GBH Openvault

War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Denis Rickett, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Denis Rickett was a member of the British war cabinet during World War II, and the Principal Private Secretary to Prime Minister Attlee from 1950-1951. He recalls his membership on an advisory committee that was set up to review the MAUD report, and that determined that building a British bomb was not only feasible but should be given the highest priority. The question confronting the British, he remembers, was whether to work independently or join in the Manhattan Project. He discusses the informal Quebec agreement between London and Washington under which both sides promised never to use atomic weapons against each other, or against another target without the agreement of both allies. Asked about the application of the agreement with respect to Japan, Lord Rickett recalls that Churchill did not feel he could say no to Truman after all the United States had invested in the project. He discusses Churchill’s views on the bomb generally, and some of Britain’s concerns about nuclear weapons after the war: namely, their interest in trying to get the U.S. to agree to the fullest possible exchange of information with London, and also to work toward the principles of the Acheson-Lilienthal Report on the international control of atomic weapons. He mentions Niels Bohr’s idea to share all nuclear secrets with the Soviets as a way to break through to a new plane of international cooperation, but notes that this was utterly at odds with Churchill’s thinking. He moves on to discuss the Baruch Plan and British views of its feasibility, concluding that an international control regime was not fully realistic, which implied (to use Churchill’s phrase) that a balance of terror would result instead.

License Clip
Got it
War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Program Number



Interview with Denis Rickett, 1986

Series Description

The first atomic explosion in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945, changed the world forever. This series chronicles these changes and the history of a new era. It traces the development of nuclear weapons, the evolution of nuclear strategy, and the politics of a world with the power to destroy itself.

In thirteen one-hour programs that combine historic footage and recent interviews with key American, Soviet, and European participants, the nuclear age unfolds: the origin and evolution of nuclear weapons; the people of the past who have shaped the events of the present; the ideas and issues that political leaders, scientists, and the public at large must confront, and the prospects for the future. Nuclear Age highlights the profound changes in contemporary thinking imposed by the advent of nuclear weapons. Series release date: 1/1989

Program Description

Amid the violence, fear and desperation of World War II, nuclear weapons are created and used for the first time.

“Dawn” traces the development of the first atomic bomb, from 1932 with the ominous rumblings that led to World War II and the ground-breaking scientific experiments that led to the bomb. Atomic physicist Victor Weisskopf explains, “we did not think at all that this business would have any direct connection with politics, or with humanity.” The frantic rush by American scientists who feared the Nazis were ahead of them and the first nuclear explosion in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945 are described by eyewitnesses. Physicist Philip Morrison was ten miles away from the blast and will never forget the heat on his face. “Dawn” concludes with the failure of the first attempts to reach agreement on international control of atomic weapons after the war.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Byrnes, James F. (James Francis), 1882-1972
Hankey, Maurice Pascal Alers Hankey, Baron, 1877-1963
Churchill, Winston, 1874-1965
World War II
Fuchs, Klaus Emil Julius, 1911-1988
Nuclear energy
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972
United States
First strike (Nuclear strategy)
King, William Lyon Mackenzie, 1874-1950
Nuclear weapons
Baruch Plan (1946)
Hiroshima-shi (Japan) -- History -- Bombardment, 1945
Deterrence (Strategy)
Groves, Leslie Richard
Great Britain
United Nations
Attlee, C. R. (Clement Richard), 1883-1967
Bohr, Niels, 1885-1962
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Rickett, Sir Denis Hubert Fletcher (1907-1997) (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Denis Rickett, 1986,” 03/24/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Denis Rickett, 1986.” 03/24/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Denis Rickett, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
If you have more information about this item, we want to know! Please contact us, including the URL.