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Last Updated: Friday, 3 February 2006, 12:53 GMT
Prepare for lift-off
The Magazine's Public Information Film festival

Each weekday in February, the Magazine is featuring a classic public information film from the past 60 years, concluding with a vote on your favourite of all the films.

One of the delights of looking at old public information films is the richness of the contemporary references. Rather like looking at 20-year-old photographs of yourself and wondering: "How on earth did I dare go outside with so much hair?" or "Did I really think that striped tank-top was cool?", they are irrefutable evidence of how much we have all changed.

There probably isn't a better illustration of this among all the films we will be featuring this month than today's. It's titled Jobs for Young Girls, and dates from 1970 - an era when a film could be called Jobs for Young Girls without raising suggestive eyebrows.

It's another animation, and was produced to highlight the dangers of girls leaving school without thinking about further education or training. Few could disagree with its core message (ie don't be tempted by the short-term rewards of unskilled jobs, because a career will serve you better in the long run). But some of its assumptions jar, 35 years on.

Scene: Teenage girl stands, with concerned parents looking on, as the numbers of a countdown fall towards her.

VOICE: When your daughter goes to work for the first time...

(Girl becomes space rocket, bursting through atmosphere into space full of stars)

VOICE: ...the excitement she feels, with her own money to spend...

(Girl flits between a number of outfits and hairdos, including, strangely, a spy)

VOICE: ...and crowds of new friends...

(Sleazy men in suits surround her)

VOICE: ...maybe she won't care what job she does - before the gloss wears off...

(Girl left with just one man)

VOICE: ...she may get married and have a family...

(Girl accompanied by her nuclear family)

VOICE: ...and it's only when she thinks about working again that she'll feel let down...

(Girl-as-rocket starts to nose-dive)

VOICE: ...going back to unskilled work... But if she gets help to prepare for a satisfying job now, then later on, she'll have a career to go on with.

(Girl lifts off again)

VOICE: Make sure your daughter sees her career teacher at school, and the local careers officer.

Viewers today might think of these points in particular:

  • Much effort has obviously been put into making this film appeal to the target market, ie teenage girls. It has a funky 60s soundtrack and animation style, and the girl is wearing knee-length boots, micro-dress and headband. So why does the voiceover - a middle-aged man whose accent and style of delivery has been parodied to the point of cliché - address parents rather than girls themselves?
  • Is the film quite sensitive enough to people who do unskilled jobs and are happy doing so? Is it necessary to make them look so much like losers - hear the contempt in the voice as he says "unskilled work"?

It is interesting, though, that in saying "She may get married and have children...", care has clearly been taken to avoid assuming she will do so.

One other thought. From a 1970 point of view, it's almost touching that the greatest danger of taking a job which apparently involved moving doughnuts from one hand to the other was the risk of getting bored.

With hindsight we know that the next 15 years became more concerned with weightier matters: inflation, industrial strife, increased machinery, factories closing or moving abroad and - perhaps the best case of all for a career - the unemployment queues.

Stop Look Listen is compiled by Giles Wilson.

"Lift Off" uses a male voice-over who sounds paternal. This film is directed at fathers who might not see the value of educating girls. This film encourages girls to seek careers, yet we only hear the man's voice. The girl in this film is allowed to wear trendy clothes, but not to speak. Girls couldn't think about careers without male approval. When the male narrator expresses contempt for "unskilled labor," it shows how men view the low-wage work so many women do. This film appeals to a father's self-interest in their own daughter's welfare--not the well-being of women workers as a whole. If this film were made today, it would probably have a female voice-over, probably a teenage girl herself talking directly to the viewers. Girls at least have more of a voice now.
M. Durkee, New Jersey, USA

I think it's progressive, encouraging girls to concentrate on long term goals and making no assumptions about their role in life. This lack of parochial stereotyping is pretty disappointing from a smug 21st century viewpoint.
Billy, London, England

So what's your point? It's probably even more important nowadays to think about what you will be doing in 20 years time instead of the instant gratification of minimum wage in your pocket today. What has changed is the sensitivity of the intended audience.
Catherine Cooper, Thousand Oaks CA, USA

I've always had a strange fascination for these films! They are both sinister and bizarrely comforting. I was talking to someone about them recently - a DVD should be released featuring some of the best. It may have limited appeal but I'd buy it.
Hayley, Cardiff

I suppose it got across a worthwhile message in terms of advising against the pitfalls of thinking about short-term gain. As an executive, I can still see how it may offend people doing so-called unskilled jobs.
Karl Chads, London, UK

Gosh ... I can actually remember this. I am one of the girls that left school in the 70's. We actually had a careers advisor visit the school. Comparing notes with classmates after our interviews, it seems every one of us was directed towards either working as a secretary or training to be a nurse. A few of us more 'rebellious' types went on to working in a bank or teacher training! (Shock horror!)
Jan, London, UK

The discrepancy between the appearance and the delivery of this animation would probably be a classic public information unit compromise - between the "creatives" who thought up the premise and the "suits" who had to approve it - and possibly insisted on a more authoritative tone for the voiceover.
Sharon Brown, Winchester

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