Many musical artists have been heavily influenced by the analogue, overdriven sound of British Public Information Films. Bands such as Boards Of Canada and artists on the Ghost Box Record label such as The Advisory Circle. Another example would be the song Charly by The Prodigy which sampled the meows of a cat called Charley in a “Say No To Strangers” campaign on ITV. Which is, of course, why they decided to call said track Charly. The song went on to become one of the early classics of breakbeat music, paving the way for the big beat explosion of the mid/late Nineties.
For the first time on the National Archives website you can now view complete public information films from 1945 – 2006. Joining with the Central Office of Information (COI) to feature a selection of some of Britain’s most memorable and influential public information films. Historically, they reflect the issues of the day; nostalgically, everyone has a favourite.
The Central Office of Information was established in 1946, when the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, announced that the wartime Ministry of Information would be closed down, but that official information services still had, ‘an important and permanent part in the machinery of government’ and that ‘the public should be adequately informed about the many matters in which Government action directly impinges on their daily lives’. They have provided information and influenced behaviour since the end of the Second World War – advising the public on a multitude of situations ranging from crossing the road to surviving a nuclear attack.
The films always had a general low-budget quality adding to their nostalgia today. There was always an infamous static crackle before hand, giving them a Hammer Horror style aura. Some were quite terrifying and remained ingrained in the child’s psyche well into adulthood. One series which definitely fits into the unnerving category but not strictly a COI film is a series from the 1970s hosted by none other than beloved Yorkshire proto-chav, Jimmy Savile. It was called Play it Safe and used to be on Sunday, tea time, just before Songs of Praise and yep, there was some scary stuff on there. As far as possible the presentation was by interviews with parents and children who had had an actual accident, who spoke of their reactions and lessons they had learned. Most accidents Savile focussed on feature the phrase “permanent brain damage”. The films are actually quite heart-rending, the tragic testimonials from victims of what can only be described as pretty thoughtless design in the British municipal housing stock of the 1960′s and 70′s – in this film for example…