Public Information Films

joe and petunia

Network’s Charley Says is a DVD that I find myself returning to on a regular basis. Partly because it’s television nostalgia in bite-sized pieces, but there’s also a fascinating wealth of British cultural history contained within these short films.

The Central Office of Information (COI) was founded in 1946 as the peace-time successor to the Ministry of Information (MOI). Post war, the battered and weary nation was drip fed the encouraging message that Britain would rebuild and restore itself to her former glory. Yes, all good propaganda – but skilfully presented.

By the 1960’s, the COI found itself creating shorter films for television. These covered a wide range of subjects, some were animated and others live-action. Ans since many of them were repeated for several decades, they became firmly lodged in the public consciousness.

For those who want to watch online, the National Archive has many of the public information films produced between 1945 and 2006 available on their website.

But for any newcomers to the wide world of PIFs, here is my own personal top five –

Number Five – When in the Country (1963)

This is longer than the normal television PIF and that fact it was made in colour suggests it was intended for cinema release.  It’s nicely animated and whilst, like many PIFs, it does tend to state the blindingly obvious, it’s rather charming nonetheless.

Number Four – Splink (1976)

The Splink campaign was never as popular as the long-running series with Dave Prowse as the Green Cross Man, for the simple reason that the Splink drill was so incredibly difficult to remember!  Still, the appearance of Jon Pertwee is something of a consolation.

Number Three – Dad’s Army – Pelican Signals (1974)

Familiar faces were very often used in PIFs in order to sell the message to the viewers and this one is no different.  The incongruous sight of  the Dad’s Army cast on a 1970’s street is strange, but since they didn’t have Pelican Crossings during the war it’s fair enough.

Number Two – Protect and Survive – Action after Warnings (1975)

This is frankly terrifying,whilst the suggestion that you can survive a nuclear attack by jumping into a ditch is a bit difficult to swallow as well! The Protect and Survive films, in addition to a handy booklet, were designed only to be used when the government decided that an attack was imminent.  Thankfully this never came to pass, so the films were never broadcast – but several, like this one, later surfaced and they’re all fascinating viewing.

Of course, if there was a nuclear attack then the only thing left to do would be to die – but whilst the tone of the PIF is bleak, there’s still a sliver of hope offered to the survivors.

For further reading, in 2007 BBC published a transcript of a radio message that had been drafted for broadcast in the event of a nuclear attack.  It can be read here.

Once the Protect and Survive booklet became public knowledge, the government were pressured into releasing it – so it was eventually published in May 1980.  It can be read here.

Number One – Cycle Safety Song – Get Yourself Seen (1978)

And after thoughts of death and destruction, let’s end on a lighter note with a PIF that has a song so catchy I still find myself humming it to this very day!

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