They became a part of our culture and any visit to the cinema in the 1940’s wouldn’t be complete without a few screenings, but it was in the 1960’s and 1970’s that they became an art form. I’m talking of public information films, sometimes called COI’s (The Central Office of Information).
Any spare slot in the TV schedule would be eagerly filled with one of these little gems, at least by the BBC, and ITV would on occasion air one if it had no advertising slots available or it was the school holidays.
They were normally only around 30 to 45 seconds long, although they could exceed 5 minutes on occasion.
The films advised the public on what to do in a multitude of situations, ranging from crossing the road to surviving a nuclear attack. They are sometimes thought to concern only topics related to safety, but they educated us on many other subjects, including rabies, protecting the environment, crime prevention and how to vote in an election or fill in a census form.
Generally they were low-budget quality and the static "crackle" before they started gave them an aura of a Hammer horror film. Some of them were quite terrifying and remained ingrained in people's psyche well into adulthood; others were quite humorous and used comedy to show the dangers or ridicule the folly of those who dared ignore them.
They gained a cult following. Joe and Petunia, the hapless coulple, in various different situations: at the seaside with Joe waving to a sailor in distress or in the countryside flagrantly disobeying the country code. (These were revisited in 2007 with Petunia listening to her ipod and reading a copy of hello magazine in her Burberry cap.)
Young children were treated to Tufty Fluffytail the squirell and his friends, who normally got involved in road traffic accidents, with Policeman Badger coming to the rescue to offer advice or console the injured party.
Most memorable was the Charley Says campaign, with the garbled feline overtures of Charley the Cat , voiced by the late Kenny Everett.
Advice was given on how to behave in the kitchen, not to go with strangers and not to play with matches. In all, only six films were ever made, although it feels like there were many more.
To my mind, these short dramas were just as indicative of that period as the music and TV programmes.
I’m now playing many of the most memorable examples on Sounds Familiar.
So don't dazzle but dip your headlights, don't mix gloss paint and polystyrene tiles and, most important, keep Britain tidy and stay safe kids!
In : Monthy Playlist Blog
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