Once upon a time in a country where children were served warm milk for free in the middle of the morning, the TV overlords surveyed the multitude of potential disasters that awaited the well-meaning but feckless populace and decided that “something must be done”.
The result , via the Orwellian-sounding Central Office of Information, was the production of a number of instructive short films designed to cope with every potential perilous situation, from slippery polished floors and loose carpeting to the searing heat of a nuclear apocalypse.
Charley Says . . .
. . . Don’t Play With Matches, Stay Close To Daddy, Stoves Are Dangerous, Don’t Pull Table Cloths, Don’t Talk To Strangers, Always Tell Mummy Where You Are Going
The undisputed megastar of Public Information Films, Charley dominated the dissemination of safety information for the majority of the 70s.
A dramatic construction, Charley Says . . . was essentially the tale of a nameless everychild trapped forever in a wilderness of unseen danger with only a somewhat excitable cat (Charley) for protection.
Among the subjects covered were the dangers of matches, wandering off with strange men – Alvin Stardust and Les Gray out of Mud excepted (see “You must be out of your tiny minds”) playing with stoves and table cloths (!) and falling in canals.
Inexplicably the other key child-centred fear that plagued the majority of 70s parents, namely “getting trapped inside a discarded fridge”, was never examined by our Chas.
Do You Know Where Your Lad’s Going Tonight?
Well? Do you? Do you ??
This shocking PIF showed a “lad” looking out the window at a group of other “lads” before going out accompanied by a sinister shattering window sound effect, designed presumably to indicate “mischief”.
A resounding “No, and we don’t care” was the response from jaded 70s parents. Hence the subsequent (most famous) PIF – Watch Out There’s A Thief About.
The dangers of both electrical substations and sinister American import – The Frisbee – graphically illustrated as mop-topped boy chasing said yank novelty item interferes with electrical machinery and causes his feet to explode, while his sister screeches his name and his body heads moonwards!
Later became a popular piece of playground improvisation for dramatically talented kids.
Other electrical perils illustrated in the Play Safe campaign included the unfortunate combinations of electricity pylons and both kites and fishing rods, and for the rich kids, even radio controlled planes.
Because I Won’t Be There When You Cross The Road
Abandoning the archaic ramblings of Tufty and his vermin safety Nazis, a new hi-tech approach was taken with Dave Prowse (destined to become Darth Vader) as the mysterious road safety obsessed superhero.
The Green Cross Man began as a solo act before ultimately acquiring a robot accomplice (which bore an uncanny resemblance to R2D2).
Our hero also inherited a high-rise Green Cross Control centre with enough antennae to render anyone within 20 square miles impotent!.
Remember, “If traffic is coming, let it pass”.
Employing the timeless aide-mémoire of the acronym, Jon Pertwee took time off from being the second-best Doctor Who to educate ‘ver kids’ in his easy formula for remembering NOT to get run over.
“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”.
Genius random selection of letters gave us SPLINK. It could just as easily have been POLPC and it would have been just as crap! Basically a Total Waste Of Time (TWOT).
You Must Be Out Of Your Tiny Minds
Other platform heeled glitter boys to join in the fun included Les Gray out of Mud, while Joe Bugner threw his weight behind the project by hanging around street corners and assailing random children with road safety lectures.
The fact that this government policy of encouraging the nation’s children to natter with ageing Glam rockers somewhat undercut a simultaneous campaign warning them not to talk to strange men went unremarked (while Who’s Who incidentally lists both Alvin Stardust and Les Gray out of Mud under “Strange Men”).
Given developments in later years, Gary Glitter was mercifully not involved in this campaign.
You May As Well Set A Man Trap
Obviously one of the more perilous phenomena of the mid-70s was the deadly combination of a polished wooden floor and a ‘rug’ which led to absolutely no-one slipping up or being injured.
It was an intolerable situation and was immediately addressed by one of the Central Office of Information’s most brutally hard-hitting campaigns in which a rug on a floor is replaced with an image of a mantrap plus flower-laden fool tottering towards it.
Ends with comic falling over sound effect and deft pathos: “And to think he’d only just come from the hospital”.
Government stats reveal a decrease in domestic rug incidents from one near-miss to nil in the period 1976 – 1999.
“You Wanna Wedge ’em Open, Ada”
A devastating miniature morality play in which bumbling tea lady Ada is a victim of dismal advice when she is encouraged to wedge fire doors open.
Inevitably conflagration ensues leaving Ada comically “sooty”.
Go and check the fire doors in your building – I’ll bet they’re all wedged open!
It’s The Perfect Place – For An Accident (“Lonely Water”)
Endless shots of kiddiewinks falling into rivers, lakes and reservoirs are accompanied by Death himself appearing in the rear of the frame as he describes in voiceover how he is “ready to trap the unwary, the show-off, the fool”.
Happily some ‘sensible children’ (he has “no power against them” apparently) rescue one of their number and in a premonition of movie catch-phrasery Death announces (with state of the art reverb) “I’ll be back”.
Even more terrifying was Rolf Harris’ “Kids and Water” campaign which featured the semi-naked antipodean frolicking in some public baths. There ought to be a law.
“All Cats Will Be Restrained”
While libraries sported small posters warning of the dangers of the ‘Colorado Beetle’, rabies remained public enemy number one.
Here terrified members of the public run away from cats and look fearfully at pooches while the voiceover reminds us that dogs will be muzzled and transport of fauna banned.
The public crucifixion of squirrels and the mass humiliation of otters was thankfully not referenced.
Claude Goes To The Seaside
“A cautionary tale for caravanners” with a cartoon caravan called Claude (voiced by Arthur Lowe) getting into all sorts of trouble because his owners hadn’t loaded him properly.
When The Warning Sounds
Possibly the most genuinely unnerving Public Information Film ever shot, the 1975 ‘Protect and Survive’ campaign gave advice on what to do should the three-minute warning sound.
Dinky ‘non-threatening’ animated mushroom cloud is followed by the useful observation that “a warning might come unexpectedly”.
Hiding under a door is advised if you are indoors while ducking under a bridge is apparently the best way to avoid the blistering heat of a million suns if you happen to be outside when you hear the warning.
More disturbingly, instructions were given as to what to do with rotting bodies in the house and how to dig your own trench graves.
• Don’t be rude on the road
• Pick your lane early and stick to it
• Take death off the roads
• Pelican Crossings
• Klunk Klick every trip
• Tidy up at night
• Frozen pipes
• Fog on the Motorway
• Old fridge’s can kill
• The correct way to lift
• On the factory floor don’t fool around
• Don’t fiddle with machinery
• Have a Crocodile smile
• Dip, Don’t Dazzle
• Take care with gas heaters
• Never say yes to a cigarette
• Use the crossing not the zigzag
• Frozen ponds can be dangerous
• Never use an airbed at sea
• The sea can take you by surprise
• Prevent smog – Use smokeless fuels
• Keep a window open
• Polystyrene tiles & gloss paint
• If it opens – lock it
• Cross-ply and radial tyres
• Wear something light
• Wear a helmet
• Take care with fireworks
• Fancy a jar? Forget the car
• Diamonds are for danger!
• Don’t lose mummy at the shops
• Not more than five pounds in notes! Five! Five pounds!
• Worn tyres can kill
• Put the chain on
• Strap baby In
• Don’t be a space invader
• Joe & Petunia : Follow the country code
• Think Once, Think Twice, Think Bike
• Always Tell Mummy where you are going
• Never ever talk to strangers
• Rules for Ice Safety
• These are not telephone wires
• Don’t step out when you’re close to the edge
• Watch out, there’s a thief about!
• Ask for a coastguard