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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 February 2006, 11:29 GMT
In Tufty's club
The Magazine's Public Information Film festival

Image via Scary Squirrel
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.

Tufty is a colossus of public information. Though just a small squirrel, he was a phenomenon who bestrode childhoods from the early 1960s onwards.

Through very simple films, books and stories, Tufty persuaded pre-school children that the road could be a dangerous place. This was done through the medium of burst footballs and dropped ice-creams, rather than something which young eyes might find too upsetting, such as squashed squirrels.

Stop Look Listen is the Magazine's festival of Public Information Films, with the National Archives and the COI
Tufty - full name Tufty Fluffytail - had his origins in 1953, created by the late Elsie Miles. In 1961, the Tufty Club was set up as a network of local groups - which at its peak had nearly 25,000 branches throughout the country. Parents would join the Tufty Club on their children's behalf, and children would proudly wear badges showing that they were members.

By the early 1970s, an estimated 2m children had been members, and the movement continued well into the 1980s. Tufty has since had a couple of makeovers, and he remains a residual icon for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which gave him to the world.

A kinder, gentler time
This film, narrated by the legendary Bernard Cribbins (who must have spent nearly the entire 1970s being one children's character or another), neatly illustrates how the world has changed: it was a place in which children called their mother "mummy", in which they were in awe of policemen, and in which they might have actually seen a red squirrel.

    (The scene: Suburban street, line of detached houses with hedges and gates. Ice cream van comes down the road, with bells playing. Tufty looks out of his bedroom window.)

    VOICEOVER: This is what happened one day when the ice cream van stopped by Tufty's house.

    TUFTY, excitedly: Ice cream!

    But where's his mummy?
    VOICEOVER: And Tufty goes to find his mummy. Tufty always asks his mummy to go with him to the ice cream van.

    (Cut to weasel at van)

    VOICEOVER: But Willy Weasel has gone off to get an ice cream by himself.

    (Willy Weasel walks in front of van, and - out of view - gets hit by car)

    TUFTY'S MUMMY: Oh dear!

    TUFTY: Oh mummy! Willy has been knocked down by a car.

    (Cut to scene, Willy sitting on road, rubbing shin, his ice cream upturned on road)

    VOICEOVER: Now Willy has been hurt. And all because he didn't ask his mummy to go with him to the ice cream van. When you want to go the ice cream van, always take mummy with you.

Oh dear!

There is a beautiful simplicity to this film, right down to the closing moments in which Tufty and his mummy have gone into the road to see if Willy is all right, and are still holding hands. No detail was spared in pushing the message of road safety.

But what is it that makes it so very clear that Willy Weasel is bad news? You just know that he's going to come to a nasty end. But what is it? Is it because he's a weasel, a by-word for a sneak? Is it because his neck is so long and he doesn't therefore look quite as cute and human as a squirrel? Is it his stripy jumper, with its connotations of criminality?

Whatever it is, as the following script shows, he never learns. This is a second Tufty film, and Willy is once again the victim, though he would probably say it was the notoriously irresponsible Harry Hare who led him astray.

Tufty Club badge, via Scary Squirrel
A badge worn by thousands

    VOICEOVER: One fine day, Tufty is playing on the grass with Bobby Brown Rabbit. But Harry Hare and Willy Weasel are playing out by the road, near the cars and buses.

    (Sound of screeching... dull thud)

    VOICEOVER: Poor Willy! The car has knocked him down. Very luckily Mr Policeman Badger comes along to help.

    BADGER (in west country accent): Oh my word. You are both silly boys to play in the road. Now Willy's been hurt. He won't be able to play with you for a long time. Never play near the road.

Stop Look Listen is compiled by Giles Wilson

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

I was Tufty when I was 6 years old. I opened a school, a nursery and a playgroup dressed up in a very heavy, hot costume. I even appeared on the City Hall in Sheffield in full costume promoting road safety. I still have the costume, badges and posters to look back on.
Sarah Brooks, Derbyshire, UK

The sight of Willy Weasel being run over by a car was just too horrifying for my six-year-old eyes. Basically, what the Tufty films said was "If you don't want to end up like Willy Weasel - PAY ATTENTION!!!!" It was a great way to get the message across, and it's stayed with me ever since.
LH, Tyne & Wear, UK

Tufty was a little before my time, but I well remember the Green Cross Code which instilled road safety into my generation in a similar way. Nowadays we have irritating campaigns revolving around the chance of death/survival of a child being hit at 30 or 40mph. If children were brought up with the correct road safety culture then their chance of survival would be in the region of 100%, regardless of traffic speed.
James, Kidderminster, UK

I was traumatized by a Tufty experience as a child when I lived in Cheshire. I SO wanted to join the Tufty Club and after many attempts I persuaded my Mum to take me to enrol. I was devastated to learn that I was too old (aged 8). I have never fully recovered from this disappointment
Claire, Fort Wayne, Indiana, US

Tufty! When I was in primary school, my birthday was always during the Christmas holidays and I never did get a "Tufty handkerchief" or even more upsetting, a "Tufty badge". Bring back Tufty!
Mark G Hopewell, Tenbury Wells

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