From Dave ‘Darth Vader’ Prowse playing The Green Cross Code Man to Charlie the Cat’s garbled warnings about stranger danger, public information broadcasts have long used clever mnemonic tricks to drive their messages home.
Shock tactics were regularly employed to catch children’s attention as proved by many of the 100 films which have just been made available to watch on the BFI Player, many for the first time since their original broadcasts.
Cyclist Turning Right (1983) is like a two minute Hitchcock, while Never Go With Strangers (1971) will have you waking up with the night sweats. The throat-tightening nightmare Searching (1974) is precision-made to make you think twice about casually burning the house down, John Krish’s film winning a Golden Lion at Venice. And if you haven’t had a heart attack yet, try Lonely Water (1973) which apparently has a voiceover by Death himself.
Another creepy one is Port Health (1967) which gives the lowdown on sanitation standards along the Thames. It includes some interesting interviews with figures from the Port Of London Health Authority as well as grisly dissections of meat and rats.
Most of the films in the new collection were made by the Central Office of Information, which grew out of the wartime Ministry of Information, so it’s not surprising that tough talking is common or that political propaganda regularly seeps in. Get Cracking (1944) somehow crowbars a Nazi having breakfast into the concept of keeping savings.
Humour is also a weapon in the fight against the mindless ignorance of the populace. Here’s an exasperated Terry Thomas explaining why your letters get sent back in Copy Book Please (1949).
The films include work by several big names in British cinema history including Richard Massingham, Alberto Cavalcanti, John Grierson and Len Lye.