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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 February 2006, 12:50 GMT
The message clicks
STOP LOOK LISTEN
The Magazine's Public Information Film festival

Jimmy Savile
Sir Jimmy Savile, 1972-style
Each weekday in February, the Magazine will be featuring a classic public information film from the past 60 years, concluding with a vote on your favourite of all the films.

Public information films are one of the great cultural reference points, beloved by viewers and satirists alike. From Coughs and Sneezes, through the Green Cross Man and Charley Says, they were a familiar book-end to a day's broadcasting, or a useful way to fill an awkward gap between programmes.

The government department responsible for these iconic pieces of film is the Central Office of Information, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary next month.

To mark the event, the Magazine today launches Stop Look Listen, a festival of Public Information Films. Each weekday this month we will be looking at a different classic film to see what made it memorable. Each of the videos will be available to watch in the BBC News Player.

Woman through windscreen
Here's what could happen
At the end of the month, we will have a grand vote to determine which of the films is the nation's favourite. As the films will illustrate, many of the messages will be familiar even though the films themselves might have been forgotten.

There are some simple rules which seem to govern public information films:

  • They must be either comedy or horror
  • If it's comedy, they will grapple with being funny while not ridiculing the victim of the piece
  • If it's horror, they will battle between trying to be as shocking as possible and not being so upsetting as to give people nightmares (They do not always succeed on this latter point)
  • Either way the film will have a memorable slogan

Today's classic film from 1972 about the importance of wearing seatbelts stars a flaxen-haired Jimmy Savile, then a well-known Radio 1 DJ and Top of the Pops presenter (though it was four years before Jim'll Fix It started).

Woman with scar
And this could be the result
It is clearly in the horror genre: like modern safety films - even the recent seatbelt one featuring a pizza smashing into the windscreen - it knows that for maximum shock, ordinary people must be shown going about their lives, oblivious to the danger they are in.

The horror is then shown in as graphic detail as current special effects or make-up techniques will allow. Alternatively the horror is implied, which is much scarier.

The cultural assumptions made in these films usually pinpoint them to a particular era, and this is no exception, as the following script shows.

JIMMY SAVILE: (sitting in his own car, seatbelt in hand): "It's very likely that 400 of you will be injured in your cars tomorrow. You will be within six miles of home and doing less than 30.
(Cue shot of Wendy Craig-lookalike driving a chic black soft-top Mini.)
"And it's going to happen to a lot of you ladies. You'll be shopping, collecting the kids, going to the launderette.

Seat belt

"But for some of you, the face you start out with in the morning won't be the same face you end up with by the evening.
(Cue woman crashing through windscreen, cut to woman with massive stitched cut on head.)
"Why is this happening? Clunk click. It's simple.
(Jimmy now has a tone of tetchiness in his voice, irritated that people should not have already got the message.)
"Clunk the car door. Click the seat belt. Even if you are just going round the corner. Clunk Click Every Trip."

Viewers today might think of two points in particular: what other reasons might women be driving, apart from going to shops, collecting the kids or going to the laundrette? And what other reasons might women want to avoid going through windscreens, apart from damaging their looks?

Slogan

The Clunk Click slogan became very well known in the 1970s, as successive campaigns tried to persuade people to belt up. It was 10 years after this film, however, that the law was changed to make the wearing of seat belts in the front seat compulsory. The slogan, however, was used until 1993.

Department of Transport figures show that advertising raised the percentage of drivers and front seat passengers wearing seatbelts to 37 and 39% by 1982. By April of 2005, the figures stood at 93 and 94%. However in 2003, 188,342 people were killed or injured while travelling in cars - of these, 165,930 were drivers or front seat passengers.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

The 'Think!' government campaign films of late have been excellent. The shock tactics of the pizza, the mobile phone with options like "Kill girlfriend", the drink driving one, the stopping distances with the boy bouncing off the bonnet... all very clear messages. But spare a thought for the Hedgehogs! Where previous generations remember the Green Cross Code or "Charlie says", here we have the 21st century's answer. Never before have road safety messages been so fun. The tunes are brilliantly catchy. "Stop, think and go".
Jonathan, Bracknell, UK

I'm still in shock that they had this campaign ten years before they actually made it illegal to not wear a seatbelt in the front. Surely if they knew the statistics then, they should have changed the law earlier. Also, only 93% of drivers wearing seatbelts in April 2005? What's wrong with them?? My final word: definitely start making these again. Adverts in commercial breaks are all very well, but as a public service broadcaster don't the BBC still have a duty to spread important messages like drink/drug driving?
Matt, Nottingham

The lady in the clip with the stitches and balck eyes is my aunty Anita Hughes, she now lives in Loisianna usa, at the time she was driving home from a night shift as a sister midwife.
sue sidebottom, barnsley<

The spirit of Dark Lonely Water would make a great Japanese horror film. Talk about leaving a lasting impression, I'm nearly 40 and I can still remember how terrified I felt by the image of the dirty monk's habit being tossed into the water and the pre-Arnie "I'll be back" line.
Adam, Madrid

Does anyone remember the one that started "Every Saturday morning my Mam takes me shopping"? I think it must have been road safety, but can't remember it. The voice was supposed to be the baby in the pram being bumped up and down, as they rushed between traffic, crossing the road. The cartoon baby, outline drawn in black and the "Mam" in a headscarf and belted raincoat were terrific! I think I'd be thinking of something that was shown in the early or mid sixties. I'd love to see it again - even if it was just to remind me of what it was actually about!
Fran Handrick, Guildford, UK

To Amanda, I do believe it was: 'Never forget, wherever you sit, Clunk-click, for every trip.'
Steven Bush, Nottingham, UK

Why on earth did they stop making public information films if they were entertaining, well liked and actually saved lives? Bring back the PIF! And if the BBC doesn't want to appear all boring and preachy it could invite amateur film makers and community groups to provide them and then broadcast the best?
Kevin May, Dartfford, UK

Alongside the PI films, does anyone else remember the 2-3 minute historical films used as schedule fillers in the 70's? I can't remember them too clearly but it always seemed to be dynamically zooming shots of ruined castles, a battle noises soundtrack and a historian-type giving a somber voice-over about the civil war battle fought there.
Sion Hughes, Northampton

For me, the best would have to be the 'Spirit of dark and lonely water', voiced, if I remember rightly, by Donald Pleasance. That thing was so terrifying that not only did I stay away from dark and lonely water, I never even dared to learn to swim!
Anthony Jones, Leeds, UK

I remember the more recent Clunk-Click ads, in which the slogan was something like "Never forget, Clunk-Click". I think it was supposed to rhyme or something, but, well, it didn't... If we are talking horror in Public Information Films, the recent ones with a little girl lying dead/unconscious slumped against a tree who then begins to move awkwardly is pretty grim, and I can't really watch the one with the lads drinking in the pub when a girl they are eyeing up gets supposedly run over or thrown from a vehicle due to drink-driving.
Amanda, Newcastle

Can we nominate films? If so, I would like to suggest the 'Cats in the Cradle' confidential telephone ad, produced by (I think) Mc Cann Ericson for the NIO in the early 90s.
Steven, Cambridge

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