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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 February 2006, 16:49 GMT
Water works
The Magazine's Public Information Film festival

Every day in February, the Magazine is featuring a classic public information film from the past 60 years, concluding with a vote to find the nation's favourite.

Today's film is unusual among those we will be featuring in this series. No special effects, no animation, no hard sell, no comedy - it's just Rolf Harris, in a swimming pool, being the voice of commonsense.

Stop Look Listen is the Magazine's festival of Public Information Films, with the National Archives and the COI
This plays the subject of learning to swim in a completely straight fashion - though other more elaborate films we will feature later take a rather different tack.

Rolf is playing the part of a dad teaching children to swim.

    Scene: Swimming pool

    ROLF HARRIS (speaking to children around him): Those of you who can't swim yet, just wait over in the shallow end for me.

    (To camera): Kids and water, they love it. Rivers, canals, even the lily pond in the garden. You can't keep them away from it. Water has a fascination for children - and I should know. When I was three-years-old I fell in the river at our place. Couldn't swim. Somehow managed to scramble my way to the bank. Frightened the wits out of my mum and dad - and you can bet they had me taught to swim not long after that.

    But some children aren't quite so lucky, and if they can't swim and go off to play by themselves by the side of some water somewhere, you know only too well what might happen.

    That's why I had my little girl taught to swim as soon as possible. So have your children taught to swim. They're never too young to start, and if they get that confidence in the water, they love it. Ask at your local swimming pool. All right? Or if you can swim yourself, why not teach them yourself. It's fun. Seeya.
    (Rolf falls backwards into water and sticks his foot out at camera)

It's simple, but it works. Part of that is because it's Rolf - he's trustworthy and sensible but not stuffy. Part of it might be because people think of Australians as being healthy outdoors-types (how many British people could say "I fell in the river at our place"?)

Rolf Harris
Ever the enthusiast
Part of it is its calmness - though he adds his own childhood anecdote, the potential of children drowning is dealt with by the simple phrase "you know only too well what might happen".

And yet there's something about this film - it's not quite clear what it is - that makes it inconceivable it would be made like this today.

Stop Look Listen is compiled by Giles Wilson

I couldn't stand this film when I was a child, mostly because being shown the sole of Rolfs foot. Back in the 1980's the idea of the sole of someone else's foot at a swimming pool was repugnant. Back then I was about 6 years old. I admit the message is admirable and it makes its point well. It is just a shame about the manky foot.
Beef, Oxford

When this film was first shown, I remember an extra bit at the end with all the kids at the pool piling on top of Rolf after he lays back in the water. Subsequently it froze on the shot of Rolf kicking back in the water, but the soundtrack carries on, with the kids shouting "Get him! Get him!" as it ends. I am assuming that it was quickly realised that a mass-ducking was not really in the spirit of a swimming safety film!
Andrew Humphrey, London

A classic - kids and public information films they love it!!
Paul Burnell, Salford

Well put across although not sure about leaving the ones that can't swim in the shallow end. i teach swimming and my age group is from 3mths to 4yreas old, babies love it and are natural, 2 year old's dislike me at this time and then by 4 years old at school and swimming without any need for floation aids with a fantastic understanding of water/poolside safety and thorough enjoyment of water and water sports of all types. Every child should be able to swim to save themselves.
Kim Willingham-Curtis, Dorset - UK

I wish more kid would learn to swim! One local swimming pool has a had suspended floor put in lowering the depth from 2 metres to just 1.3M because they're afraid of children drowning (and obviously parents are incapable of looking after their own kids). Bah!
Robert, Cardiff, UK

This public information film carried a powerful and important message which both my wife and I could remember verbatim from our childhoods. And if the message itself didn't frighten parents into teaching their kids to swim, Rolf's haircut would have done the trick :-;
Howard Swift, Vouhe, France

Yes but far more people drown who think that they can swim than those who know that they can not!
MIke, Winchester

I remember a cartoon public information film encouraging adults and child to learn how to swim, all I can recall is an older lady rescuing a man from the sea, after he was showing off in front of some girls, and at the end of the film she reminded him to 'Learn to swim young man learn to swim' in a high pitched tone. There were other films featuring the same old lady with her catch phrase quoted at the end of each.
Julia Robins, Milton Keynes, Bucks

They don't make ad's like they used to! I learnt to swim when I was 4 and my daughter swims like a fish at 6. Not only is it healthier than sitting in front of the TV but it can SAVE YOUR LIFE!
jenny, Richmond, North Yorkshire

Brilliant.I was bought up in Aus and every summer the local swimming pool (council run) arranged swimming lessons, this was usually mornings for 2 wks. All it cost you was the entrance fee. The instructors, etc even the certificates were free. I am grateful to the instructors (usually local PE teachers etc) who gave their time. I can not remember a single child failing. The benifit to the council was that for the rest of the 6 week Holiday children then pested their parents and family to come to the swimming pool. Swimming is fun too!
Mark Draper, Stotfold, Herts

is it not true that PIFs were axed for some time on itv to maximize advertising revenue space?- i only ever see the old ones late at night when advertising space is cheap-what about the burnt out house and the echoes of screaming children in a house fire?-"please keep matches away from children" (1975?)
s mitchell, welwyn garden city

Swimming must be very good for you - in fact, it must be the elixir of youth!
Gill Coombs, Bath

I remember the films very well. The problem now is that most swimming pools insist on adult child ratios which actively prevent you taking the kids swimming. Not a problem in the good old days of this film when I assume people didn't sue for damages when someone got wet.
Adam Edwards, Hatfield, UK

Every child should be taught to swim as early as possible. apart from the fact it may very well save their life in the future, its good, fun exercise!
alex j, Stratford-on-avon, UK

These films got the message across then because they were simple and we remember them now because they seem cheesy. But this 'Rolf in his trunks' one has to be one of the cheesiest! My friend bought me a DVD with over 150 Public Information films for my birthday and we had remembered a lot of them! Classics!
Lindsey Brockhurst, Stevenage

I remember this ad very well.I use to go swimming on Sunday with my family. Rolf is/was a very good choice for this film.
Matthew , Oxford/ uk

Well done Rolf - good initiative. Now see what you can do to get to the PC/Health & Safety wonks who ban single parents taking more than 2 children under 8 to UK pools. Hello - what are pool lifeguards for? And what if your 5 & 7 year olds can swim 400m and you have a 3 year old as well that you want to teach to swim. Nope - no flexibility - just jobsworths - Madness!!
Steve Brown, West Wickham Kent UK

I think it's great and it had an impact on children like me growing up. Rolf speaks sense. It probably wouldn't be made like this today cos some idiot somewhere would make some smutty, below the belt remark about an older man in a pool with a load of kids. There's no innocence these days.
Ruth, Mold, UK

The reason that it would not be made like this today is because it features a barely dressed adult male in close proximity with children, similarly dressed. Attitudes and sensibilities have become a lot less innocent, and we are all much more suspicious of each other, which is a shame.
Rachel, Swindon

Go Rolf. An icon of our times, as your piece suggests 'trustworthy and sensible'. I disagree with your closing comment though, I think if Rolf himself, or Jimmy Saville, or John Craven made this film like this now - it would work just aswell.
Ian, Wokingham

I seem to remember a whole series of Rolf teaching kids to swim and basic watercraft - maybe it was a short regular feature on Blue Peter.
Peter Seed, UK

I remember it well. Simple, but reading the transcription I found every word, every clause, was embedded within my memory. And zero effects or dubbing (the audio, I seem to remember, sounded as if recorded on a cassette player in the swimming pool). I recall its effect on us: it was cool to be the first to swim. Simple but so effective.
Phil O'Hara, Milton Keynes

An absolutely sweet film - delivered without artifice, just Rolf talking to the camera in a friendly, non-authority way about the importance of kids learning to swim. You don't feel like you've been talked down to, Rolf just happened to bump into you with these important words. And they work all the more for that. Today, artifice, with its attendant tricks and style would come into play, which would harm and obscure the essential simple message: teach your kids to swim.
Edmund O'Connor, Edinburgh, Scotland

I remember seeing that chap's foot as a child, but had never clicked until today that it was Rolf Harris'. Doesn't he look young? Obviously filmed just before he started doing a very hard paper round.
Dave, Guisborough, UK

Why did the Public Information Films disappear? Why did the continuity announcer always have to say - "that was a public information film"? Wasn't it obvious? Bring them back and it might help save a life. Charlie the Cat is much more fun than those two geeks on top of a roof in Edinburgh trying to kick each others heads off their shoulders!
Andrew, Guildford

It's such a shame that we no longer have these public information films - especially the ones about not littering.
Danny Thomas,

Reading Rolphs lines, I remember every word after 40 years.
Andrew Clark, Seabrook, Texas, USA

I remember this one as a kid, especially Rolf's foot at the end stuck in my mind! The other swinging one was that "learn to swim" cartoon with the hunky guy who loses the girl because he can't swim. Shame they don't have more of these public information films nowadays. Seems like they died at the end of the seventies. Although a lot of them were common sense they promote a certain community awareness and I definitely think kids benefit.
Neil, Netherlands

Hey, that's Rolf's kid Bindi. I went to art college with her in the 80's. I think she had to wait for pool places at University'll get me coat...
Leigh, Reading

I agree that it would be an unlikely format for today. It is clear, intelligent and simple; like the message: knowing how to swim could save your life. The "modern" approach of gimmicks and flashy editing reflects a deterioration in communicating.
Alex, London

I vividly remeber one of Rolf's teachings on "keeping your head up if you fell in water and you'd bob to the surface". This later saved my life when I was swept out of my depth at Great Yarmouth beach as a child - Thanks Rolf!
susan crowe, Chislehurst, UK

I seem to remember this film had a different ending which was subsequently cut - I can vividly recall that the original ending featured Rolf swimming off with his foot in the air, but then the kids shouted something like "Get Him!", and proceeded to swamp and submerge him while he made an alarming gulping sound. Either I imagined all this, or the film-makers realised such an ending was completely contrary to the message of water safety, so cut it out. Does anyone else remember my version of the ending, I wonder .....
Allan Wreglesworth, Spennymoor, Co Durham, England

The film makes a good point, and it's inconceivable that it would be made like this today because Rolf says "ask at your local swimming pool", and we all know that that there are fewer and fewer of them every day.
Bernard, London, UK

Doubtless any such public information film made today would feature some unlikely and inane animated character jabbering a stream of bewildering meaningless jargon and acronyms over a mind numbing beat loop. This patronising approach to making children's (sorry...I mean 'kids') TV has been getting worse for years now, and readily insults children's dignity and intelligence. Rolf's film would not be made today because it is not 'zany' or 'larger than life' and does not feature uniquitous (and frankly, now cliched) computer graphic animation. It simply does what it sets out to do - imparts important information in a sensible way but without being pompous. Inconceivable!
Gerry Smith, Five Ashes, E. Sussex

This is the daddy of all public information film! Classic that everyone of my age remembers all these years on!
Dick Pigg, Bridgnorth, Shropshire

I'd completely forgotten about this one...haven't seen it since I was very young. It became a bit of a favourite at school, because we all liked imitating Rolf saying "Keeds and warrrrrtah. They love it!!" In it's own way I guess that means it suceeded in getting through to us.
Damon Didcott, Tavistock, Devon

Fantastic! A slice of my childhood. Right up there with the "Get yourself seen" PIF on bike safety. Bring them back!! I'd suggest one on "How to indicate round a roundabout" and "Cleaning up after your dog"!
Essex Havard, Cardiff

What makes it inconceivable that this film would be made today is the over-the-top political correctness we see everywhere. Filming children in a swimming pool??? Gasp, horror, it would never be allowed today in a society where mobile phones aren't allowed in public pools and children's faces have to be obscured in news pieces.
Debbie Stevenson, Glasgow, Scotland

Not many people outside of Australia know that Rolf became the Australian Junior backstroke champion at the age of 15. The river he fell into when he was 3 may well have been the Swan River in Perth, where he grew up. He would regularly swim the river when he was younger too.
James Prendergast, Sydney, Australia

'Taught your kids to swim yet?' The catch-phrase popped into my head when I had kids of my own. Both were taught to swim before the age of seven.
Vincent Shaw-Morton, West Sussex

I think it's high time Rolf was commisioned to star in another public information film. However, this time, perhaps, highlighting the relative dangers of chucking prawns on barbies.
John H, Preston

I remember this film very well and was taught to swim at a young age. I now have a child of my own and her Dad is keen to get her swimming as soon as possible, however, all the local swimming pools do not offer baby only sessions on a weekend, they are only available during the week which is no good when you work!
Dawn Tiernan, Durham

Inconcievable?... possibly on two counts... 1. Because it's too simple.. too straightforward. Today's ad-men are flashy, image-obsessed and pander to the under-25's 2. It's a man in a pool with children. The tabloid culture in which we live has led many to believe than men must be treated with extreme caution, as if they are some wild animal ready to pounce of small children. Which is, of course, complete bilge, and utterly reprehensible.
Annie Wallace, Chorlton

I remember watching this as a kid! Didn't Rolf make the intro music himself by blowing bubbles into water with a straw?
Mark Saunders, Gloucester, UK

Fancy it may not be - but the fact that I can still remember exactly what Rolf said in this ad., word for word, says something about its effectiveness!
Nigel, Swansea

"...there's something about this film... that makes it inconceivable it would be made like this today". How about the bearded bloke in tight trunks in a pool with a group of children? I'm afraid that just frightens people today.
Richard, London, UK

They wouldn't make a film like this today because sadly it's no longer OK to show a man on his own teaching kids to swim. There would have to be at least two adults, a man and a woman in attendance, probably fully clothed and standing on the side of the pool with their Child Protection Credentials on a chain round their necks. We would be told never to let our children play near water unsupervised.
Paul Moore, Waterlooville UK

I remembered the script almost word-for-word. Obviously the ad worked as it can't have been on TV for a good 25 years now.
Justin Beattie, Helensburgh, Scotland

Remeber the other swimming ad, the cartoon one? Where the hip dude loses his girlfriend to a big-eared sporty type? Ends with Hip Dude "I wish... I wish I didn't keep losing me birds" Fairy Godmother "Then learn to swim young man, learn to swim"
iain, Oxon

BRING BACK THE DAYS OF LEARNING ADVERTS AND PROGRAMMES, in the 70's adverts like the green cross code, the cat who warned you about strangers and the learning programme were brilliant, kids today don't have this helpful reminder whilst watching the gogglebox, i'm in my 30's now and can still remember them, and to top it off taught my children with the same style
JF, Leeds

There was a information film in the late 70's about safe motorcycling that starts with a shot of a foot kick starting a motorbike. That's my dads foot, I hope you show it.
Gary Head, Bournemouth UK

It's quite clear what that 'something about the film is'. We live in a society obsessed by media coverage of paedophilia, aka Brass Eye, and children in a swimming pool would probably be shot down in a barrage of PC gunfire.
James, Bristol

I think Rolf is brilliant. I love his music and his dedication.
Dave Green, Blackpool

I remember this advert very well as it came at the time when a new indoor pool opened in a neighbouring town and we were all taken for swimming lessons. We lived close to a canal and a river so it seemed to make sense as even to us children the fear of being sucked into a lock was scary. Rolf Harris had that enthusiasm, he was well known (remember his marketing of the stylophone?!), and as you note, struck the balance between being sensible and cool, like a fun uncle. This advert remained with me so much that it came back to me when I began taking my son to swim for the first time before Christmas. These days people feel offended at being told what it is sensible to do, we are all more like surly teenagers than adults were in the 1970s. This is why the age of the public information film has passed as something like that today would provoke the opposite reaction to the one desired, just so that we can indulge our beloved self-righteousness and prove that 'no-one tells me what's right for my kid'.
Keir Thorpe, Bournemouth, UK

Can anyone remember the Learn to Swim commercial? I am having a hard time finding someone outside of Wales who can remember it, if at all! It was an animated commercial on TV that had a catchy tune and lyrics: "Front stroke, back stroke, butterfly and crawl You can do the belly flop, you can do them all Learn To Swim!"
Jose, Bracknell

I remember watching the Rolf Harris swimming programmes as a kid in the seventies and taught myself how to dive after watching them. I've since taught my kids to dive using the same technique 30 years later.
Hugh, Leeds, UK

"Can you guess what it is yet?"
Clem, London

For a start - they would never make a film today of a guy around children in swimming costumes - too much 'PC gone too far'.
Fiona Macartney, Rugby, UK

They showed this advert for years and its simplicity is what made it stand out, as well as Rolf's very wrinkly foot - he must have been stood in that water for hours.
Nick, Redhill, UK

Good for Rolf. Rolf was also the Australian junior backstroke swimming champion. Is there anything he can't do?
J, East midlands

Kids in Water had a profound effect on me as child. I know it encouraged me to go swimming a lot. I now bore friends and colleagues by reciting the film ad nauseam. But, just last month, a colleague met Rolf Harris and he drew a picture of himself saying 'kids in water' as a birthday present for my 42nd. Sad, I know - but I absolutely love it.
Daniel Harris, London, England

ive just been using the charlie and cat saeries to teach my oldest about strangers it worked atreat
carolyn, marlow bucks england

It's funny that you should show a picture of him sticking his foot out at the camera, I could never get that particular image out of my mind!
Richard Cooke, Leeds

I remember this vividly.....I still clear my face of water the way Rolf taught !! :)
David, Reading , UK

Fantastic - common sense as you say. However the nanny state and the ridiculous fear of litigation in the leisure industry have created the situation where a parent can no longer take more than one young child at a time to their local pool. The net effect is that parents are put off using their swimming pool, and young children will not experience the great pleasures of swimming and enjoying family fun in the water. Childhood obesity is soaring - I see it every day in my hospital practice - and swimming is a great fun way for a young family to enjoy exercise together. No other European or Australasian nation has such ridiculous and unwarranted regulation of its leisure industry. Additionally, if we want to see greater national success at sport, then we need to be encouraging it at the earliest possibility, not curtailing it with a "Thou shalt not......." attitude. Pete Davis Consultant Emergency Medicine Glasgow
Peter Davis, Glasgow, UK

Brilliant its about time, its just fun eduaction for children and adults. No flashy slogans no expensive extras just swimming for fun. What a great way to encourage excersise
Jane, Middlesex, Harrow

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