The 1970s was a time when the Government released a lot of Public Information Films (PIFs) which were shown on television. A PIF is a television commercial aimed at keeping children safe. The first PIF that I can remember is “Charley Says Always Tell Your Mummy.”
It begins with a little boy named Dominic and his cat Charley playing at the back of the house. Then along come two of Dominic’s friends, Vera and Dave, who ask him if he would like to go on a picnic with them. Dominic wants to go with the other children but Charley miaows telling him to go and tell his mum where he is going. His mum is standing at the front door speaking to the milkman and by the time Dominic got to ask for his mum’s permission, Vera and Dave had gone. However, because he went to seek his mum’s permission, Dominic’s mum takes him and Charley on a picnic that day. At the end of the ad we see Charley skinning a fish and Dominic with a sandwich in his hand and he says: ‘Charley says always tell your mummy before you go off somewhere so as she knows who you are with.”
There were a total of six PIF adventures for Dominic and Charley. These ‘Charley Says’ PIFs were so popular among children that they were still being shown in the 1980s. Some of them had tiny errors in them which, typically, kids picked up on. In ‘Charley Says Always Tell Your Mummy,’ Dominic’s mum’s hair was brunette when she was talking to the milkman but blonde when she took Dominic and Charley on the picnic. Kenny Everett was given the script and timings for the voiceover of Charley.
Be Smart … Be Safe
These PIFs were aimed at young children and taught them road safety. Famous personalities of the day starring in them included: Joe Bugner (Boxer), Les Gray (Lead Singer of Mud), Kevin Keegan (Footballer) and Alvin Stardust (Pop Star). Alvin Stardust’s famous line from the PIF he starred in was: ‘You must be out of your tiny minds.’ Joe Bugner was born in Szőreg, Hungary on 13 March 1950 and fled to the United Kingdom in the late 1950s with his family following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary in 1956. In the PIF starring Joe Bugner, he shows two young boys how to safely cross the road and at the end of the PIF he says “Take it from me. Be Smart … Be Safe.”
Tufty Buys an Ice Cream
In 1973, the Transport and Road Research Laboratory reported favourably on the value of the Tufty Club which had 10,000 affiliated clubs. Tufty, a bushy- tailed squirrel, was used in a PIF teaching children to always go to the ice cream van with their mummy. The PIF shows Willie Weasel going to buy an ice cream from the van alone and he gets knocked down crossing the street with the ice cream cone in his hand. Tufty Fluffytail was created by Elsie Mills, MBE in 1953. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents featured Tufty and his friends in short stories to help get across simple safety messages for children.
In January 1971, the “Clunk Click Every Trip” PIF was screened for the first time. It was sponsored by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and featured the BBC Radio One DJ, Jimmy Savile. A number of different ‘Clunk Click’ ads were shown, with each one highlighting the possibility of a driver being thrown through the windscreen of his car if he is involved in an accident and is not wearing his seatbelt. One of the PIFs in the series showed Savile placing an egg inside a metal box and then shaking the box. When he opened the box the runny contents poured out with Savile emphasising that the human body inside a car was similar to the egg in the metal box.
Other television ads in the series included the slogan: ‘Don’t be a clunker, Clunk Click’ and a PIF about ‘Mrs. Blunders’ driving around town in a daze paying no attention whatsoever to her fellow road users. The Clunk Click PIFs forced the Government to make the wearing of a seatbelt compulsory in the front seat of a vehicle; and this came into force on 31 January 1983. However, it is worth remembering that all car manufacturers had been legally obliged to fit front seatbelts in vehicles since 1965.
Joe and Petunia
The Joe and Petunia PIFs were hilarious and were made by Nicholas Cartoons, also responsible for the 1978 television series “Willo the Wisp.” The films were animated and featured Joe, a tiny little man in pinstripes, and Petunia, his enormous wife who wore a hat and sunglasses and could often be seen licking an ice cream noisily. Voices were provided by Peter Hawkins as Joe and Wendy Craig as Petunia, later replaced by Brigit Forsyth for the last film. In each film, they caused danger with their unbelievable stupidity, advising the public on what not to do in a similar situation. Their first PIF was “Coastguard.” Joe and Petunia sit on a cliff top enjoying the sunshine. Joe has a handkerchief on his head and Petunia, a big fat woman, licks an ice-cream. A man is out at sea in his boat and begins shouting to Joe and Petunia to get him some help. He is clearly distressed as his boat is about to capsize. But Joe and Petunia mistake his cries of help for friendly waves, and so they merrily wave back. Then Joe looks through his binoculars and the man’s speech balloon can be seen which reads: “HELP! DIAL 999 AND ASK FOR THE COASTGUARD.”
Dark & Lonely Water
This PIF from 1973 was almost a mini horror movie which taught children about the dangers of playing around rivers which were dark and lonely. It featured a Grim Reaper type character whose chilling opening line was: ‘I am the spirit of dark and lonely water.’ It showed the dangers of playing near water, swimming in the wrong places and slipping down muddy banks. This PIF scared the shit out of kids and it still gives me the creeps watching it today. Did you know that the voice of the Grim Reaper character was that of Donald Pleasance, who played POW Colin Blythe in the 1963 classic movie “The Great Escape”?
The Nation’s Favourite Public Information Film
In March 2006, the BBC’s online magazine “Stop, Look, Listen” published the results of a poll it had conducted to find the nation’s favourite Public Information Film (PIF). Almost 25,000 visitors to the website voted in the poll, which was organised to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Central Office of Information, the Government Department which is responsible for PIFs. The following list shows the Top 20 from the poll with seven of the Top 10 from the 1970s:
1. Charley Says
3. Joe and Petunia
4. Dark and Lonely Water
5. Green Cross Man
6. Reginald Molehusband
7. Protect and Survive
8. Learn to Swim – Rolf Harris
9. Clunk Click
10. Teenagers learn to swim
11. Think Bike
12. Play Safe – Frisbee
13. Fireworks – Hale and Pace
14. Bullying – Tell Someone
15. Splink – Jon Pertwee
16. Close to the Edge
17. Jobs for Girls
18. TV Licence – Columbo
19. Disused fridges
20. Rabies warnings
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