Back in the days of the Banana Splits and Rainbow competing on the telly-box, kiddywinks would be treated to the shock of the Public Information Film. Usually sandwiched between Tom & Jerry or a programme featuring how to make a bird-house out of sticky-back plastic, and sometimes shown in schools, the public information film or PIF was commissioned by the UK government to strike fear into youngsters that the world was not as safe and lovely as it seemed.
In these films, the countryside, instead of a place of frolicking and daisy chains, was actually a potential death-trap with farm machinery monsters angrily chugging unattended, enormous grain silos yawning open and ready to swallow the hapless victims, and silent grey ghost infested lakes hungry for lost children. The home was a place where a gas heater was a potential flame-thrower, chip pans were lethal incendiary devices and an inferno was just a smoking match away. But let’s not even start about railways, discarded fridges and …. strangers.
For those of us who witnessed these films first-hand they probably would have made an indelible mark. There was Charley the cartoon cat who gave advice in cat language to a boy named Tony, for which Charley got the reward of a fish, but that was tame compared to dramas featuring hapless nippers meeting their fate. Who can forget the film ‘Apache’ where a bunch of friends waiting for a birthday party to begin get picked off one by one in the most horrible way as they played in a farmyard, just as mum and dad are pricking cheese and pineapple with cocktail sticks and laying knives and forks on a tablecloth – seemingly oblivious to the carnage outside. Or schoolboy ‘Andy’ ignoring mum’s orders and attempting to light a gas fire with a match which then gets out of control and burns all his Beano comics. And then there was ‘Electricity Football’ about the dangers of playing near power stations and electricity pylons – never looked at the same way since there was the lasting image with smoke rising out of a pair of trainers, which gave no doubt as to the fate of the boy who kicked a ball inside an electricity sub-station.
These films were in the days when children would go ‘out’ to play – all day. Dad was probably at work full-time and mum had a mountain of housework to do. But still, nowadays during these school holidays it might be worth reminding your children ‘gently’ that some behaviour could be dangerous and to never play with matches. Thank you Charley!
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