Even though I’m in the second half of my forties, it’s odd that some mundane things such as getting on an escalator or crossing the road will make me nervous. It’s not that I’m a big ‘fraidy cat or anything. My fear is buried deep in my psyche. The source of this psychological damage is the UK government and their Public Information Films of the 1970’s.
PI Films were supposed to help kids understand that the world was a dangerous place and children were easy prey. The films dealt with dangers like crossing the road, playing with pills and chemicals, playing near bodies of water, hiding in things like fridges, but they also went all the way up to sexual predators. These are worthy topics but the packaging the UK Govt. used was fear and unlike the patronizing The More You Know PSAs, these movies pulled no punches.
The reason I get a little worried about crossing the road or getting on an escalator was because the PI Films were scary. The road crossing one illustrated the dangers of crossing the road between parked cars by having the cars’ big chrome grills turn into hungry steel mouths ready to eats thoughtless children. The escalator PIF was no different. It featured a child’s ragdoll ripped to pieces by the sharp edges of an escalator while the same happened to a child off screen. The tactics used for these kinds of issue were pretty minor league things such as crossing the road and escalators. The ante got upped when it came to topics such as sexual predators. I remember the one I was shown about sexual predators gave nightmares to half my class for weeks, although for the life of me I can’t remember a single detail from it. I do know my mum still can’t watch anything with the actor who played the pedophile.
These films weren’t made by the government. In most cases ad agencies or young filmmakers cut their teeth on these things. Check out APACHES I’ve included here which warns children of overzealous play. The director of that would go on to make THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY a few later and it’s hard to tell which has the gorier death scene (watch part 2 to see what I mean). APACHES is a great example because it never tells you what you should or shouldn’t do. It just lets a high body count do the talking for it.
It could be argued that these little movies went too far. And yes, in a way they did as their psychological effect is still with me forty years later. But I’ll defend these things to the ends of the earth because they worked. They scared me straight and kept me save. They were no different from the fairytales that warned children of the dangers of the world. Okay we had a few nightmares but we were careful around pills, unmarked chemicals, matches, power stations, fireworks and bodies of stagnant water. So I ask you to enjoy the nostalgia, absorb the message and try not to have any sleepless nights. Enjoy the films, kiddies…