviet Supreme — they're in charge of the B.J. Key — that's the Secret Service — SS for short. Our lot is called E.M.I. 5 — it's all very complicated, ducks.
  • Malaproper: Overlapping with Know-Nothing Know-It-All above. Jim does this a lot in regards to modern warfare and politics — for example, assuming that all the major decisions by the Powers That Be are handled by "commuters" (computers) — or just stumbling over large words in an attempt to seem clever, like "hysteriacal", "adamanant", "instil" (install), and "neutrified".
  • Meaningful Name: Their surname, Bloggs, derives from "Joe Bloggs," the British equivalent to "John Q. Public."
  • Mood Whiplash: The cheery approach the Bloggses take to the whole thing is made more heart wrenching as the story keeps cutting to the Soviets and NATO making their preparations (in the form of a missile silo, a nuclear bomber and a ballistic missile submarine), letting the reader/watcher know that yes, there is indeed a nuke coming. Even after the nuke comes, the Bloggses cling to their Cosy Catastrophe memories of surviving World War II and try to remain optimistic about the whole thing.
  • Mutually Assured Destruction: The result of the nuclear war. In the film, there's also morse code being typed out as — .- -.., M.A.D. If you know morse, you know what happened.
  • Noodle Implements: Discussed as Jim and Hilda review the leaflets going over other items they should have in their refuge. Hilda even questions the use of having a pen and notepad for messages.
  • A Nuclear Error: Done on purpose, as the Bloggses don't quite understand the full effects of the bomb.
  • Ominous Hair Loss: By day five, Hilda's hair is coming out in clumps as radiation takes its toll.
  • Pop-Star Composer: The film adaptation's soundtrack was done by former Pink Floyd bandleader Roger Waters, with David Bowie additionally writing and performing the title song.
  • Serious Work, Comedic Scene: This is a dark comic book (and movie) about a couple slowly succumbing to radiation poisoning, but there are a few moments of Black Comedy sprinkled into it, such as Hilda complaining that her cake will be ruined during the bombing, and when Jim mistakes the smell of what is implied to be charred corpses for the neighbors cooking roast pork.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog
  • Skewed Priorities: "The cake will be burned!"
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Deconstructed. Nothing really seems to bother Jim and Hilda all that much, not even their ruined house, the post-apocalyptic state the bomb has left the countryside in or the nausea they suffer as the radiation is killing them. No, they keep calm and carry on despite the futility of the situation.
  • Strongly Worded Letter: Hilda devises one to whoever is currently leading the USSR. Jim decides against it because the post is sometimes unreliable and bombing might affect delivery.
    "Dear Sir, Mr. BJ. We the people of Britain are fed up with being bombed. We had enough of it last time with old Hitler, so will you just leave us in peace. You live your life and we'll live ours. Hope you are well, please don't drop any bombs, yours sincerely Mr and Mrs J. Bloggs."
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: The characters first appeared in an earlier work of Briggs's, Gentleman Jim. Apparently they were so well-received he brought them back—only to kill them off in a nuclear apocalypse!
  • Take That!: The entire comic/film is one towards the British governments' Protect and Survive leaflets and short films. These were originally only to be handed out/broadcast if it seemed war between the NATO and Warsaw Pact was imminent (as any direct conflict would most likely escalate into nuclear war), but public demand saw the leaflets and films distributed during peacetime. When the Wind Blows was made in part to show how useless the survival instructions were, that anyone who followed them would die of radiation sickness.
  • Tragic Mistake: Downplayed; the Bloggses mistakenly think they're only supposed to spend two days in their makeshift shelter rather than two weeks. However, given that the blast blew out their house's windows and scattered radioactive dust and debris all throughout the interior, and the shelter wasn't sealed off from the rest of the house, their mistake really just sped up the inevitable a little.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Though they are more naive than dumb, the Bloggses, especially Hilda, just have no grip whatsoever on the true implications of "the bomb" being dropped, likening it to the nightly bombings carried out by the Luftwaffe on the British mainland during World War II. Among other things, they fail to consider their root cellar as a viable shelter, relying instead on the shoddy and useless "Inner Core or Refuge." Yes, they do fail to survive.
  • Truth in Television: There actually were government leaflets on how to survive a nuclear attack. Everything they do (when following it, at least) is exactly what the leaflet said one should do. More importantly, the symptoms the Bloggses suffer from are the actual symptoms of radiation sickness that align with real accounts.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Hilda says that she's going to be sick a couple of times, but is only seen doing so from behind.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: The Bloggses. Mostly Jim, though. It's surprising how they are mostly optimistic about the whole thing, save for a few worries here and there.
  • World War III: Takes place in the middle of the story.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Jim and Hilda thinks the coming nuclear war will be like the Blitz and the Second World War. They learn the hard way that it is not.

Tropes specific to the animated film include:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The film adds Jim's telephone conversation with Ron. Also, the Bloggs hear a dog howling in the distance when they go outside.
  • Dark Reprise: The music to the rhyme on which the title is based shows up, sometimes to horrifying effect.
  • Deranged Animation: The nuclear attack. In the comic, possibly even more terrifying, the two pages after the bomb are almost entirely white.
  • Double Meaning: Once the Bloggs' health has declined far past the point of denial, Hilda suggests they pray. Jim, unable to think clearly, asks, "who to?" One gets the impression the question has meaning beyond his sickness-induced absent-mindedness.
  • Imagine Spot: Jim has a number of them throughout the film about World War II nostalgia. A notable one involves Bernard Law Montgomery, aka "Monty", as still being in command of the British military; an image of Monty shows up next to Jim until Hilda points out that he is most likely dead. The ghost of Monty reacts, leaves Jim's side and fades away.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Jim is a decent chap who wouldn't dream of being rude to his wife; but when they hear the four-minute warning that the missiles have been launched, Hilda fails to grasp the seriousness of the situation, decides to get the washing in and dithers about the cakes in the oven. This panicks Jim so much that he shouts "Come back, you stupid bitch, and get in the shelter!" Although this could be justified due to it being an emergency where Jim is rightfully panicking and trying to keep him and his wife safe.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Roger Waters did the score, David Bowie wrote the title song, and Genesis, Squeeze and Paul Hardcastle appear in the score too.
  • Precision F-Strike: The aforementioned use of "bitch" just before the nuclear strike pretty much serves as a warning sign that the film is quickly going to get significantly less cosy and charming.
  • Say Your Prayers: In a played for tragedy sense at the end where Hilda suggests that she and Jim get into the paper bags and pray.
  • Shout-Out:
    • During their telephone conversation James' son quotes a line from Tom Lehrer's song "We All Will Go Together When We Go", from the album An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer.
    • Having the animated characters move across dollhouse-type sets seems to deliberately mimic the animation style of the Protect and Survive TV shorts.
  • Wham Line: "My hair's coming out!"
  • Women Are Wiser: Downplayed, but it is there. Hilda is initially portrayed as somewhat unreasonable, given that her initial reaction to the idea of war, in general, is utterly flippant, and her main issue with having an "inner core or refuge" is she's afraid of the doors scratching up the paint, but she does later raise several questions that leave Jim completely stumped as to the safety or efficacy of following the pamphlet to the letter, not that it ever stops her from following her husband's lead. We also get multiple flashbacks or fantasies from Jim, often in the middle of conversation, and he gets carried away by his thoughts while Hilda tidies something in the background.

Alternative Title(s): When The Wind Blows