Raymond Briggs is best known for his children’s stories. We don’t know about the rest of the world, but in the UK, a Christmas doesn’t pass without the feature film version of what is arguably his most famous story – The Snowman – gracing our television screens. Thanks Raymond. But before he made what has to be a fortune out of magical melting friends, Briggs produced a number of equally magical if less cosy works, not least of which is When the Wind Blows.
This tightly scripted anti-nuclear work follows a retired couple through the preparations for and aftermath of a nuclear strike on the UK. The couple is stereotypically English and of their generation, brought up during the air raids of World War II, incapable of comprehending any enemy other than the ‘Jerries’ (Germans), and with a naive confidence that the leaflets issued by the local government can protect them from the inevitable holocaust.
Briggs imbues Jim and Hilda with so much character you can’t help but feel empathy. That the mixture of ignorance, naivety and stiff-upper-lip tighten-your-belt attitude keeps them on the right side of desperation only makes their situation more heart-wrenchingly sad.
A master of the emotions, Briggs is as adept with the artwork as with the story. Using pastel shades throughout, the pictures are easily as expressive as the words. The simple caricatures only help Briggs ram his apocalyptic horror home even harder.
Perhaps the biggest problem for a present day audience is that the power of the book is weakened, now the Cold War is over and the threat of Russia and the USA destroying us all in a nuclear rage is seemingly less likely. Having said that, most people reading this won’t remember the threat of a war on their own doorstep. If anything, this book should remind us that, for some people in the world, the fear and powerlessness imbued into Jim and Hilda remains a daily occurrence.