COI Collection 6: Worth the Risk? (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros recklessly give it some Welephant as they review this gem...
Where would British society be without Public Information Films? More kids would have ventured into electricity sub-stations to retrieve their Frisbees; fewer kids would have severely devalued their bikes in order to get themselves seen; more people would have flown through the windscreens of their cars because recently deceased Afghan-hound/shell-suit hybrid Jimmy Saville wouldn't have been around to stress the importance of going clunk-click on every trip.
The good folks at the British Film Institute have put together a sixth volume in their collection of short films that scared the living shit out of children (and not to mention some adults) over the decades. The theme of this compendium of brown-trouser-inducing lectures is risk - risk can come in many forms and a large number of these can be found here in a collection that makes the consequences of seven deadly sins look like minor social faux-pas.
Mr Jones Takes the Air (1946): Produced for The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, this entertaining nine minute Public Information Film highlights the dangers that Townie Mr Jones can face (or even cause) whilst out in the country. Feckless Mr Jones isn't the only one at fault, as Percy the motorcyclist leaving his bike in the road angers Mr Jones; whilst trying to shake off Percy (as it were...), a couple of old duffers try and cross the road behind a stationary bus - it could have been a shameless waste, as they'd only have been worth ten points a piece. Mary, an adolescent young woman is riding her father's bike and the somewhat patronising voiceover seems to question the mental faculties of the youthful bint, as if to imply that her mind is too full of fluff and nonsense to be able to ride something meant for a man. Mr Jones is later seen exiting the pub, clearly more than just half-cut and he runs into Percy once again and a the chase resumes. One of the most startling scenes in this PIF has a young child sitting playing in front of a milk-float, with dear old Milky blissfully unaware that the kiddie is there and might soon be in more need of pints of blood than pints of milk. Thankfully, Milky spots the kids and all is well, but it shows the change in society when he picks the child up and carries him into the garden - if a milkman had been seen doing that today, all hell would break loose. Things are resolved amicably between Mr Jones and Percy (the chase scenes are quite well shot and edited for the time), but Mr Jones still acts in a twattish manner, taking gloves off and lighting a fag and, in a nice little tie-in to other events in this PIF, Mr Jones ultimately comes a cropper in a fairly satisfying manner. Whilst not mentioned in this film, the most important thing to remember whilst driving in rural areas is of course to have a working horn, so you can use it incessantly whilst stuck behind a tractor...
Child Cycling Proficiency/Cyclists Turning Right (1950s): These short animated television "fillers" (as they are described on the opening caption) are fairly basic in their messages and their animated style, but they're not unentertaining, with the first one stressing the importance of choosing the right size bike for a child and then sending him or her to a local Cycling Proficiency Scheme, rather than teaching the kid yourself (hey, if Rolf Harris preached that it was fun to teach your own children to swim, then why is thing saying that you shouldn't instil the fundamentals of cycling to your kids?). The second filler is somewhat more stark in tone than the first, presenting a series of animated images that seem vaguely influence by the German expressionism movement; after intentionally scaring the audience with grim statistics, it then actually informs you how to successfully turn right whilst riding a bike - seeing as we are both keen cyclists, this isn't news to us, but it's a fair bet that quite a number of adult cyclists out there would view this and be surprised at the correct procedure show here.
Car Booty – Gnomes (mid 1970s): The unlikely pairing of masterful raconteur Kenneth Williams and alleged wife-battering incestuous paedophile Arthur Mullard as garden gnomes in the boot of a car are the focus of this sixty-second gem. Our mismatched duo are locked in the boot and are safe from the sticky-fingered thief who makes off with various goodies left stupidly on the backseat (not to mention having one of the windows open, too). This is fun stuff, with Mullard and Williams lending their distinctive tones to the gnomes in an effort to get people to lock valuables in the boot of their car - if the thief just decides to nick the car, that's another matter.
Look Back (early 1960s): This 30-second short fulfils the same sort of function for motorcyclists that the Cyclists Turning Right one does for those on bicycles, as it emphasises the importance of looking behind you when you want to turn right or overtake. The bizarre poetic spoken/sung voiceover is fairly annoying but at least it serves to get the message across - even if you do get the urge to reach for the mute button.
Worth the Risk? (1948): Road accidents are the order of the day once more as this opens with the grim fact that one in six people will be the victim of a road accident. This tries to drum the complacency of "it couldn't happen to me" into the audience and shows the emergency services responding to accidents whilst trying to emphasise that both motorists and pedestrians can be the cause of road accidents. There are one or two rather niftily-executed stunts, including a fairly hair-raising one where a tipsy driver forgets to put his car into reverse and nearly runs over some poor sod walking on the pavement. There is a sobering moment when an attractive young woman is shown and the voiceover informs one motorist that he is "going to kill her in exactly 20 minutes time", and sure enough, the motorist slams straight into her, even showing the car bumping up and down as she goes under the wheels; even though the fault was on both sides, the motorist is the poor sod who has to live with the guilt.
Motorcycle Fashion Scene (1965): This minute-long black and white gem takes a swinging look at the attire that fashion conscious (and sensible) two-wheeled motor vehicle rider was wearing in the mid-sixties. Set to jaunty, electric organ-based music, the enthusiastic-yet-square voiceover (the type that is like hearing your dad trying to be "with-it" and using youthful vernacular) stresses the importance of riding whilst properly attired in the headgear department. Most of the safety titfers seen here are of the fairly conventional sorts for the era, but there is one particularly ludicrous example of swinging alternative styles for the safety-conscious fashion victim that is in the form of an oversized deerstalker that has to be seen to be believed. What's notable is that whilst the Rockers in this PIF are sensibly wearing leather biker jackets, the Mods them are clad in beige corduroy and woollen jackets that would provide as much protection from the dangers of coming off a bike as a rice-paper condom would be from preventing STIs. The Rockers would probably just have been happy to see their mortal enemies wearing such fashion-conscious items in order to see them have a smash-up and become fashion- unconscious...
Your Turn (mid 1970s): This is another one that clocks in under a minute and hammers home that there are little bastards out there who undertake various antisocial activities without their parents knowing. The set-up has one such little bastard at home, fearing a knock on the door and sure enough, when one of his parents answers the door (these days, it wouldn't need answering - it would probably be booted in) it's the Rozzers, who would like a word about their offspring. It's a simple and effective piece that conveys the message in a manner that both parents and children could appreciate.
Welephant (1986): Ah, Welephant, that noble safety mascot for the Fire Service, the costume of whom seemed to be remarkably flammable. We have a couple of relatives who have been in the Fire Service and one of us recently rode past our local fire station, which was having an open day with Welephant himself entertaining the kiddies, and suddenly Welephant waved at one of us who was cycling past the place - it's a pretty safe bet that a cousin of ours had drawn the short straw and had to wear a hot costume on an unseasonably hot day; either that or Welephant thought that a 38 year-old man needed lessons on fire safety. Anyway, the flame-red Fire Service mascot drums his motto about being careful with Lucifers into youngsters in a monotonous fashion - the words weren't going to win prizes, but it was sure to seep into the brains of impressionable kids "matches, matches, never touch - they can hurt you very much"; it's a safe bet that something along the lines of "matches matches, never touch - they can burn you to an agonisingly painful death" was rejected because it was too blunt for the intended audience - well, that and also because it didn't scan...
Pop Goes the Weasel (1948): This early PIF is a timely ten minute look at how being taxed heavily is not such a bad thing in order to help bail out a bankrupt UK; this is truly something that could have been torn from today's headlines. A pissed-off worker gets a stern lecture from a park-keeper with the sort of heavy Scots accent that almost sounds as though he's taking the wee-wee; essentially, the money from every pound (this was back when a pound was considered to be a lot of money) went into three areas - war, peace and the national debt. It goes on to break down the cost of war (not to mention breaking down the audience at the time), including how much each shell costs and how much the war was costing a minute. The peace costs also included maintaining the British Empire abroad - well, they wouldn't have to worry quite so much about that for much longer. The British public would have probably accepted it with a greater degree of grace than today's British public - could you imagine what the reaction would be if we were asked to be taxed up the alimentary canal in order to claw back the costs of the British incursions, sorry excursions into Iraq and Afghanistan? Thought not. Having the money-conscious park-keeper as a Scotsman was possibly adhering to an old national stereotype, but so was having the Englishman as blustering and resentful. Though this PIF was released in 1948, it was filmed the previous year and at the end, a caption appears saying that since the film was made, the amount spent on war had been greatly reduced and more was being spent on peace - the would probably have something to do with Britain withdrawing from India Burma and Palestine...
Family Income Supplement – Clothes (early 1970s): This 30-second look at how mothers can claim their weekly booze and fags allowance is straightforward; apparel from The Decade That Taste Forget are paraded in front of a white background in an effort to stimulate your uvula into immediate and drastic action. After you have finished chewing your dinner for a second time, a voiceover helpfully tells you if you entitled to the money and where you can go to get a form (from the Post Office - where else?). Simple and effective - what more could you ask for from a Public Information Film?
Motorcycle Love Affair (1975): Former Coronation Street star and long-lost Bee Gee Chris Quentin is the star of this minute-long love-letter to mechaphilia as man and bike embark upon a lasting relationship - we would be tempted to point out that a bike with twin exhausts would give this relationship a bit of variety, but that's too crude even for us. Gibb-let is shown weaving in and out of traffic cones in an impressive display to try and show viewers that even wannabe macho bikers really need to be able to handle a bike with a certain degree of skill before going out and impersonating Peter Fonda. At one point, Quentin is shown roaring down a country road - whilst something that sounds suspiciously like Jumping Jack Flash plays on the soundtrack - and our toothy hero has to swerve out the way of the obligatory tractor that crosses his path like some giant red cat. This is a cool look at mid-seventies motorbiking, which also benefits from some interesting fashions on display in the biker's "caff".
Grain Drain (1975): Keith Barron provides the voiceover for this short but beautifully executed look at the dangers of storing grain down on the farm. This is exactly the sort of thing that seriously scared kids into not doing bloody silly things - the possible consequences of what could happen if a kid jumps into a grain pit is surreally (and soberingly) illustrated by having a doll as a child analogue and having the thing cry ramps up the drama into overdrive. It's short and sweet and packs one hell of a punch. Remember, kids - don't mess around with grain; wait until it's distilled into whiskey and drink yourselves to death; it's far more enjoyable.
Charley’s March of Time (1948): This nine minute animated wonder delivers to an audience the benefits of Nation Insurance Acts, which brought about unemployment benefits, sickness benefits, pensions, etc. Though this was a landmark act in social welfare, it was a pretty safe bet that there were a fair number of people who begrudged paying the new National Insurance contributions every week, so this animated short tries to make the thing as friendly and benign as a possible in order to sugar-coat what some probably saw as a bitter pill and this is addressed by having the central character, Charley, complaining about paying his contribution; Charley is immediately whisked back through the ages and is shown just how important it is to have a sense of security by having poor bastard Charley suffering various forms of want throughout the centuries and showing how the lot of the average British person has improved with the introduction of various social reforms. We don't need to point out that by the end of Charley's impromptu voyage through the ages, his opinion of having to pay out four and eleven pence each week. This rather unsubtle piece of governmental propaganda is a variation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but it is not without it's charms - the animation is quite lovely to look at and represents the higher end of animation of the period.
Employment Service Agency – Moving (early 1970s): This rather odious piece of governmental propaganda seems to mask the underlying message that the government is all to eager to help with moving struggling families out of their inner-city homes and into the sticks; the optimistically cheery picture painted here is probably in stark contrast to the reality of the situation, which is more than likely going to come into use again now that the present government is keen to price lower income families out of London and move them into other areas, such as Kent. Irrespective of such things, this PIF tries to paint as positive picture of an unpleasant situation, which was one of the main purposes of such a thing.
Another World (1980): After the incomprehensible road safety campaign S.P.L.I.N.K. probably confused kids into walking straight out into oncoming traffic, former Fourth Doctor Tommy Baker probably thought that he could not only jump on the Former-Doctor bandwagon, but also be part of something that made far more sense; the result was a public information film that has Baker providing the voiceover for a short look at how driving at night can seem to be a completely different environment comparing to driving during daylight hours. The facts are starkly presented in a very dramatic and effective fashion, with Baker's distinctive tones drilling the message into the brains of the audience and things predictably come to a sticky end for one poor pedestrian as this three-minute wonder draws to a close; as Baker himself might put it - you'll think twice about just darting out into the road at night again, hmm?
Disco (1989): A half a minute flashback for all you people who frequented discothèques in the late eighties and early nineties, as a slick young lothario appears to be eyeing up pieces of big-haired skirt in, but in reality, he's more interested in the contents of their purses than the contents of their undies and this nice little twist at the end probably served to hammer home the message of not leaving valuables unattended in such places in a very effective manner. What is worth noting is that the slogan at the end is "Crime - let's bring it down", rather than the more familiar "Crime - together, we'll crack it"; perhaps there wasn't such a sense of optimism at the time and the emphasis was on reduction, rather than forcing it into obsolescence.
Another Case of Poisoning (1949): This really IS one that will have the more OCD-riddled viewers scuttling off into the toilet to wash their hands over and over again. Poor food hygiene comes under the spotlight here in this 13 minute germ extravaganza and such frankness must have come as both alarming and illuminating to the great unwashed (ahem) in the late forties, as it's a fairly safe bet that some of the causes of food poisoning depicted must have been unknown in the era that believed in a little bit of dirt was good for you. A doctor with ridiculously clipped consonants examines a patient who is suffering from poisoning and the Doc begins to probe the main cause of his patient's ailment. The patient works in a food factory and he blatantly lies to the Doc about washing his hands after taking a dump; the Doctor helpfully runs through some of the main causes of food poisoning in factories - poor post-toilet hygiene, dirt trapped under long fingernails, filthy hankies making contact with food, etc. What is most telling about this section is that several characters are seen smoking in this food processing factory. Moving on from the workplace, his domestic food and personal hygiene is called into question - cue all manner of filthy practices courtesy of his wife; next stop is the local butcher, which shows flies crawling over pork pies in the window and the butcher himself nursing a cut finger (thankfully, this was in the days before the HIV virus) before slicing some corned-beef in a manner that would have had him shut down by the local environmental health inspector these days. The local eatery comes under scrutiny next and fares little better than the other places, with dirty cutlery, nose-picking chefs and mice scurrying around in the kitchen before finally stopping by the boozer and exposing some of the vile goings-on and the soon-to-be patient is not feeling well already (which isn't too surprising by this point), and orders a shit of rum, to which someone remarks "Don't know what your missus is going to say - coming home feeling queer and smelling of rum"; make your own smutty remarks, please. As this PIF draws to an end, it literally turns into a "white coater", as the Doctor addresses the audience directly and runs through the main points; A Case of Poisoning is an entertaining romp, but in these more enlightened times, some of the examples of poor hygiene in the workplace will have the collective jaw of numerous viewers hanging opening in disbelief, and maybe some of them will feel the urge to rush out of the room and get call Ralph on the great porcelain telephone.
Skateboard Safety (1978): This was a fairly desperate attempt to get down with the kids by appealing to the burgeoning skateboarding craze that really took off in the late seventies. All manner of cool and interesting lenses are used to make skateboarding far more interesting than it was (and still isn't), along with a non-catchy song that has less of a hook than Abu Hamza after walking through airport security. The main thrust of this PIF is to get kids to pad themselves up with the right protective gear, including kneepads, helmets, etc - none of which most skateboarders wouldn't been seen dead in (we'd be happy to see most skateboarders dead, irrespective of what clobber they've got on). What's fascinating about this PIF is that it actually shows you kids using skateboards as they were originally conceived and not the manner for which they are used now, which includes going about four feet and jumping up in the air for no reason other than to prove just how much of a tosser you are...
Green Cross Code – He’s Great (1973): Well, there had to be at least one of these in this collection, now didn't there? This is the first of four such PIFs in this set. Dave Prowse is the Green Cross Man, a sort of superhero who has a costume that looks like it was designed by a Celtic supporter, or someone who was very fond of Pacers. Though Prowse was dubbed with a ridiculously macho voice in the earlier Green Cross Code films, his real Bristolian burr was used in the later ones, and seemed to suit the character more than the silly one he was stuck with previously; this was in stark contrast to his experiences on Star Wars, where James Earl Jones' resonant tones were more suitable than Prowse's own voice "now bring me the passengers, Oi want them aloive!" Sadly, in this one Mr P is saddled with the sort of mid-Atlantic accent that doesn't feel right either side of the world's second-largest oceanic division. Regardless of whatever accent The Green Cross Man is sporting, in this public information film, from his Mount Olympus-like retreat, TGCM admonishes a young person, rather than berating him and is so pleased by the child's ability to cross the road without being killed that he engages his Green Cross Materialiser and pops down to see him. All this results in is just shaking the kid's hand and congratulating him; it's simple, but helps to instil a positive message to children, rather than a negative one. The "...because I won't be there when you cross the road" line was also clever because it tries to tell kids that some strange-outfitted superhero isn't going to rescue you, so you'll have to start learning to take care of yourselves.
Clem and Lydia (2000): This charming 40 second animated ad from the turn of the millennium is certainly the nadir of this collection, showing just how far things had sunk when trying to convey a message to a particular group. The set-up has chav Clem trying to get his end away with the equally chavvy Lydia, but she won't let him unless he wears a condom and proceeds to lecture him on the dangers of Chlamydia and how it can render the sufferer sterile and all manner of comedic capers ensue. Trying to specifically appeal to what was effectively a "yoof" underclass, this belated PIF makes you yearn for the good old days when things were implied or frankly spelt out in a serious manner, rather than this woeful attempt to get down with the kids, as the message doesn't seem to get across particularly well, as the comedy "yoofs" depicted here are exactly the sort of people that many would actively want to see rendered sterile.
Answer to Emergency (1962): The longest public information film on disc one clocks in at a fairly substantial 20 minutes and opens with a point-of-view shot that slowly builds to someone being hit by a car. The rest of story is told looking at the various people who are at the scene of the accident, several of whom are part of the National Hospital Service Reserve (a sort of medical equivalent of the Territorial Army) and the audience hears how each of them came to be members of the NHSR. Most of the stories are inspirational, but the one about the middle-aged housewife taking care of her elderly, incapacitated mother is fairly depressing, but a fact of life. Much of the later part consists of footage (set to cocktail-type music principally played on a metallic xylophone) from the training that members have to go through, along with what the members actually do and this does a good job of making the NHSR seem like the noble service it undoubtedly was. Answer to Emergency is an effective, well-produced advert for the National Hospital Service Reserve and probably bolstered their numbers quite a bit, as it emphasised that anyone could make a difference if they wanted to and that's always a good message to get across.
Pride in Driving (early 1960s): Another black and white lecture in safe driving begins with contrasting a physically-fit, Charles Atlas-type bodybuilder with a fairly overweight man eating a large meal and then goes on to show someone downing a pint in one - though these are all fairly tenuously connected, we are all assured that they are perfectly harmless (well, one out of three ain't bad), but we are then shown some things that you shouldn't take pride in, which driving fast and performing dodgy manoeuvres on the road. The main shock tactic in this case comes by contrasting the fast, reckless manoeuvring of a sporty car through traffic with the driver of the car travelling horizontally in the back of a slow-moving hearse. This two-minute plea for people to be careful behind the wheel gets the message across, but it's not hard-hitting enough, nor as humorous enough to get an audience on-side like other PIFs in this compendium.
Hand (early 1970s): Most people in the late thirties and early forties remember this oft-screened short and sharp lecture in not picking up a sparkler after it has gone out. A conversation in the street has a mother publicly berating her child for suffering severe burns to the hand after picking up a still-hot sparkler (quite why she would want to do this is a matter for a mental health professional who works with children); it's not enough that the poor sod has to put up with the physical consequences of doing this, but it's another thing for the child to suffer mentally from the humiliation of being berated in the sodding street. The end of this 30-second slice of seventies nostalgia sees the girl raising her bandaged hand to the camera in a manner that seems to invoke the stereotypical Red Indian greeting: "how?" Easy - pick up a sparkler whilst it's still hot...
Zig Zag – Remember the Rules (early 1970s): A Donald Sutherland look-alike (complete with seventies droopy moustache) asks "what are those flamin' zig-zags for?" and his insufferably smug, smart-arsed wife and son cheerfully inform him. This is one of those PIFs where the main character is almost belligerently ignorant of the basics of road safety, and as happens in so many of them, he ultimately pays the price of his ignorance. Here, unlike Don't Look Now, ol' Donald doesn't see a female character wearing a bright red piece of clothing and ends up mowing her down as the poor cow is using a zebra crossing, proving that although suicide can be painless, homicide with a motor vehicle really hurts.
Green Cross Code – Julie Saves a Life (early 1970s): In a change to other Green Cross Code ads, this one is animated yet still follows the same pattern - kids try and cross the street, they either cock it up, or they're observing the Code and The Green Cross Man uses his Materialiser to appear in front of them afterwards. This time, things don't go smoothly for two children, and Julie, the more sensible one prevents the thicker one from being the next pick-up for the meat-truck. TGCM still has the Mid-Atlantic accent, although it's more mellow and sounds a little more like Dave Prowse this time around. The main things to remember for the Green Cross Code were Stop! Look! and Listen!, but here there is a fourth piece of advice to help kids in their efforts to cross safely - Think! It makes you wonder why that last command was never a constant during the years that these ads ran...
The Hole in the Ground (1962): Opening with Also Sprach Zarathustra (or 2001, to some people) this COI epic is as appropriately serious as a bomb dropped on Nagasaki, informing the public about the work of the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation. Essentially, when there is a nuclear war breaking out, they were always there to let the public spend their last few minutes on Earth in utter terror by telling them so.
The meticulous processes of verifying information about nuclear attack, estimating the areas of fallout, informing the public and working out what’s going to be left afterwards are laid out here, and is a grim yet fascinating look at how life was so damned fragile during the Cold War. It’s still hard to take in that there is an entire generation which is oblivious to the times where two mighty warrior tribes were always close to touching off a blaze which could engulf the world. Here is the reality of the situation for the historically ignorant, and all courtesy of the BFI.
Unlike most other entries on Worth the Risk?, there is nothing fun, cool or remotely camp bout this particular public information film, and will certainly sober up anyone whom is watching it after a few beers. This is like trying to get a few drunken laughs out of the movie Threads, the realism and seriousness of the piece cutting far too close to the bone to have “fun” with. The organisation spends its time contemplating the destruction of mankind with the grim studiousness of a turkey spending November speculating and monitoring which axe is being sharpened for Thanksgiving.
Death is upon us all, but we suspect many might not be too sad to see that Colchester is pretty much in the middle of the fallout zone. OK, there might be one unintentional giggle to be had as the fate of mankind is being monitored, found when one scientist asks another: “Everything OK?”, to which the reply is: “Yes, I think so.” Apart from the end of civilisation as we know it, just lovely, thanks. We didn’t know that flares were used as the code for nuclear fallout back in the day, and it did teach us that there would have been precious-little which could have been done if the Ruskies had planned a surprise attack on the fifth of November.
It all closes with a voice-over explaining that the UKWMO is there to help both public and military interests, and protect the western alliance, whilst supporting the “deterrent” to make would-be attackers aiming their missiles at us, thank-you-very-much. It’s at least a comfort to know that the guy heading up the organisation is the scientist whom discovered the alignment of three stars in The Final Conflict - if he can predict the second coming of Jesus Christ then we’re sure that plotting the course of fallout clouds should be no problem. Uncomfortable but engrossing.
Join the UDR (early 1970s): This is really uneasy viewing, showcasing the work carried out by the UDR when a disgruntled motorist is pulled over by one the boys in green, mouthing off at the soldier for picking on him. Cross-cut with footage of a gang caught smuggling weapons, it ties to drive home that the guys aren’t there to harass the innocent, and how they are necessary to stability in Northern Ireland. We’ll say nothing else, and let you make up your own mind about this piece of propaganda.
Peach and Hammer – Carol Hill (1973): This is the very definition of the phrase: “simple but effective”. Some poor schmuck walks out into the road without using common sense to see what’s coming - the result? Ploughed into by a rather cool Cortina, the action mirrored by the wonderfully lusty image of a peach being whacked by a hammer! Our piece of human road-kill isn’t quite out of lives in the eternal videogame, and gets another shot at it, this time paying due care and attention. Whilst the results aren’t as satisfying, his family won’t be cashing in his life insurance and dancing on his grave just yet. The sound used for the sound of metal meeting fleshy pulp is almost pornographic, and watching this film you will either make you cross the road more carefully, or give you the unshakable desire to smash up fruit.
UDR – Car Bomb (early 1970s): Here we are again, with another look at the work done by Britain’s first line of defence against the IRA and other terrorist organisations. Employing the Hitchcock method of showing the impending danger whilst leaving those it affects oblivious until the last minute, a mother and her child eat ice-creams whilst approaching a car rigged up with a bomb. Everything freezes as it is about to blow, the mother screaming on horror at their impending deaths. With the divide the way it was/is, this really became a one-way piece of propaganda, despite its powerfully simple effectiveness.
Look… Signal… Manoeuvre (1965): The benefits of being both cautious and studious are laid out though the joys of riding a motorbike, with the handling of two wheels a metaphor for how one cruises through life. Tom is a careful bikie, always observing the highway code and generally riding safely on his machine, but in stark contrast, his friend is a total moron, the kind of careless dickhead whom probably regards the lyrics of Bat out of Hell as an ambition rather than just a song.
Not bothering/willing to get up for work, Tom’s friend has to literally cut corners and step on the gas to clock in on time, whilst Tom just sets off with enough time to ride safely and avoid accidents. Tom passes his motoring test and picks up a bit of skirt, whilst his friend ends having a one-on-one with a delivery truck, proving that all chicks love a careful, law abiding hunk.
OK, we all know that the above statement is bullshit, and that young women adore a reckless bastard with a lawless streak on a motorbike, but this is still an effective little film which makes the almost preachy information palatable with a light touch and appealing to the boys watching using what they think of most - birds. Better education has seen that the biggest danger to bikers on the road are car-drivers, but films like this might still be seen as revelatory to some kids watching today - especially dumb teenagers on those ridiculous, noisy mini-bikes.
It ends with the suggestion that “…if you use your bike properly, it can give you a lot of pleasure”, but we all know that the handlebars can really dig into uncomfortable places…
Wear Bright Gear (1971): This is a peppy little piece where the virtues of sporting bright clothing whilst riding motorbikes are extolled to an audience all too entrenched in the wearing of black leathers. A rather nice piece of totty tells how she dresses her man in a yellow biker-jacket, with a nice white T-shirt and reflective materials. The educational tone is leavened when she big reveal is shown to be her riding off on a big (possibly a Triumph) bike, whilst he follows on behind sitting on a really girly, pathetic excuse for a machine. As fun as it is, there are many macho bikies who would read it as “if you wear effeminate clothing, you will become a total pussy”. It’s almost a Rorschach test for machismo.
Older Pedestrians – Time (1971): Look out! Old people aren’t content to stay their houses whilst graciously rotting away quietly, and they are out on the streets! From a swanky office-block and eagle-eyed executive (JR Hartley himself) is weighing up which employee to promote, and spot both driving to work. One almost hits an elderly couple crossing the road, whilst the other allows the old duffers time to get across - guess which ones actions swings the employers’ vote? If it had been the eighties, the one to end up with the key to the executive bathroom would be the driver to run them down and reverse over them a few times for good measure.
Green Cross Code – Blockhead Boy (1973): Ol’ Dave Prowse is back to stop kids from becoming one with both the cosmos and the engine-grill of a car, but he resorts to calling the little sprite a “blockhead” for not exercising due care and attention. With a guy this big, it’s technically bullying, but the kid could have so easily countered with: “Well, at least I have my own voice, Dave”. Short, sweet and guaranteed to have you remembering from all those years ago.
Granny Gets the Point (1971): Despite the title suggesting gerontophillic pornography, this is about the great changeover to “new money”, which was a period of confusion and resentment for Britain. Many UK residents saw it as encroachment on their way of life, a jackboot in to the door by that “filthy foreign lot” in the Common Market. Tensions were running high, and to combat the fears felt by the plebeians, the COI assembled a genuinely good cast in this invaluable time-capsule.
Along came D(ecimal)-Day, with widely-held fears that prices were being surreptitiously increased through the switchover rife. The vast majority of the country was against the change, and there is always something hollow about finding representations of the great unwashed so positive about anything so sweeping being brought in without their consent. Doris Hare, whom made a decent career of playing irritating, whinging, screeching, emotional old cows is the lynchpin for this tale of a family worried about how they are going to adjust to the new Decimal system, with Granny electing to go on a sit-down strike about the whole process - and all this from a woman whom has “never held with” this sort of affirmative action.
We get the welcome addition of the classic “Randy Milkman”, a cheeky chappie whom clearly doesn’t know the meaning of personal space, but really has embraced the decimal system enough to be a convenient tool with which to give out the important advice to the confused: “Offer more and get change…”. This information was helpful to those resistant to the change as telling women: “If you are going to get raped, make sure you get plenty of semen when he’s finished”.
To anyone of our age-group or younger (we were born about two years after the change-over) the whole “old money” system is a pile of illogical, incomprehensible crap, favoured by those too inflexible to adapt or too patriotic to let it go. Anyone who utters the slogan “pounds, shillings and sense” when trying to get the old currencies back instantly raises our collective hackles, and those left nostalgic about pre-Common Market monies are exactly the ones this COI short is aimed at. However, those of us around our age will feel a twinge when the see the 1/2p mentioned, a denomination phased out in our lifetime. Funnily enough, this was just before penny-sweets suddenly didn’t offer as much value for money.
In the end, Granny is educated by her grandson, and by the time his brainwashing is complete, she welcomes the new ways with all the zeal a disciple of the Moonies. It’s a trip to the toyshop in celebration, and ice-creams all-round now that Granny has gotten the point. Sure it’s propaganda, but it’s more polished than usual, with recognisable faces (including the great Glyn Houston) to make it pass enjoyably. If the UK changed over to the Euro, this is the kind of thing which would be put out to ease the transition - did a pig just fly past the window…?
Don’t Just be a Clunker (mid 1970s): Narrated by Glyn “allo, Arthur” Edwards, this an extension of the massively successful “clunk-click” campaign aimed at those whom only close their car doors and neglect to put on their seatbelts. You never know when some little sod is going to ride out into the road on their Chopper bike, causing you to swerve into a tree. Such unfortunate events treat us to some vigorous shots of a poor schmuck flying though a windscreen when car meets bark, and the message is delivered with gusto. A real mini-treat.
Take an Adult (early 1970s): Rivers are dangerous, and our plucky youngster is all set for a fishing trip with his friends, but his mother is concerned that he’ll come a cropper. Good job that an adult is going with them, and that Dave’s Dad will stop them from coming to any harm. This was back in the day when people only had to worry about their kids drowning on a fishing trip, rather than Dave’s Dad fiddling with their tackle. The humorous punch-line is rather amusing and perfectly timed to take the edge off, and has fashion certain to raise a smile or two.
Dave (1990): Part of the Drinking and Drive Wrecks Lives campaign, this is still pretty fresh in the memory from being broadcast. The sounds of revelry are sharply contrasted against the reality of a young guy being fed pureed food as he sits motionless in a wheelchair, hammering home that “just one more” can be utterly devastating. The drink/drive lobby really needs more adverts like this one win support, as this has far more impact than the more trendy approach favoured in recent years.
The Motorway File (1975): The perils motoring errors are given the Hollywood treatment in this look at how anybody can be prone to potentially fatal mistakes on the road. Presented and narrated by the impeccably-voiced Edgar Lustgarten, we follow the fate of four drivers, and particular hazards which are lining up to kill them as surely as an assassin training a rifle on their target.
Some silly bint finds that travelling along the motorway is a very different experience when sat in the driver’s seat, whilst another irresponsible motorist finds that hovering between the real world and the land of nod is not the ideal time to go making a long journey. Lane-discipline is the name of the game on the motorway, with our oestrogen-based driver is blissfully unaware that trucks and trailers are forbidden to use the fast-lane, and staying in the middle can cause both accidents and anger on the road. It’s part of the highway code, you silly cow! The might just have renamed this to tie-in with one of the above films and called it “Mirror, Lipstick, Manoeuvre“.
Most intriguing is that of the perils of using a hire-car, with the numerous differences in layout of even the most essential of functions and road-handling an underestimated cause of so many accidents. Our savvy airline captain encounters many of these pitfalls, and the character is well-chosen so as to highlight that these can befall even someone used to controlling something a damn-sight more complicated than a car.
We had read in advance that the DP on this one was Alex Thompson, whom took over such duties on Alien 3 at short notice, but we have a real soft-spot for one of his other projects: Death Line, and as it was shot pretty close to it, you can really see than it’s cut from the same cloth. We also get a nice look at the system of 8-track tapes being used by an arrogant bastard in a snazzy sports-car, excitingly unaware that his ignorant actions put him within a hairs’ breadth from the blade of the Grim Reaper.
But wait! There is a twist in the tail to this one! There are four poor drivers with the potential to be scraped up off the road whilst their car is taken to the wrecker‘s yard, but which one will it be? It’s almost like the best of Giallos, and we guarantee that you won’t guess correctly before it’s way too late! Pretty damned good stuff, and a must for aficionados of cannibals in the London underground.
Passing Places (1973): Probably best described as “novel”, this film features a bunch of rednecks in an open-top car belting out a fiddle-based ditty about the correct use of single lane country roads. Essentially, you have to use passing places and a dose of common sense when mingling among the yokels, allowing Farmer Worzel to get his tra-a-a-a-ctor back to his fields without a major accident. Whilst the advice is good, they presentation leaves a little to be desired, as the jaunty tune detracts from the information being relayed.
Laughing Matter (late 1970s): A young, relatively thin Robbie Coltrane is the start of this rather curious drink-awareness campaign, playing a piss-poor club comic whom has had far too much of the hard stuff to keep his comedic wits about him. His delivery suffers, he staggers about and knocks over a table of glasses: it’s a good job he’s playing somewhere in Scotland so as to allow him to get away with it. It’s not the best one of these on the subject, as the previous “Dave” will prove, but proves that alcohol can change people in ways which don’t have to result in permanent disability, although are unpleasant just the same.
Under Your Feet (early 1970s): It’s not safe to even let the kids out of the house! Well, it’s that some women are so utterly unprepared for the challenges of parenthood that they can’t even stop their kids from charging out of the house and into the path of an oncoming car. Well, no. It’s advertising a leaflet containing valuable information for keeping children safe, aimed at stressed mothers in a bid to lower the death rate among young kids. The imagery is arresting, and the message coldly stark: “Under your feet is better than under a car…” Another one to shock mollycoddled modern brats with, and all the better for its bluntness.
Say No to Strangers (1981): The very first thing you see is a caption reading “A Graphic Film”, and we didn’t know if that was the production company or a content warning. That it appears on footage from Galaxia gives the word “graphic” an impressive third meaning, and using imagery which kids can relate to is the clever crux of this hard-hitting film.
Adopting the classic “what-if” scenario made popular in the Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors, Say No to Strangers sets up a scenario featuring two different sets out of outcomes, the main one being that of how saying no a lift home from a stranger would have prevented being abducted a paedophile, and the life-scarring things which follow.
Veteran character-actor/comedy stooge Duncan Preston is the man with the blue Cortina hatchback, luring the kids into his car with a bag of sweets. This might seems like simplistic iconography, but it perfectly suits the age-bracket it was aimed at, those being under the age of ten. On a more mature level, you have to wonder about a guy whom drives around with a confederacy flag sticker in their car window, bringing to mind child-brides, the Mann-Act and such things.
Hard-working actress Chrissie Cotterill, star of early eighties' Channel 4 comedy Prospects and recently appeared in Doctor Who, plays the distraught mother of the abducted girl, and she puts the same solid work into a COI film which has made her such a dependable thespian over the years. Not many women of her generation have had such an extensive CV as hers, and her excellent performance is testament to her staying power.
There really is an attempt to “get down with the kids” in this, choosing to insert various pop-culture elements into the film, be it logical, such as footage from At The Earth’s Core being watched on TV, decorative, as when clips from current video games is almost randomly slotted into the narrative, or via con/instructive means, with a Timothy Spall’s kiddie-fiddler brandishing a Rubik’s Cube as surely as the Pied Piper clutching a wind-instrument. Hell, there is even a brief clip of Red Riding Hood at the start…
The only real misstep is where the abducted girl manages to get away with no real horrors inflicted upon her, which might have led kids to believe that everything in life will turn out OK in the end. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but as the name of the game is to instil fear, they probably did enough without too gruesome a coda, offering kids some semblance of hope that once a child goes missing, there is no possibility of seeing them again.
Indeed, the crux of the COI film is crystallised through the use of a voiceover, which warns kids about the dangers of talking to strangers, with the very blunt line: “You don‘t want to end up dead or in hospital“. It‘s been said before, but the morals of the older films were much more direct, and stick in the memory. One of our Missus sat in on a number of the COI films whilst being reviewed, and the previous line prompted her to say: “They really didn’t sugar-coat the messages back then”.
Say No to Strangers still packs a punch today, thanks to its matter-of-fact tone, excellent production values, first-rate actors and direct message that you should never trust anyone you don’t know. With so many of it’s ilk coming across as camp in the light of modern day, this still hits home.
Green Cross Code – Blockhead Girl (1973): The bully in Lincoln-green is back to dish out a combination of safety advice and verbal abuse to another kid lacking the basic skills to cross a road. Atop the gleaming spires of Green Cross Control, Dave Prowse watches as a hapless child almost gets killed by a car, playing the footage back to highlight what went wrong. The wanton stupidity of this “blockhead” leaves the Green Cross Code Man speechless, so much so that he has to dubbed again. That Materialiser of his must burn up a lot of energy to keep transporting kids around, so he’d save himself a lot of time and money if he just subscribed to the theory of Darwinism. Joking aside, it’s another fun time capsule, which still offers better advice on road safety that is given out today.
Fire is a Nightmare – Tom (mid 1970s): Jesus, this one really packs a punch, and is so brilliantly simple in its design. A camera pans around the home of a Dunkirk and Normandy veteran as his achievements are extolled by a grim voiceover, ending with “…and last night, he left a cigarette burning” as We’ll Meet Again plaintively fills the air. Cut to a fire-ravaged home with the certainty that the war-hero lost his life, and all to a moment’s carelessness. To the public, it’s damn good advice on stopping the devastation of a house-fire, and to others, an object lesson in how to get a message across utilising poignancy rather than sensationalism.
New Markings for Zebra Crossings (1971): The incomparable Roy Hudd takes the general public on a tour of the new road marking system, that of the Zebra Crossing. Utilising many different characters, Hudd brings a good deal of humour to what could have been a very dry unveiling of bunch of lines on the road. Unusually, this is aimed at both pedestrians and motorists, it perfectly sets out what’s legally expected of both parties when using the new crossing.
“He looks like a pimp…” one of our Missus’ commented when Hudd pops up in big fur coat, but it speaks volumes that in spite of the effective comedy elements, she was also nodding in agreement with the laws and instructions for drivers, proving that the message was being delivered loud and clear. “I never remember there NOT being zebra-crossings”, she continued, and she‘s right! They really have become so much of a way of life, that it‘s almost odd to think that they haven‘t always been there for jay-walkers to halt the flow of traffic. It’s always nice when a COI film is interlaced with humour, and Mr Hudd really brings real sparkle to this terrific little gem.
With the exception of Welephant, Disco Dave and Clem and Lydia, all of the PIFs in this collection were newly mastered from the best available materials and they all look pretty damn good - even the three mentioned above that weren't mastered by the BFI are perfectly acceptable. The freshness of the transfers of the Green Cross Code ads are quite remarkable, as we have seen others available on different compilations and they have looked fairly grotty, but they are presented here looking pretty spiffing.
No problems to report in this department, with the sound on the public information films coming across perfectly well, with little in the way of hiss or distortion. There some pops and crackles on the oldest PIFs in this collection, but this is to be expected and certainly does not detract from your enjoyment of Worth The Risk?, if anything it adds to it.
The Furry Folk on Holiday (1967): Though this might sound like something to be found on websites that are for people who like dressing up in animal costumes and pleasuring themselves and others, but in reality, this is another one of the Tufty public information films. Running for nearly quarter of an hour, this tells of Tufty and all of his furry friends - chaperoned by PC Badger, of course - take a trip to the seaside and naturally exposes them to all manner of perils that are associated with just such an excursion.
The classic Tufty public information film, which depicts Willy Weasel being knocked down by a car, was one that was played quite heavily during our formative years and one of us happened to watch the thing recently and was almost literally on the floor in a fit of hysterics; though The Furry Folk on Holiday doesn't quite give the same degree of sadistic pleasure that Ice Cream Van does, it's still great stuff, with he highlight of this one being the decision of Willy the Weasel to thoughtfully hide some broken glass by burying it in the sand - always good if you particularly relish the prospect of having a tetanus shot; Harry the Hare makes the silly (or even harebrained) decision to go out for a swim without informing a grown-up and he very nearly comes a cropper before being rescued by Badger; the dangers of excited youngsters and an ice-cream van are highlighted once again, but this time disaster is averted and for once, Willy the Weasel doesn't get flattened. Things are wrapped-up nicely as Tufty recounts all of the important lessons that had been picked-up during their excursion and such things were sure to stick in the minds of the very young audience this PIF was aimed at. As we mentioned earlier, might not be as riotously enjoyable as the Tufty classic, Ice Cream Van, but it's certainly an entertaining piece of nostaliga (especially for those with somewhat sick and twisted minds...) and the lessons to be learnt here are pretty timeless.
Play Safe (1978): Bernard Cribbins provides the voice for a vaguely irresponsible cartoon Robin and he is joined by Brian Wilde as an Owl who warns viewers - and Cribbins' character - on the dangers of electricity. Overhead power-lines, sub-stations and pylons are the usual suspects trotted out in what is essentially a compilation of all of the classic "dangers of electricity" PIFs that played for years and scared the hell out of kids; the kids putting up a very large tent (or are they erecting the sail on a boat? It's hard to tell) and the kid trying to cast the ridiculously long fishing rod (was he hoping to catch a marlin or something?) and, of course flying a kite or model plane are all shown and the dangers are made clear, but narrowly averted by sensible kids. One of the ways that time has moved on is when it infers that the best way of getting back a kite that has gotten stuck on overhead electricity wires is to get the police involved - these days, if you house was burgled, the Rozzers would be hard-pushed to come out; if you a kiddie tried calling them to get a kite back, they'd probably be cautioned for wasting police time. The piece-de-resistance in this PIF is the inclusion of the infamous Frisbee-in-substation sequence; this truly terrified kids in a manner that few didn't because - unlike the others - it didn't have a happy ending and had poor little Jimmy being crispy-fried in a manner that would have saved a few pennies on a cremation. Speaking of which, we don't seem to remember the shot of the poor little bastard's legs being on fire - could this be the unrated director's cut? There is also one section that deals with the consequences of a bunch of yobs who take out a power-line and we subsequently see a cyclist being ploughed down in a dimly-lit street. The whole thing ends with a stern recap from Brian Wilde's Owl and concludes a very well-presented and entertaining series of vignettes (not to mention very vivid images) that stuck in the minds of kids (and adults) for decades.
Booklet: Once again, this DVD release comes with a glossy, high quality booklet that contains essays and notes from various luminaries, covering each of the short films contained within this collection. It's a fun and informative read, with some amusingly wry commentaries on the PIFs, including helpfully putting some of them into context as far as the socio-political motivations that produced them are concerned. If anyone from the BFI are reading this review, we'd love to contribute to these booklets in some way...
The British Film Institute has come up trumps again; Worth the Risk? manages to top last year's Stop! Look! Listen! in terms of sheer entertainment, presenting many familiar and some not-so-familiar Public Information Films for your edification. One of our Missus' is a childminder, and we have had great fun playing some of the more controversial ones for some of the kids, with the Play Safe ones hitting the little mites with the force of a neutron bomb.
As well as the sheer educational value for life-lessons, it serves an invaluable secondary use as the absolutely perfect way to spend a beer-fuelled night in front of the TV with friends, but just remember to make your that cigarette is extinguished before passing out on the sofa!
We adore this stuff, to the point where one of us has a hamster named "Splink", and we have to say that this is a perfect package, containing superb extras - both filmic and printed - and a level of panache you rightly expect from the BFI. Put it at the top of your shopping list. Highly recommended.
Review by Wilson Bros
Exempt from classification
Release Date: 7th November 2011
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 48khz
Extras: The Furry Folk on Holiday, Play Safe, Booklet
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Dave Prowse, Bernard Cribbins, Brian Wilde
Length: 225 minutes
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