Noise to Signal

Login disabled.

The Good Old Days? - Public Safety

Most wealthy countries have instructed their citizens on how to keep safe for quite a few years now; it would be fairly pointless for a country whose citizens are struggling to survive each day to advise them on more mundane dangers. If your country has PIFs at all, it's doing well and you're living a charmed existence, compared with most of the world.

Jo and Petunia - Coastguard (1968)/Coastguard's Job (1970)/Changing Plans (1970)/Sea Danger (1982)
Our pair of useless holidaymakers fail to realise that a man sailing is in trouble until the man cleverly turns his shouts for help into a large speechbubble. Remember - if you see a boat that you think may be in distress, dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard. The other two PIFs deal with what a Coastguard does, and the importance of letting people know if you change your plans whilst at sea to avoid the coastguard being called out unnecessarily. 'Sea Danger' is a thoughtful PIF, with the sea being given a seductive female voice, telling people that although she gives people fun things to do, they don't heed warnings and don't treat her with enough respect, despite knowing what she's like...

Here's an updated version of the Jo and Petunia PIF.

Evil Smog...
A still from 'Prevent Smog'.

Beware Fog/Prevent Smog (1969)
Before the common use of smokeless fuels and the decline of heavy industry in the UK, foggy weather could easily turn into smog, which killed many people with breathing problems and caused low visibility. Smog is now a thing of the past in the UK, thankfully.

Paraffin Heaters (1970)
This warns that all paraffin heaters need a flow of air to avoid producing dangerous fumes. Paraffin seems to have been superceded by Calor gas in the UK, but it is still important that there is good ventilation to cut down the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, which occurs when there isn't enough oxygen to burn gas into carbon dioxide (carbon dioxide being CO2, rather than monoxide which is CO; only one atom of oxygen to carbon is required for carbon monoxide, which poses a far greater danger than carbon dioxide, which requires 2 atom of oxygen per atom of carbon).

Jo and Petunia - Water Safety (Flags) (1970)
Yep, Jo and Petunia strike again. This time, Petunia points out the meaning of water safety flags on beaches, and Jo lusts after a mermaid; unsuccessfully.

Electricity Hazards (1970)
Before plugs were mandatory for electric appliances, some (insane) members of the public put the wires into the plug socket with the aid of matchsticks. Without the plug keeping the earth wire from the live wire, it was a recipe for electrocution; and with UK voltage being one of the highest in the world at 240 volts, this wasn't a risk to take lightly. In fact, it's surprising that insulated plugs didn't become compulsory until 1994.

Ted Moult advises the nation on Foot and Mouth.
Ted Moult advises the nation on Foot and Mouth.

Waste Food - Ted Moult (1971)/Foot and Mouth Precautions (1972)
Just think, when I first saw these in the late '90s, I thought foot and mouth was a thing of the past. Ha! Anyway, Ted Moult (that bloke who advertised Everest windows), advises us to wrap uncooked scraps in newspaper and to put them in the bin, so farm animals can't catch foot and mouth through infected meat scraps. The second PIF is a straightforward list of advice for a foot and mouth outbreak; something rural inhabitants of the UK are all too familiar with nowadays.

Abrasive Wheels (1971)/Young Workers - Fooling About (1973)/Young Workers - Machinery (1973)
These all concern themselves with industrial safety. Before guards on machinery and tough rules were implemented in industry, it was easy for someone to injure themselves or others in an industrial setting, especially if they were young and too inexperienced to take the dangers of the 'factory floor' seriously.

Lifting Safely (1972)
This is aimed at working men, but the advice is sound for all of us; bent knees, straight back. Back pain is notoriously difficult to treat, so prevention is the key here.

Fat Fires (1973)
The advent of healthy eating and proper deep-fat fryers has made the open chip pan more of a rarity. Just as well, really, as they were a common source of fire, as this PIF demonstrates. Remember; keep a damp teatowel to hand when cooking with fat, as this can cut off the oxygen to any fire that might break out.

The Fatal Floor (1974)
Rugs on wooden floors have made a bit of a comeback recently. Don't put them on polished floors; the poor young man in this PIF, as it says had 'only just come from the hospital'.

The Protect and Survive logo. Wah!
A still from 'Protect and Survive -  Action After Warnings'.

Protect and Survive - Action After Warnings (1975)/Protect and Survive - Casualties (1975)
My, this is a piece of the past that I'm defintely NOT nostalgic for. The 'Protect and Survive' campaign is infamous for not being fully implemented, due to fear over the British public's reaction to the nasty reality of a nuclear attack. And these PIFs are pretty nasty, to the point where I can't actually watch them for fun. Thinking about being trapped with your family in an 'inner refuge' for days on end listening to updates on the radio, and wrapping dead loved ones in polythene because you can't go outside to bury them is not going to cheer anyone up. The PIFs also hit a low of ridiculousness in advising anyone stuck outside during a nuclear attack to lie in a ditch, and to brush any fallout off before entering a building. Like the 'Duck and Cover' campaign in the US, they simply highlight how futile it is for a government to advise their population how to survive a nuclear attack. Even if you did decide to follow the advice, what kind of world would await you once you emerged following the 'all clear' signal? Who would be around to sound that signal, or, for that matter, any signals warning of fallout? If those thoughts weren't enough, the closing jingle is HORRIBLE AND SCARY. It's enough to make even the most war-hungry join CND. If you feel up to it, more information on the leaflets is here.

Door Chain (1976)
The jingle for this PIF is based on 'Green Door', and points out that a caller may have less than innocent intentions, so a door chain is useful until you can verify their identity. Sadly, some unscrupulous people still exploit the goodwill of innocent people, especially the elderly. Proceed with caution, folks.

Talking Gas (1978)
Roy Kinnear provides the voice for the paraffin gas inside a heater, showing the gas' frustration at wanting to expand outside the canister, and also the disturbing result of a gas leak.

Clothes Fire Presenter - William Woolard (1978)
Clunky early computer graphics aside, this is a useful PIF outlining the sources of fires in the home, and how to cope if your clothes catch fire.

Beware Malaria!
A shot from 'Malaria Warning'.

Malaria Warning (1983)
Oddly enough, increased travel would make this PIF even more useful, but malaria doesn't get as much publicity as it perhaps should do. In any case, this PIF advises the areas which malaria is common, and particularly targets immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, telling them that any immunity they may have might have been lost after several years in the UK, and that their children would not have any immunity at all. It's easy to forget about malaria, especially as you only tend to hear how it affects poorer people in the world, and anti-malarial tablets not being pleasant (not a taste I'll forget easily), but it can still be a killer. With Western Europe becoming warmer, malaria may become a big public health issue here.

Fire Doors - Patsy Rowlands and Peter Cleal (1976)
The late, great Patsy Rowland plays the tea lady in this PIF showing the consequences of wedging fire doors open. They might be a bit of a pain for tea ladies and the like (not that tea ladies exist any more, but still), but they play a vital role in stopping the spread of fire. So keep 'em shut.

Positive Furniture Labelling (1983)
Willie Rushden plays a comfy chair who's very proud of his fire retardant properties. Nowadays, this is more of a given, thankfully!

Pretty Girl, Pretty Drunk (80s)
Rather sexist Scottish PIF saying women don't look good when drunk. The large numbers of women getting pissed nowadays shows that this inhibition is well and truly dead.

Ear Protection (70s)
Legislation has made Britain's decling number of manual workers wear the protection available to them, but back when Britain had a thriving manufacturing industry, many men thought protecting themselves from the risks to their health was a threat to their masculinity. Ah, the good old days...

Automatic Half Barriers (60s)
Automatic half barriers are used on level crossings for minor roads, often in rural areas. The idea behind them is that cars can avoid becoming trapped if they're crossing when the barriers come down. However, there has been a few accidents over the years since their introduction in 1954, with the most recent being the Ufton Nervet rail crash in 2004, where the accident, which killed seven people, was caused by the driver of the car on the crossing failing to take advantage of these barriers due to his desire to commit suicide. He was successful, but may have not realised the danger he presented to the oncoming train.

Sneeze - Handkerchief/Don't Spread Germs (40s)
In pre-antibiotic days, catching something nasty could be a real problem, and these PIFs were to raise awareness of the ease with which germs could spread. Nasty colds meant a nasty rate of absenteeism, of course, and the real intent was to make sure Britain had a healthy, present workforce. The resistance of many germs to anti-biotics nowadays means that this advice is back with a bang.

Broken Guns (70s)
In a country where gun ownership is severely restricted, shooting has never really been a sport for the masses (and there's a reasonable case to not define it as a sport), so it's interesting that it was felt necessary to tell people that shotguns should be broken whilst walking to avoid the trigger being set off accidentally.

Rabies does indeed kill.
A still from 'Rabies Advice'.

Rabies Means Death/Rabies Advice (1983)/Rabies Outbreak (1976)
Explains why generations of British holidaymakers avoided animals like the plague when abroad; we had the bejesus scared out of us by films and posters. It's undoubtely a terrible and deadly disease, but the authorities never quite explained to us why other Europeans managed to do ok, despite rabies being commonplace in mainland Europe.

All Overboard/Marine Safety Equipment (1983)/Fishing Accident (1983)
The silly Robinson family show how not to set out to sea. The number of rescues HM Coastguard and the RNLI have to carry out each year suggests that there's still plenty of idiots around who have little knowledge of how to cope with the sea.

Keep Flues and Chimneys Clear (70s)
Thankfully, the laws around the maintenance of gas heaters have become tighter over the years, and for good reason; the carbon monoxide that ill-ventilated and maintained gas heaters emit kills.

Stubble Burning (80s)
It's Jimmy Savile again. He advises farmers to 'stay out of trouble with burning stubble' by not letting the smoke drift across roads, providing firebreaks, checking wind direction, not burning stubble at weekends or bank holidays, and obeying any specific by-laws. He sums the whole issue up with the phrase 'Burning Straw Comes Under the Law'.

Dangerous Diamonds (80s)
There are two edits of this PIF, but only the music has changed. It brings your attention to the diamond signs shown on lorries signifying dangerous loads. The advice then, as now, is to keep away from any accidents involving dangerous loads and to phone for help.

Reach, Throw, Wade, Row (70s)
In the light of this minor scandal recently, where two Community Support Officers didn't jump into a lake to save a boy from drowning (they called for backup), this is an interesting PIF, which advises people that jumping into water to try and save someone from drowning is not a good idea and may result in your death. The advice given is to increase your reach by using clothes or sticks, throwing a life buoy (or similar), wading carefully if you have to go into the water, or to use a boat if one is available.

Keep Farming Safe, folks.
A shot from the 'Keep Farming Safe' campaign.

Keep Farming Safe - Guards/Pesticide Containers/Tractor Accidents (60s)
Sadly, the decline of farming means these are unlikely to be made in the future. But look! There's a young Kenneth Cope in the 'Guards' PIF, which is amusing, and dates these PIFs from the early to mid 60s.

Fire is a Nightmare - Mary (70s)/The House That Jack Built (70s)/Tidy Up at Night (1969)
Of course, house fires are still a major killer in this country. It is interesting, however, to note the removal of many fire hazards over the past 30 years; open fires have become a rarity, smoking households have decreased, and electrical appliances are now better designed, so they can be left on overnight without a significant risk of fire. Also, the introduction of smoke alarms have also made properties a lot safer. However, the advice in the second PIF is still wise; close all doors at night to stop smoke spreading.

Thank God for public safety; it's kept Jimmy Savile in work.

About this entry


>Pretty Girl, Pretty Drunk (80s)

Rats...I'd really love a link to this!

By Phil Reed
May 27, 2008 @ 9:39 pm

reply / #

It's just some girl throwing up and a patronising voiceover, but when I have a bit of time, I'll see what I can do.

By Tanya Jones
May 27, 2008 @ 9:44 pm

reply / #

I know they're horrible, and they're not particularly practical, but I love the Protect and Survive vids. They're wonderfully eerie.

By Seb Patrick
May 27, 2008 @ 10:02 pm

reply / #

>It's just some girl throwing up and a patronising voiceover

I'm already enjoying it.

By Phil Reed
May 27, 2008 @ 10:16 pm

reply / #

Love the "evil smog" one!

By Marleen
May 28, 2008 @ 9:19 am

reply / #

> I know they're horrible, and they're not particularly practical, but I love the Protect and Survive vids. They're wonderfully eerie.

They are amazing, but I tend to watch PIFs because of the oddly comforting effect they have on me, so I avoid any that give me a nasty jolt. I think Victor Lewis Smith did the best deconstruction of them in 'Ads Infinitum'; "Radio Holocaust!".

By Tanya Jones
May 28, 2008 @ 9:59 am

reply / #

> Smog is now a thing of the past in the UK, thankfully.

Have you not been to Middlesborough?

By Ian Symes
May 28, 2008 @ 2:42 pm

reply / #

I have, and I didn't see any. I didn't like it much, though, and I had to nurse John through a tummy bug whilst I was there, and then caught it myself. Fun, fun, fun.

By Tanya Jones
May 28, 2008 @ 5:00 pm

reply / #

This is clearly all Cappsy's fault, naturally.

By Seb Patrick
May 28, 2008 @ 6:57 pm

reply / #

Actually, I had a odd feeling in Middlesbrough the other day. It actually felt... well, pleasant. I spend so much of my time there, I'm starting to like the place. Especially now certain aspects of it are being actively improved upon. Unfortunately, you can't fix the people.

By Jonathan Capps
May 28, 2008 @ 9:00 pm

reply / #

> Love the "evil smog" one!

Marleen, is there a similar DVD release of German PIFs? I imagine that you must have them over there...

By Tanya Jones
May 29, 2008 @ 10:48 pm

reply / #