Hands up who remembers Whoops Apocalypse. Not that many, I’ll bet, as the show is rarely recalled by anyone I’ve ever mentioned it to.
It’s a bit puzzling why Whoops Apocalypse has become, at best, a hazy footnote in the Bumper Book of British TV Comedy.
For a start, it was written by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, who would later create, both as a partnership and as solo writers, a host of popular shows that would become landmarks of the UK TV landscape, including One Foot In The Grave, 2 Point 4 Children, Hot Metal and Jonathan Creek, among many others.
It also starred a veritable who’s who of two generations of British comedy acting talent, including the likes of John Cleese, Geoffrey Palmer, Peter Jones (best remembered, perhaps, as The Voice Of The Book in the radio and TV versions of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), Alexi Sayle, Rik Mayall, Richard Griffiths and John Barron.
And finally, it even spawned a Hollywood movie of the same name – though, beyond the basic premise of nuclear Armageddon, the plot and characters were entirely different.
The six part series, made at the height of the Cold War, was a strange blend of political satire, farce and alternative comedy, chronicling the final few weeks before a nuclear war.
The main characters include:
- Naive, mentally-challenged, right-wing US President Johnny Cyclops (Barry Morse), who is manipulated by a deranged Christian fundamentalist security adviser known as The Deacon.
- British Prime Minister Kevin Pork (Jones), who believes himself to be Superman and who is ultimately tricked into signing Britain up for The Warsaw Pact.
- The deposed Shah of Iran, who is being passed from country to country in search of a safe haven.
- Lacrobat (Cleese), an international terrorist/arms dealer who has managed to steal a US Quark bomb, a new and even more destructive type of nuclear weapon.
- Soviet Premier Dubienkin (Griffiths), who frequently dies and is replaced by a succession of clones.
Most of the main characters were parodies or caricatures of their then real-world counterparts (Cyclops, for example, was clearly jab at US President Ronald Reagan), at a time when the threat of a nuclear war being sparked by poor Soviet-American relations and tensions in the middle east, coupled with a simple misunderstanding (in the TV show, the initial nuclear alert that raises the threat levels around the world is caused by a malfunctioning Space Invaders arcade machine), was all-too real real.
In many ways, Whoops Apocalypse was something of a precursor to the spate of serious 1980s dramas that dealt with a nuclear holocaust and its aftermath, such as Threads, The Old Men At The Zoo, When The Wind Blows and The Day After.
Watching the show today (if you can get hold of it – it was briefly released on video in the late 80s but has never had a DVD release), the production values date it somewhat and some of the humour is a bit cheesy. But fundamentally (no pun intended), and allowing for the fall of the Soviet union, the subject matter of and issues raised by Whoops Apocalypse remain as pertinent in the post-9/11 world as they were in the days of Protect and Survive.
The show also had a rather cool opening titles sequence and a very catchy (and very 80s) theme tune. The newspaper headlines that flashed up changed each week to reflect the story so far – these ones are from episode 2:
And here are the closing titles (stills were used from the episode that had just aired – these are from episode 5):