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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 February 2006, 13:40 GMT
Fridge fear
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.

Watching a lot of public information films - something the preparation of this festival has required - leaves one with a slight suspicion of fashionable fears. Whether it's the risks of wrong tyres (1973: "If you mix cross ply and radial tyres on the same axle, or use cross ply on the rear when you've radials on the front, you might not live to regret it..."), or of polished floors (1974: "You might as well set a man trap"), it's tempting to see many of these films as reactions to contemporary moral panics.

Stop Look Listen is the Magazine's festival of Public Information Films, with the National Archives and the COI

Often the dangers do not seem to stand the test of time - despite the ongoing popularity of wooden or laminate floors, somehow the risk of man traps seems to have dissipated.

The film Running for a Bus, made in 1969, is a prime example. A woman, walking to work, is late. But "hundreds of people are killed or injured each year running for buses, just to save a few minutes", the script warned. What gave so much emphasis to that fear that it necessitated a public information film is lost in the mists of time. And yet people still run for buses to this day.

Today's film, Children and Disused Fridges (1971), is particularly susceptible to being seen as a fear of its time. It concerns the dangers of children getting locked in old fridges, and dates from an era when clasp-style locks were routinely put on fridge doors.

Many of the films of the 60s and 70s were animations, some of them very stylish which are valuable to historians of cartoons. But this is in a more realistic style, perhaps more calculated to appeal to little girls who like to make believe.

    (Scene: Drawing of a pink fridge in a garden, door standing open.)

    VOICEOVER: To you, it's just a worn-out fridge.

    (Shot widens to reveal more of garden and little girl standing looking at fridge.)

    VOICEOVER, in dreamy tones: But to a child, it's a caravan, a ship, a castle, even a bed...

    (Fridge door slams shut)

    VOICEOVER, harsher and colder: ...and a death trap! Airtight and impossible to open from the inside.

    (Now tone of panic in voice)

    Don't let an old fridge be a new danger to children.

    (Man appears with hammer)

    Take off the door, or smash the lock, or better still, ask your local council to take it away or tell you how to dispose of it... before it kills a child

The problem of children being suffocated in old fridges was largely eliminated by the introduction of magnetic seals instead of locks.

Modern viewers might reflect on what dangers can best be tackled by education and what by other means. A similar debate was held on this website last month about the energy wasted by standby buttons: instead of trying to persuade people that they should turn off devices properly, should the authorities not insist that manufacturers develop energy-friendly standby buttons?

Or, as some readers commented after the Jimmy Savile "clunk click" film, why spend 10 years trying to persuade people they should wear seatbelts when a simple law change proved so effective at increasing rates of compliance.

The answer has a lot to do with Parliament not, on the whole, being keen to pass legislation carelessly or on a whim (elder statesmen sometimes opine that "rushed law is bad law"). It also has something to do with it being more effective to introduce a law which people see the sense of. And it must also have something to do with the authorities catching up with society.

Enter our competition

Could you do better yourself? Here's your chance to try. The Magazine is inviting readers to make your own 60-second films.

Your brief is to celebrate the art of the public information film. This means you can make a film which warns of modern danger in a contemporary style, or you can produce one in the style of films of old. It's up to you.

You've got until the end of the month to make the film and get it to us. Films should be 60 seconds maximum. Please make sure you do not infringe any copyright - including music - in your films. Please submit your films to us via e-mail or by post.

E-mail attachments should be sent to the.magazine@bbc.co.uk, subject line STOP LOOK LISTEN COMPETITION. Attachments should be no bigger than 10Mb - you may be able to compress the file by zipping it.

If your film is above 10Mb, you can either upload it to your own personal webspace or free online storage sites (such as www.ourmedia.org) and send us an e-mail telling us its address.

Alternatively you could use free online file transfer services - see this Creative Guy blog posting for a list of 50 such services). Again, please address these to the.magazine@bbc.co.uk, subject line STOP LOOK LISTEN COMPETITION.

If you want to post the file to us, please burn them on to a DVD or put them on MiniDV, and send them to:

The Magazine
BBC News Interactive
Room 7540
Television Centre
W12 7RJ

Here's some small print.

Terms and conditions If you submit an image, you do so in accordance with the BBC's Terms and Conditions.

In contributing to BBC News you agree to grant us a royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to publish and otherwise use the material in any way that we want, and in any media worldwide. This may include the transmission of the material by our overseas partners; these are all reputable foreign news broadcasters who are prohibited from altering the material in any way or making it available to other UK broadcasters or to the print media. (See the Terms and Conditions for the full terms of our rights.)

It's important to note, however, that you still own the copyright to everything you contribute to BBC News and that if your image and/or video is accepted, we will endeavour to publish your name alongside it on the BBC News website. The BBC cannot guarantee that all pictures and/or video will be used and we reserve the right to edit your comments.

At no time should you endanger yourself or others, take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws.

Stop Look Listen is compiled by Giles Wilson

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

funny to realise how much that fridge film affected me. Just yesterday I panicked when I found my four year old son trying to hide in our fridge - I gave him a long lecture about how dangerous fridges are because they can't be opened from the inside. It did occur briefly to me after I had given the lecture that surely in fact the fridge could be opened from the inside - but the image of a child on wasteland suffocating to death in an old fridge is forever imprinted on my mind!
Annie, London

The old fridges.. in Guyana, there are a few lying around and two years ago, two children died after being in an old fridge with the clasp. It was very horrible for the family, since they thought the children had visited some other relatives.
Vidyaratha Kissoon, Georgetown, Guyana

The 'Running for a Bus' film has a particular relevance to me. In 'the good old days' ('70s)the double decker buses were of the routemaster design and the entry at the back was open with no door, encouraging people to run and jump on as it was pulling away. I did just that one day and managed to get one foot onto the platform and grabbed the rear vertical rail as the bus pulled away. The bus's acceleration was enough to swing me round until I was facing in the opposite direction of travel and clinging on for dear life! I did manage to swing back again when the bus stopped accelerating and got on to the bus platform - that was one of the most scary moments of my life! So the film wasn't so daft after all.
Dominic Kelly, Reading UK

Interesting that the idea of disposing of it properly is something of an afterthought in this film - far better to leave it dumped in your garden (or on public land) and smash it up a bit!
Anon, UK

You mention J. Savile's "Clunk, Click", and the greater efficiency of legislation - but the real reason such legislation is so often delayed, or even abandoned, is because, time and again, the "Civil Liberties" lobby vocally opposes such wicked acts as forcing everybody to ... (whatever it is), because such will inevitably lead to a police state, fascism, etc ... And have you forgotten the "Start a protection racket in YOUR car" campaign, that predated Savile's?
J. Thomas, Wolverhampton, England

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