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625 - Public Information Films (14K)

Your Memories

Last Major Update  Sa 20-Feb-99


Diane Dootson wrote to thank me for printing the script for Teenagers Learn To Swim...

...it's nice to know that all these years I have actually been reciting word perfect! (Apart from the occasional tendency to change it to "Meet Mike (hello) - he goes like a sewing machine!"). Now, at last, I can convince my friends that I wasn't making it all up.

Diane has gaps in her memories she'd like filled in.

I would like to know if... any of your readers can verify the existence of, or complete the following:

The "Charley Says..." video has on it a similar PIF called Zig Zag Pedestrians, made in 1979, with the voice of William Rushton. This told pedestrians to cross on the crossing, not the zig-zags. It's possible that the PIF Diane remembers was called Zig Zag Motorists made at the same time and also featuring Willie Rushton as the booming voice. I think the voice of the motorist was that of the late Roy Kinnear, but I could be wrong. As she says, the last line was the brilliant "I can see right up your sleeve!".

Duncan Ball thinks...
this was actually in a PIF about box junctions not zebra crossings and there was another line in the same PIF when the car is first picked up by the hand from the sky:

"I've been pinched"

The "nauseating kid" PIF is on "Charley LIVE!" and you can read the transcript here.

If you have a clearer memory than us, please let us know. But at least we can say, "Hooray, Diane, you weren't on drugs after all!"

Douglas Forde has also come to Diane's rescue. She remembers most of a rhyme about wearing protective head gear and shoes at work, Douglas remembers nearly the whole thing. More lines were then remembered by Sandy Menzies, Chris Swan, Paul Fox and Geoffrey Clements. Finally a Usenet posting by Ian Mackay (in alt.elvis.king, of all places) completes the poem, as far as I can tell. Here it is, then, in full:

Sir Isaac Newton told us why an apple falls down from the sky
And from this fact, it's very plain, all other objects do the same

A brick, a bolt, a bar, a cup, invariably fall down, not up
And every common working tool is governed by the self-same rule

So when you handle tools up there, let your watchword be "Take Care"
If at work, you drop a spanner, it travels in a downward manner

At work, a fifth of accidents or more, illustrate old Newton's law
But one thing he forgot to add, the damage won't be half as bad
if you are wearing proper clothes, especially on your head and toes
These hats and shoes are there to save the wearer from an early grave

So best feet forward and take care about the kind of shoes you wear
It's better to be sure, than dead, so get a hat and keep your head

Don't think to go without is brave; the effects of gravity can be grave

Andy Carter adds a couple of more PIF memories from the 70s:

The burst pipe film is on the end of the "Charley LIVE!" video and shows an extra few seconds at the end where they are supposed to be standing still to fake a freeze frame!

William Ham Bevan at Jesus College, Oxford, not only remembers loads of PIFs that I can't recall ever seeing, he's got them all on video tape.

I have been hooked on PIFs since the days of cringing behind the sofa watching Jimmy fry himself while climbing into a sub-station (although, to be fair, I was always more afraid of the big potato on the 'Smash' commercials....)

I have quite a substantial collection of PIFs on tape: there was something of a resurgence from about 1989-1993 on late night television, when HTV couldn't find the advertising to fill the gaps amidst 'Get Stuffed', 'American Gladiators' and such gems as 'The Jayne Mansfield Story'.

Favourites? I could go on for hours, but specifically:

Here's a list of William's own PIF collection:

He also goes on to list some of the celebs who have appeared in PIFs

Jon Marchant at the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK, writes:

Blimey this place is a goldmine! I only found it after deliberately searching for "BBC public information films". Didn't think I'd end up at the "Public Information Films" web page straight away... Nice one! :)

Anyway, memories...

The PIF featuring Death is on the "Charley LIVE!" video.

The one with the drill (see picture, left) featured a man who used matchsticks to connect the wires in his drill straight into the socket because he couldn't be arsed to fit a plug. (Nowadays, of course, everything you buy must have a plug already fitted.) One of the wires somehow comes out and touches one of the others, and the man does a bit of a jig lying on the floor.

Anyone remember anything about the Dora Bryan PIF?

Jeff Kemp is eagerly awaiting the live action video follow-up to "Charley Says..."

...I found these films very disturbing when I was a kid.

My younger sister and I used to re-enact scenes from some of them in the back garden using a tricycle and various items of garden equipment. My favourite was the one set on building site, with some kid being crushed/electrocuted/drowned etc. Then again there was the scary one about fireworks which ended with the ominous - 'This year, will it be YOUR child' [Kid in dark glasses turns towards the camera]'.

I could sit and discuss safety films all day..... So many great moments....

Peter Bibbings was surprised that no-one has mentioned the most famous PIF of all - the Green Cross Code.

... This one had always confused me, as I was sitting watching the TV, seeing the PIF for don't talk to strangers, and then we had this nearly 7ft tall bloke dressed in skintight green & white lycra holding onto kids hands, telling them how to cross the road by giving them a practical demonstration. If I was a parent of any of those kids, I would be VERY concerned.

Also, here's another script, this time for the one at looking out for bikes at junctions:
Here's a man looking around at a junction.
He thinks it's safe to go.
But what he didn't notice is a motorbike coming up on his right.
(Cut to squeal of brakes and a crash sound)

(Cut back to picture of a car with a slightly damaged front end, and a motorcyclist lying dead next to his bike)

Look out for bikes when you turn right.

Alastair Beaton says that in ITV, Public Information Films are called COIs

...as they were supported by the mysterious 'Central Office of Information', a shady government department like the 'Ministry of Works'.

My favourites are:

Two more dredged from my subconscious -

My memories of these are quite hazy - I guess it's because the only time I ever saw them as a kid was when I was off school with some terrible illness.

Jan at the Link Cafe also remembers "It was my dad in his new car". She's another one who, quite independently, calls this PIF nauseating. The film is described above.

The Use a Pair of Steps PIF (see picture, left) features the voice of the scruffy duffer from Last of the Summer Wine telling the elderly to use step ladders rather than balance on stools. If Compo's oh-so patronising words are not enough for old folk, the producers decide to also scare the shit out of them using a stunt man dressed as an old woman crashing into a glass cabinet.

"You wouldn't make do with a stool or a chair because making do makes danger... if it's out of reach, you'll take the right steps, won't ya?"

Shaun Brennan also remembers the PIF about putting rugs on polished floors.

What a superb page! Having grown up scared shitless of...well....virtually anything you care to mention that would've been around in England in the 1970s, I was overjoyed to find that I wasn't alone in my affliction.

Here's a little more grist for the mill...

  1. The memorable PIF that involved some poor unfortunate entering his house, with an arm in a sling. Close up on a garish 1970's rug, and then we hear Patrick Troughton's narration: 'Putting a rug on a polished floor? You might as well be setting a mantrap.' Ooh look, the rug's magically turned into a mantrap. Mr. Injured walks into shot and (quelle surprise) falls arse over tit on the rug. Troughton's closing narration? 'And to think...he'd only just come from hospital.' Sobering.
  2. A little seen late seventies PIF (that only seems, AFAIK, to have been run in the Anglia region): my memory of this one's a little hazy; a guy is standing on a rickety looking ladder, painting something at a great height. Lots of shots of the ladder looking ever more precarious. And then disaster strikes...the ladder slips away from the painter, and then suddenly...freeze frame, and Patrick 'voice o'doom' Allen saying, 'Don't laugh: it's not funny.' No, Patrick, it's bleeding hilarious. Quite why a PIF to warn of the dangers of rickety ladders was deemed worthwhile is beyond me.
  3. Crap animation and (IIRC) a Windsor Davies narration; 'Picking up heavy weights without bending you knees can cause injury! Can cause injury! Can cause injury!' (repetition of tag line on account of the animated figure being a clockwork robot type contraption, y'see). Honest, it's real.

Shaun Brennan
(who'll be sure and remember, if he finds himself playing a in a farmyard, not to muck about behind the wheels of huge tractors that are reversing)

Martin A. Fenton tells me that the rickety ladders PIF was also shown in the Midlands. He agrees, "it was a scream."

The Windsor Davies PIF is on "Charley Says...".

Peter Miller, now living in Germany, isn't happy that one of his favourite PIFs is described as nauseating...

It's not often I get annoyed, but I fail to see how anyone could consider the "you'll ruin your eyes" film "nauseating". I like it so much I've got it on tape (audio). The music is absolutely fantastic, much better than all the monkey muck you hear nowadays. If that is "nauseating" I'd be quite happy throwing up all day.

I seem to remember something about a kid on a farm disappearing into a huge vat of silage. I don't know whether it was on the telly or they showed us it at school. I have enjoyed wasting my time reading all these memories and will probably end up buying the videos.

Here in the Basque Country the local TV channel shows PIFs about road safety from Germany. They're quite funny, but not a patch on that "nauseating" one.

Gavin Robertson has more on the 'nauseating' PIF:

A couple of people refer separately to the same PIF: "The nauseating one with the kid introducing his family, and how they're always going on at him - "you'll ruin your eyes" "dry yourself properly" and so on - but they just about get killed when his mum refuses to use a pedestrian subway because it's the long way round." and "Another early '70s COI when a man driving an ancient Vauxhall Viva almost runs over his own kid. Kid narrates 'It was my dad, in his new car'. " I can remember seeing this one many times, but couldn't understand what it was about to begin with because there weren't any subways near where I live. The whole thing is v/o'd by the kid, complaining about always being told by his parents to do things he doesn't think are necessary, then being made to cross the road by them which he think's is unsafe. Precocious, that's what I call it. There was a line about his Gran in there somewhere, too, but I can't remember it, sadly!

Jennifer Wilson and Helen are desperate for information on a PIF featuring Frank Thornton (best known as Captain Peacock in the BBC sitcom "Are You Being Served?")

There was a PIF, mid-late 70's I think. It had Frank Thornton, he kept showing suicide (accident scenes?) and then kept saying "not recommended". It ended with a driving (drink driving?) accident/scene, and he would say "highly recommended" What was it about? (the last bit!)

Thankfully, this classic appears on the "Charley LIVE!" video. To refresh your memory read the script.

Rebecca Stunell at the University Of Westminster wants to know why I've neglected the "worst of lot" : Get Yourself Seen...

...That stupid one about being seen when you're on your bike etc. They actually suggest you paint your treasured and expensive bike white/silver and wear silver wellies. I think not somehow!

Let me see, how does the song go, again...?

# Dark means danger, so get yourself seen
# At night, make it white
# In the dark make it light
# But get yourself seen
# Take a brush to your bike
# Use some tape if you like
# But get yourself seen
# Make it big
# Make it bold
# Make it bright
# To be sure that you're seen
# Keep your lights bright and clean
# But get yourself seen
# Whether working for a living or just riding for your pleasure
# Let the world see your life is something that you treasure
# And get yourself seen
# Make it big
# Make it bold
# Make it bright
# And get yourself seen

Jackie Mann remembers a film about driving in fog...

...where the guy puts his hand into a crate containing crocodiles(?) and you see the bones being spit out with the voice over saying you wouldn't do anything like this, so why drive fast/dangerously into situations you can't see (with pictures of crashed cars in the fog) Can you enlighten me?

This PIF is called Motorway Fog and was made in 1970 by Richard Taylor Cartoons. It features a man feeding alligators by putting his arm in the crate, and his remains are spat back out again. The voiceover, which sounds like Hywell Bennet, but probably isn't, says: "If a man with dangerous animals to feed went about it like this, you wouldn't be surprised at the results. Then why on earth, when it's foggy, do you drive down the motorway like this, straight into situations you can't see. After all, it may not be just your neck." It's featured on "Charley Says...".

Niall MacKenzie has been in torment for decades about this:

Confirmation of either would ease my troubled mind.

I can help out with Augustus Windsock - that was a cartoon featuring an old man in a brown suit with a cap on. At the end he would take his cap off, revealing his bald head, and look at the camera. At this point he should have ridden into a lamp-post, I guess the filmmakers don't share my sense of humour! I think this was another PIF voiced by Kenny Everett and there may have been two in this series.

The Baby Walker PIF appears on the re-released "Charley Says...!" video.

L Jones asks am I the only one to remember "Play it safe?"?
This PIF was on in the early 1980s on ITV, and was (quite literally) "electrifying". I Can't remember anything about the contents of these PIFs but do remember the end - the words 'play it safe' (with "play it" at the top" and "safe" at the bottom") presumably made out of metal. And all of a sudden, an enormous and quite violent spark appeared over the top of the writing. I may have the name(s) wrong, but I know that there was something like this on around then, as I can remember watching it.

I remember Play Safe. One of the PIFs in the series was about being aware of power lines. One shot was of a sailing boat being dragged out of the water with its mast up and approaching power lines. Another shot featured a boy fishing with his rod near a power lines. In both cases the people featured realised in time that they were in danger. Play Safe features on the "Charley LIVE!" video.

Simon B at the University of Greenwich also remembers Play Safe

...I do remember that, and remember a booklet they published to accompany it. Usual 'state the obvious' stuff, but nicely made. What about the PIFs for 5th November? One, in particular, used to make me wince. I don't remember much of it, but DO remember a little girl picking up a dead sparkler.......and the scream that followed (JUST loud enough to wake the neighbours!).

If anybody wants more info, or even old prints of the films, I found who holds the films now: Film Images Ltd. 0171-383-2288.

Dave "gingoblin" has been taping PIFs for years from Grampian TV who, he says, were still stuck in the 70s and therefore showed some classics.

...I've got loads of the bloody things...but could always use more. One day people will be glad someone kept these masterpieces for posterity!! (perhaps not) Anyway, they make great post night out viewing!!

I guess some people get the munchies when they get home from a night out, others crave public information films!

Peter Higgins asks

Am I the only one to remember the classic "Fire Prevention" song and dance number which used to be on very late at night, and basically reminded people to switch off the telly, etc??

The song went something like:
"Get a routine, show your intentions, fire prevention, fire prevention... we mean, your life could depend on your bed-time routine."

I'm ashamed that I remember so much of this. I also remember me and my mates at school singing the entire song when pissed, for some reason which now escapes me.

This film basically tells us to unplug all of our electrical devices before retiring to bed in order to prevent fire. Get into a bedtime routine, says the film. The couple in it (see picture, left) take the advice literally, performing their own song and dance routine each night.

Someone calling themselves Jo & Petunia strolled into the Reference Library at Lewisham and left us these violent memories.

My one enduring memory of my childhood was being terrified of 'dusty', the huge orange, glove wearing, keep Britain tidy kangaroo. I used to be particularly affected by the music, which stuck in my head like a tape loop, and kept me awake at night. Also I became obsessed by the road safety campaign featuring a hammer swinging down into a peach, demonstrating the effect a collision with the business end of a car would have on your soft unsuspecting head.

Has anyone seen the 'good set of steps' film where the old lady falls off of a chair, whilst changing a light bulb, and crashes through a trophy cabinet to a piano accompaniment?

See the picture of the old lady above!

Ben Hayes remembers a whole load of PIFs...

Most of the ones that stick in my mind are ones involving cars/road safety, for example the old chestnut about not mixing crossply and radial tyres on the same axle, or putting crossplies on the back. This film involved a red Austin 1100 going round a roundabout, the tail end breaking away (a common thing in that powerful beast of a vehicle), hitting a kerb and somehow ending up on it's roof. In fact most of these films about accidents seemed to feature the BMC 1100 in some form. Surely they should have been banned from the roads?

Another one was about overtaking when there was a junction coming up. Picture the scene, a white car (Vauxhall Viva I think)... 'You're driving along, it's a good straight road, you can see for miles... nothing behind, nothing ahead, so you pull out to overtake... and suddenly, you're driving straight into a brick wall' Crunch! Another good one was about wearing, or not wearing, seat belts, this one happily not including the odious Jimmy Saville. Can't remember the plot, but it involves some poor woman in a blue Escort MkI going straight into a phone box, and a fantastic slow motion shot of her shoving her head through the windscreen.

The Taylor Family sent me the partial lyrics to the Learn To Swim song, for no particular reason:

[clears throat]

Backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and crawl. Doggypaddle, bellyflop. You can do them all. Learn to swim!

[forgets 2nd verse]

Darren Meldrum wrote, on Wednesday 26th March 1997:

There was a story on the lunchtime BBC news that the government have sold their archive of PIFs to a private company. They showed some snippets of old films, a 1947 how to cross the road, the Kevin Keegan green cross code one and a Jimmy Saville clunk-click every trip.

They didn't make it clear why they were being sold off, but one must assume that some new video releases may now be likely.

Here's my favourite Public Information Film Spoof. It appeared in The Young Ones episode Cash and sends up "Think Once, Think Twice, Think Bike" ...

With Christmas only four months away, imagine that this desktop is a crowded shopping street on a busy Saturday morning. Say, for instance, that this huge meringue filled with whipped cream is a young mother, loaded down with groceries. And perhaps this enormous, soggy, over-ripe tomato is a tiny little girl who doesn't realise what a dangerous place her exciting new world is. And let's assume that this cling film parcel of mashed banana and jam is a deaf senior citizen, who's in a wheelchair and is blind. And this cricket bat, with a breeze block nailed to it, is your car. Now what happens when your car mounts the pavement?


Think Once. Think Twice. Think Don't Drive Your Car On The Pavement.

Public Information Films are rare these days. BBC1 still show one at closedown each night if there's time. Graham Wright of the BBCtv Presentation Dept. explains:

The PIFs are taken care of by our planning section, the COI nominate them. Now we have a new presentation area with more facilities, they tend to be shown more than of recent years. We used to have a rule that we had to close down by 2345 on BBC1, and if we were running late the PIF would be the first to go. More often than not, they are shown Mon - Thurs nights. My constant mistake is to forget to cue the announcer to say "that was a public information film" I keep egging them on to use the Not the Nine O'clock News sketch by saying "that was a public information film designed to scare the shit out of you". I used to be frightened by some of them - I have memories of old ladies frying themselves in electric blankets and overloaded sockets etc.


Links to other pages in the PIFs section...

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625 TV Logos Programme Delivery Control Explained Public Information Films Channel 5 DOG Watch! Digital TV - Beyond the Hype
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625: Andrew Wiseman's Television Room (2K)