My Favourite Public Service Announcements
So…Hi. Been a while. How are you? You look good…
Ok, ok yet again life has got in the way a lot but I fully intend to get back to regular posting (it could happen) and if you come back at this time next week I shall continue my odyssey into Disney Reviews only a full year after the last one. But for today I bring you the small offering of a list on a subject near to my heart…
Public Service Announcements and Public Information Films (PSA or PIF) come in many forms on many subjects but the intent is always the same: To scare you into submission. They try and frighten indifference out of you and many of them are successful. The strength of their impact depends on your own personal tolerance for discomfort and your own vulnerabilities that have been programmed into you by years of shit parenting and sub par life experiences. We all have different buttons that can be triggered almost immediately by the most seemingly insignificant stimuli.
Here are some buttons. I am prepared to bet at least one of you is freaked out by that.
Not all PSAs are made equal though. I remember as a kid being shown a video of a child crossing the road playing a video game and then they get hit by a car and the game says GAME OVER because it was part of the Mario Bros Dramatic Irony (TM) Series and the catchy slogan flashed up on screen: ‘Remember: cars can come out of nowhere’ I was about 5 and I turned to my Mum and said: ‘Don’t they mean anywhere?’ I was unmoved by the sight of a small child about my age getting his tiny skull smashed in by a ford fiesta but galvanised into outrage by the clunky final thought.
Some of the ones I was forced to sit through either as part of my “education” or because I was raised by television were not so easily dismissed and it has only been in the last day or so that I began to consider why that is so impressive. I really was obsessed with some of these short movies and advertisements and some of them even lead to the changes in behaviour intended…sort of. Very small changes in behaviour. I certainly considered putting my seatbelt on sometimes before not bothering and that is power*.
But it is more than the message getting through that makes me admire them as a genre. As a horror movie fan I appreciate how many of them were able to tell a solid story with a compelling narrative and at least one shocking image while still being short enough to be shoe horned in between the latest instalment of Baywatch and important announcements about sofa sales set to a bastardised version of a classic rock song.
(*Of course I wear my seatbelt Mum, don’t bother phoning me about it.)
But here is the best part of all this nostalgia juice: I grew up in the 90’s in the UK.
My school class photo. I think. Good times.
So yes, I was a 90’s kid which means while the PSAs I grew up with can now be considered vintage (oh stop whimpering we are not old, just older) I missed out on the best of the best. When it came to scaremongering about the state of the world: Take a bow, the 70’s and 80’s: take a bow. The very best of the PSA boom took place over the course of these two decades and by God some of them really straddle the line between horrifying and hilarious as perfectly captured by genius comic writer Graham Linehan in this vine that I have watched about 6,000 times:
To look back at these films/ads before my time was a fascinating glimpse into the hot topics at the time of broadcast. Some of them are so iconic and so embedded in pop culture that I was familiar with the tag line/images even if I didn’t see them as a kid.
So I’ll take it we are done with the whole free love hippy thing then? Well it was fun while it lasted…
Are they usually aimed at kids? Not always but often. Certainly the more emotionally manipulative ones (we will get to those) are aimed at parents, most of whom are already terrified that their incompetence will lead to their children dying at some point. But a lot of them are designed to hammer home the message that gutsy youngsters who think electricity is a myth WILL get fried to shit if they so much as glance at an overloaded plug socket. That is, if crossing the street, talking to strangers and playing on a farm doesn’t get them first.
So before we get started, two important points:
1. This is a surprisingly complex and interesting topic (or I think so anyway and since I am the Cokieblume of the blog title then I guess I win) so I have decided to focus on UK ads and films only as this was where I grew up. I am happy to say that a surprisingly high number of my regular readers come from across the seas and it might be these shorts lose something in translation because they didn’t grow up watching stuff like that.
For example. We watched this as kids. It was called Bodger and Badger. The Badger threw mash potato at Bodger a lot. Where is your God now????
So I hope this doesn’t feel too exclusive. If it proves to be a popular topic with folk I will go on to research how other countries liked to scare their children into not playing with matches and the like. I have already seen a good few that are literally screaming out for such scrutiny. And yes. I am talking about the Canadian ‘Prevent It’ series. WTF Canada?
2. I have mostly selected PSAs/PIFs that made me laugh more than scared me but that doesn’t stop them being off putting and downright disturbing to some. If you don’t think you can handle chat that includes creepy music, emotionless voice overs, old people having sex on faulty electric blankets and the screams of injured children perhaps this isn’t the place for you.
To be clear, I am not making fun of people who die in horrible ways. I am laughing at/admiring the people who come up with creepy campaigns to stop people dying in horrible ways. That is the bit that is funny. Not the fact that kids in the 70’s used to risk their lives and terrible haircuts for the sake of a frisbee. Although now I write that down, that is kind of funny.
They are all called Jimmy…Why are they always called Jimmy?
Honourable Mention: ‘That’s no Good’
Ok, I KNOW I said I was sticking to UK ones only but I did used to watch Sonic as a kid and like a lot of 80’s/90’s shows there used to be a morality lesson stuck onto the last 30 seconds of every episode so they could pretend the show about a blue hedgehog who took too many steroids was educational and worthwhile. Most of these lessons on the end of Inspector Gadget, Super Ted, Captain Planet etc were pretty forgettable and pointless and even beautifully sent up by the glorious Animaniacs.
But in terms of exploring a complicated, sensitive topic in an inappropriately short length of time…The Hedgehog has them ALL beat:
Yes. You just saw that. That actually happened. At the end of a cartoon. While a computer version of King in the Mountain Hall played in the background. And then it stopped. With the advice that you just tell the molester no, run away as fast as your tiny matchstick legs can carry you and tell a Parent or a Teacher or a Police Officer because they have never abused anyone right?
We are all alone aren’t we?
11) Trick of the Light (1991)
And nobody was ever robbed again…
Well done everyone we did it!
10) Prams and Pushchairs (1979)
I have so many questions about this one. I hesitate to say it, considering how much judgements gets thrown at Mothers anyway, but come on 70’s Mum, how the fuck do you get into this situation? How did you end up so far away? She is on the other side of the road. That is already messed up before we even get to the baby falling into your handbag that appears to be full of broken glass or something.
I love that the world eventually resolved this one by changing the design of prams because clearly 70’s Mum wouldn’t stop abandoning her kid in the middle of the street while she went to get a haircut for a couple of hours. You keep being you 70’s Mum. Shine on you crazy diamond.
9) Charley Says Don’t Talk to Strangers (1973)
Now this really is a classic: You got the child voice, the choppy animation, the kid is so innocent just enjoying the fuck out of that swing and then Oh No shadowy Kidnapper with his van full of imaginary puppies and lost dreams has arrived to take all the laughter out of the swing session but it is ok because Charley is there to sort shit out and save the day by reminding Idiot Features there that nobody with feet that badly animated has any pets.
So the kid says no and, defeated with no other way round it not even brute strength or chloroform or anything, the Kidnapper exits stage left to find another unsupervised child to snatch and our heroes get some snacks for managing to avoid the mess of Mummy having to identify his tiny mangled body down at the morgue.
So all is well right? Well…
I am not going to lie, there is something really off-putting about Charley. In fact, if there is a twist to this tale and there usually is, I think he was the pedo in a cat costume all along. What cat eats a fish like that?
I am on to you, you wailing bastard.
8. Lonely Water (1973)
I think what makes this one so brilliant and memorable is how turned on he sounds throughout. Am I being crude and injecting subtext when there isn’t any? Nope. He fucking loves his job. Listen to him groan and moan his way through the 90 second wonderland and tell me he isn’t recording this with at least one hand on his cock:
And his horror when he stumbles across ‘sensible children’ with their common accents and quick thinking he just can’t hack it. But he’ll be back apparently. Wait what? He’ll be back? So…what? There’s no point in even TRYING to survive? Cause at some point he will be back for you?
Unexpected water: The Number 1 killer of the plucky working class underdog. Beware.
7. George and Betty (2003 apparently but it looks like the work of the 90’s to me)
Nothing makes me sadder than harm coming to an old man in a bow tie. So the tragic passing of those ever loving horn dogs George and Betty isn’t comical exactly but it just seems like an odd pitch:
Ad Guy 1: So we’ve been hired to create an advert that aims to reduce the number of deaths caused by ancient electric blankets that catch fire really easily
Ad Guy 2: Who still uses those?
AG1: Old people mostly. They get cold a lot easier and then out comes the electric blanket…
AG2: Hmmm…old people, blankets, cold…
AG1: So maybe the old lady is chilly, gets out the blanket and then it cuts to a smoke filled bedroom and-
AG2: Slow down Bob, I am going on a mind journey and I want you to come with me…How about there are two old people called George and Betty…
AG1: Are they not your parents names?
AG2: Don’t worry about it. And they are going to play a little game they like to call burying the bone…
AG2: And we see them celebrating their anniversary, sexy music is playing, he gets out the red slip he likes her in, she cleans up their wedding china…Then…then…then…The audience realises that George and Betty enjoyed one last night of passion and pleasure in this world before their skin was ripped from their tired old bones in a blaze of red satin and torched wrinkles all because they just HAD to have their old electric blanket while they did the mattress dance. And all that remains are their rotting skeletons with just the shadow of one last post shag grin on Dad-I mean George’s face…Yeah…that will show them…that will show them…
AG1: Well it is 5.30 so I guess that will do.
And speaking of red hot flames…
6. Nightmare (1990)
One of the things I have learned from this little excursion is that while the 70’s Mother is to blame for her baby going splat on the pavement, ALL MEN are responsible if the house burns down. Seriously. Clearly house fires were very common in the late 80’s early 90’s and as a result there are several brutally unpleasant PSAs on the topic reminding ALL MEN to change batteries on smoke alarms and test them once a week (Once a week? Really??? I just don’t love my family that much…) as well as keeping exits clear, keeping risks minimal…So many of the adverts end with a ruined, broken man crying in exactly the way his Father always told him not to having lost his beloved if slightly bland wife and children to a horrible, horrible death.
One of the only ones that didn’t end this way focused on the kids sitting scared and crying as their home filled with smoke and while it was unsettling I noticed they were shouting: ‘Dad! Daddy!’ Seriously, did I miss the meeting where we all got together and decided men were solely responsible for keeping houses smoke and fire free? Did we agree as a collective that women are in charge of water and wind and men earth and fire? What is with this targeted marketing gimmick?
I always knew my own stupid penis would be the death of my loved ones…
But taking away this oddness, I nearly didn’t include any of these on this list because fuck me do I find them effective and not even one bit amusing. Some of them are so unnerving I was tempted to stay up all night to check my house didn’t go on fire. But then I remembered that is a Man job and I am a Woman so I went to bed.
And I woke up having not died so take that inevitable 90’s fire!
So anyway, here is my favourite of the genre:
What is my favourite part I hear you cry? Is it the fact that fire is an annoying ham of an actress shrieking her way through her script like she is having a break down? Is it the dopey look of the guy running around trying to run around and sort out his embarrassing mess of a home? Is it the fact that he actually left a pot on the stove before going to bed in this scenario? Nope. My favourite thing is the fact his instinct as soon as he wakes up is to light a cigarette. It is the most 90’s thing I have ever seen.
5. Play Safe (1970’s/80’s)
Frisbees…Kites…Footballs…What do all these things have in common?
They are sexy as fuck…But no. They seem fun, sure they do, but they are all out to kill you.
This is one of the key examples of the aforementioned sub genre of the PSA: Trying to teach spirited youngsters not to do stuff that they, being spirited, will naturally want to do. Basically, the classic PSA wants to crush your youthful lust for life into dust so you can stop all that silly nonsense and be sensible like the right-to-be-disappointed-by-life narrator.
Play Safe seemed to come round every few years adjusting the short films to include whatever toys da kidz were playing with at the time. They all have the same basic premise: Toy where electricity is, stupid kid goes to get toy, sensible kid watches and does very little to stop them, kid gets fried.
I love the girl in this one who is all: ‘We should have told the police’ Yep. It is hard enough to get them to take you seriously when a crime has happened let alone when the wind changes and you lose your kite. Unless it is a cartoon police officer in a crimeless cartoon town itching to feel useful I think you might be bang out of luck.
I love the trope of the world weary ‘sensible’ one who is all: ‘It ain’t worth it, bruv, me ol’ mucker’ The football one is much more unsettling because they go to the trouble of killing off the little kid as well as his Brother just to really hammer home the point: One Kid smelling of charcoal and regret is one thing, but two is well sadder innit?
Now in the frisbee one we learn that sometimes you can tag out the ‘Don’t be a mug, me old bamboo’ friend for the pushy ‘go get that thing for me, I don’t see how this could end with me never being able to sleep again’ girl. Her line reading of ‘JIMMY!’ really sells it so much so they use it twice:
Even though these were all a bit before my time I recognise the setting as a version of the world that only really exists in these kind of films: The weirdly specific grim yet oddly bubbly music, the saturated colours, the greyness of the pylons, the hopelessness of the world, the way the kids only seem to have the kind of conversations that adults write for them, trapped in an endless loop of ‘You’re just scared’ and ‘He was just showing off’ and ‘JIMMMYYYY!’
I feel like what you would take from this is not the rather sensible notion of: ‘Don’t climb on pylons and other things where you might get shocked’ and more you should probably give up this ‘playing’ malarkey as soon as possible.
Don’t die for a kite. Kits are not worth it. Kites suck.
4. Where is your Lad? (1981)
I have no idea what this one was going for. It says it is about vandalism but…
I guess when John turns and spikes the lens and there is the sound of glass shattering they are trying to say that John is out smashing windows with all those good for nothing boys down the road but what comes across is John’s dead centre drop dead gorgeous smoulder broke the camera lens.
Also…Lad means penis. So…there’s that.
3. FARMS!!!! (1975/1977/1993)
FARMS ARE TRYING TO KILL US ALL! YOUR CHILD MIGHT BE BEING EATEN BY A FARM RIGHT NOW!!!
Ok I am cheating a bit by including 3 entirety separate videos with this one because this is super significant to me. I grew up in a farming community and so I had to watch more than one safety video on this topic. It was drummed into me at an early age that while frolicking on bales of hay had to be done, it was crucial you didn’t enjoy it. A tractor ride? Sure, but not without being super aware of your own mortality. Happy 8th birthday!
Good luck making it to your 9th, you daredevil…Actually this does look kind of unsafe…
As I have said most of these videos amuse me more than unnerve me but these are the exceptions because they just felt so close to home. I grew up around all this stuff and was constantly being merrily informed of the consequences of letting your guard down around farm equipment. Even though the following video, Grain Drain, contains more of the ridiculous than the sublime the idea of drowning in grain still scares the shit out of me and that is before you throw in the classic child screaming sound effect from the BBC radio phonic workshop…wonder how they happened to have THAT on file:
Listen to that matter of fact voice over, watch them casually toss a doll in, marvel as he refers to as an oxygen deprived child as ‘it’ and then of course-Put a grid on it. So emphatic, emotion free, totally fucking ridiculous and yet still so creepy.
But that is NOTHING compared to what I have in store for you next. In all seriousness, these next two films are so horrible I can’t in all good faith recommend you sit and watch them. Also they are long as fuck and I know your attention span can’t handle that so let me summarise:
If you let your kid play on a farm they will drown in shit.
It’s the cirrrrcle of life…
Apaches has become infamous for the needlessly horrible details and the sheer body count which just becomes so ridiculous that the children who make it to the end become largely indifferent to each fresh farm murder. In fairness, that kid could have easily just jumped off that tractor…But the worst one by far is the girl who drinks weed killer or something and then…
I wrote this as a comedy post but the vocal performance this kid gives from 17:47 onwards is so convincing and disturbing that I have to stress again how much you don’t have to listen to it. You will now I have said that. And you won’t sleep tonight. So sorry.
But this is what I mean about these things being GREAT horror movies. No film I have watched in the past 20 odd years has found a visual that makes me wince as much as that audio clip of a little girl waking up in the night in agony and screaming for her Mum.
So if that hasn’t put you off here comes the tour de force that I thought I would never see again. ‘Never Rest’ is a…Well it describes itself as a drama for kids about farm safety. I watched it in a class full of kids, many of whom lived on farms. I don’t know how many of them remember but I sure as fuck do. Mainly for the fact that it kind of forgets what it is trying to do. The point of a PIF is to inform and educate but this just went ‘fuck it, let’s do a ghost story’ Seriously.
Joshua Walker was a farmer in the old days who accidentally let some kids die and is haunted about it. Meanwhile some modern kids in stylish shell suits keep nearly getting into shenanigans on their new farm but the ghost of Joshua Walker keeps them safe and in doing so puts his spirit to rest…Or does he? No he doesn’t.
At this point you might be wondering: What does the fate of a fictional ghost have to do with teaching kids not to stick their arm into farming equipment? A good point. While initially all the modern kids survive, learn important lessons about farm safety and thank the ghost of Joshua Walker for hid help by putting flowers on his grave the film ends with one of them dying anyway and the flowers blowing off the grave…So…Did they get lost on their way to the pitch meeting? How is that ending appropriate for a PIF? What is the message? That just because a ghost saves you once doesn’t mean you won’t get hit by a tractor the day after? Or maybe that death is inevitable and we are all fucked so you might as well just jump head first into the grain dispenser? Why is there a twist ending at all? Why is…What…Did this film just INVENT the Final Destination movie series???
Moral of the story? Farms are super dangerous and will kill you and you can’t even stop them. Next!
2. Protect and Survive (1975 onwards)
Wow. What can anyone say about Protect and Survive? Like a lot of these videos it is one of my the most British approaches to horror I could ever imagine. Basically these PIFs were a series of films about what to do if nuclear war broke out. My personal favourite is the final film in the series which is simply and coldly listed as ‘Casualties’ Take a look if you dare:
I can’t even…
First of all, this was made at a time where this scenarios seemed likely. Let that sink in. Someone had to think about this and write and record it and animate it with the idea that they would drop it if nuclear attacks seemed inevitable.
Second of all, the radio is our Master. The radio knows all, stops all, completes all…The radio decides when it is safe to go outside…Here is hoping you bought enough batteries for it.
Thirdly, the helpful calendar. The helpful arrows. It is all so helpful… I can’t…
But most of all it is the matter of fact advice which is borderline pathological.
If someone you loves dies a horrible death while you are cowering from doom be sure and label the body. For your Queen and country.
The little musical phrase at the end…Just…I am trying to find words, I am.
What were they thinking? No really: What kind of fucked up psychopath wrote this?
Is this the right approach with a potential crisis of this scale looming? I honestly don’t know. Sure you don’t want nation wide panic but this…this is so detached and often useless (one of the earlier videos suggest of nuclear war breaks out while you are outside just get under a bridge and…that’s it. That’s all their advice) that it just can’t be the best choice. You can tell they are only guessing because they actually have no idea what to do in this situation or indeed any situation. I don’t have a better idea outside of just sending out leaflets that just say: ‘try and enjoy yourself. If this bad boy hits, we are all fucked’
Oh God I made it…
1. How Much is that Doggy? (1987)
No fucking way. No fucking way. No. Fucking. Way.
That was all I could say for about 15 minutes after watching this.
They put this on a screen. This can be viewed by you right now because someone made this.
Ladies and Gentlemen, may I proudly present my favourite PSA and possibly the greatest horror movie I have ever seen. This isn’t even a joke. Take a deep breath and hit play:
All I can see in this advert is a society who exists to protect animals is holding one hostage in the name of getting their kicks. Listen to that voice. That is a serial killer right? Like, if you could summon a voice into existence to fit with your idea of an emotionally detached murderer who aches for blood that is the voice you would come up with, yes? The voice reliably informs us that they will SHOOT this clearly petrified dog in the fucking head if we don’t wire him a single pound coin ASAP. That is in. That’s the whole concept. Dogs will die if the RSPCA don’t get their green. And it will be your fault. Not the fault of the MANIAC WITH THE GUN.
Am I taking it too literally? There is no mention of putting the dog down, or over flowing kennels or people not taking good enough care of their pets they just go right for the: Stop what you are doing or the dog will die. No context, no intro, no education, no information. As far as we know this is their set up down at HQ. Just animals hanging around with guns in their faces at all times. And the way he says: ‘We’ll have to pull the trigger’ No regret, no anger, no fear, no pain…If anything it sounds like he HOPES I don’t give him a pound so he can cover himself in sweet, sweet dog brain.
It is sick, it is twisted, it is nightmare fuel…
I love it. It was one of the most gripping things I have ever seen.
When I started to watch this the combination of the music (Oh God that music, if there is a more alarming version of that song I don’t want to know about it), the innocence of the slightly skittery looking dog and the camera creeping closer to him created a kind of dread in my stomach I didn’t know was possible. I felt ill instantly. The anticipation felt like it was killing me. Where the hell was this going? I could have 1000 guesses and never have got it right.
And the way the Dog looks to the side, seeing the danger before we do…It is inspired. Psychotic but inspired. I didn’t think the pay off could possibly justify that creepy, evil build up but it DID.
I laughed so hard, out of shock, horror and because the whole thing is ridiculous, that I thought my body was going to give out there and then. I thought I was going to die at the hands of the RSPCA.
What a way to go though.