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Friday, October 15, 1999 Published at 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK


Stop, Look and Listen again

Rocker Alvin Stardust had a simple message for young people

Throughout the 60s and 70s public information films, warning of such everyday hazards as crossing the road, were as much a part of British television as the National Anthem played at the end of transmission.

The return of Charley the Cat
Despite their questionable production values, the short films and animations made generations of children Stop, Look and Listen - and now they're back on video.

[ image: Jim'll fix it: Savile championed seatbelt use]
Jim'll fix it: Savile championed seatbelt use
Two compilations of such classics as Children and Disused Fridges and Play Safe - Frisbee, hope to cash in on the current craze for all things retro.

These masterpieces of kitsch from the archives of the Central Office of Information may even again fulfil their original purpose by preventing accidents.

Schedule fillers

The brief gems of official wisdom were screened to fill the gaps in the TV schedules, but became particularly associated with Saturday morning children's TV.

To get the message across to their young audience, the makers made extensive use of animation.

[ image: Charley: top cat and lifesaver]
Charley: top cat and lifesaver
The cautionary tales of Tufty the Squirrel and Charley the Cat came to rival the fame of even mainstream cartoons.

Charley's incomprehensible pronouncements on water safety and the dangers of teapots even inspired a Top 10 hit by controversial UK dance act Prodigy.

The films also employed the services of established stars such as Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris and Dr Who actor Jon Pertwee.

Heroes of road safety

In a series entitled Children's Heroes, soccer ace Kevin Keegan, boxer Joe Bugner and leather-clad rocker Alvin Stardust all excelled at telling careless children "you must be out of your tiny minds".

Perhaps the most famous of the public information campaigns involved David Prowse as the Green Cross Code Man.

[ image: Green Cross Code Man David Prowse was a force for good]
Green Cross Code Man David Prowse was a force for good
Prowse, who later swapped his green cape for the black mantle of Star Wars baddie Darth Vadar, says his road safety message cut the number of accidents by half.

As well as saving lives, the films also kept the wolf from the door for countless struggling actors and stuntmen between episodes of The Sweeney.

EastEnders star Gillian Taylforth and John Altman, the soap's Nick Cotton, were among those who served their apprenticeship on such shorts as Stupid Git and Forget It.

[ image: Boom, boom! Basil Brush says beware of inflatables at the beach]
Boom, boom! Basil Brush says beware of inflatables at the beach
Not all the films were aimed at children, many hoped to instruct adults in the complexities of decimalisation or lifting objects.

Although to modern viewers the films may seem patronising in the extreme, the passage of time has given them a certain charm.

With advice to turn the gas off in the event of a nuclear attack and reminders to decide who you want to vote for before polling day, the films may seem ridiculous but they often did the job.

Along with the success of the Green Cross Code mantra, Stop, Look and Listen, the films were also partly responsible for drink-driving becoming a social stigma in the UK.

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