Anybody of a certain age who grew up in Britain will have a distinct memory of being inundated with British Public Films. These were produced by the government and were heavily broadcasted, typically on shows aimed at children and families. Everything from making sure children do not wander away with people they don’t know, to not polishing a floor and putting a mat on it, to flying a kite near electrical pylons, to the green-cross code. Many of these were so memorable that their memory is etched deep in my consciousness to this very day. A few of them are disquieting also, as fear helps bring the message home. They still produce them, but not in the quantity or intensity that they used to. Here are a fifteen of the ones that have lingered in my imagination. For those not familiar consider this a doorway to understanding another aspect of growing up British.
- Joe & Petunia.
This popular series promoted a sense of community in a funny and charming way. Joe and Petunia play a clichéd married couple who at times are clueless to the world around them. Their exploits include failing to save a drowning man, the importance of watching tyre (Tire is spelt Tyre in the U.K.) tread on your motorcar and the significance of littering our green and pleasant land. A lovely bit of trivia is that J.K. Rowling loved these so much she named a character Petunia in her Harry Potter series.
- Charlie Says.
These were a short series of animated PIF’s that were produced by the now defunct Central Office of Information, and released in the 1970’s and 80’s. Charlie was a cat who was always getting into mischief- generally hurting himself. Charlie was voiced by the late and brilliant Kenny Everett, a renowned comedian, DJ, and television star remembered for his edgy and controversial shows. Charlie’s voice is more of a screech than an actual voice. The Central Office of Information replaced the Ministry of Information in 1946 and was in charge of issues that affected British citizens.
Charlie’s voice was so embedded in the British public that the band Prodigy sampled it in a hit record in the early nineties:
- Lonely Water.
This was produced in 1973 and featured Donald Pleasance as the unsettling voice of the Grim Reaper. The film was produced as a warning for children to keep away from ’lonely water.’ It still gives me chills, and is one of my favourites.
- Dads Army Pelican Crossing
Television shows and celebrities were often employed to send a safety message. Here is the cast of Dad’s Army- one of the most beloved British shows of all time- teaching us how to properly use a Pelican Crossing in their own inimitable way.
- Jon Pertwee SPLINK
In 1976, actor Jon Pertwee, famous as the Third Doctor on the TV series Doctor Who, (and was my first doctor), and Worzell Gummidge appeared in a PIF for the Green Cross Code introducing the complicated mnemonic ‘SPLINK’, which I could never remember, and apparently no-one else could either. It stood for:
- (First find a)Safe (place to cross, then stop)
- (Stand on the)Pavement (near the kerb)
- Look (all round for traffic and listen)
- If (traffic is coming, let it pass)
- (When there is)No (traffic near, walk straight across the road)
- Keep (looking and listening for traffic while you cross).
Remember it- they may be a test later.
- Flying Kite near Electric Pylons.
Many adverts informed us to be careful around electric wires and pylons. This one shocked me back then- and still makes me tingle. It reflects the time and age I was born into in Britain.
- Fatal Floor
“Polish a floor, put a mat on it, you might as well have set up a man trap. And to think he had only just come back from the hospital.”
- The Green Cross Code
The Green Cross Code was how we were taught to cross the roads and streets as a child, both at school and on our TV screens. They always had celebrities to hammer home the details in their TV spots. Here is legendary football player Kevin Keegan, and seventies glam pop icon Alvin Stardust scaring us into behaving properly.
And for those of you not familiar with Alvin Stardust- here he is on Top of the Pops in 1974 with his number one single. Top of the Pops was the music show of my youth.
- Clunk-Click Every Trip.
The clunk of the door slamming shut followed by the clicking of the safety belt snapping into place got instilled into all of us. Once again scare tactics were used to serious impact.
“We could all become a nation of clunk-clickers.’
Here is the first one featuring Shaw Taylor.
- Old Fridges Can Kill
The title says it all. This was a reminder to remove doors from refrigerators before you disposed of them at a dump. Adding that to a child they could be a castle.
- Tufty Buys an Ice Cream
This one was aimed at younger children and used Tuffy the squirrel to warn about running after the ice-cream van.
Tufty Fluffytail was created in 1953, by Elsie Mills MBE. She penned original stories for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents featured the squirrel and his friends to teach safety messages for children. Tufty was joined in his adventures by Minnie Mole and the naughty Willy Weasel along with Mrs. Owl the teacher and Policeman Badger, who always popped up in the nick of time to save the children. In 1961, the Tufty Club was set up as a nationwide network of local groups. In the club’s heyday there were 24,500 registered Tufty Clubs.
Tufty is such a part of childhood memories that in the acclaimed ‘Life on Mars’ series, detective Gene Hunt (portrayed by the brilliant Philip Glenister) disguised as Tufty in an episode. And on a side note ‘Life on Mars’ is one of the most brilliant British television shows ever made in my opinion.
- Tidy Up at Night
In 1969 we were reminded of the importance of unplugging everything at night, putting up your coal guard over the fireplace, not only switching off all the appliance but also unplugging them, and moving your drying clothes from near the boiler.
- Escalator safety.
Escalators still make be a tad uneasy. I remember why now.
- Firework safety.
In Britain we celebrate the fifth of November- Guy Fawkes Day- with fireworks. These days most go to organized events- and many fireworks are banned for public sale. But in the 60’s and 70’s this was not the case and we set them off in back gardens across the land.
- Rabies Outbreak in Britain
Britain does not have rabies. Bringing pets into the country is a long process that used to involve pets being in quarantine for six months at the dock at the owner’s expense. These days you can get a pet passport with stringent blood tests. But TV spots such as these were frequently shown in the U.K..
These are just a sampling of the hundreds upon hundreds that the British government produced. Are there any that you remember that I have not included?