One area of television presentation that I haven’t taken that much of a look back at yet is the Public Information Film. They were commissioned by the Government, were rather short, usually running for under a minute, some were animated and some were live action, and all of them had the aim of trying to pass on an important message to help people of all ages. Some of them now are unintentionally amusing, while some are rather shocking, they did anything that they could to try and get the message across.
Adding to the fright factor was the fact that most of these would be shown when you least expected them, usually rather late at night, on BBC1 or the early days of Channel 4 before closedown. There were so many memorable PIFs produced that Network compiled some of the highlights into Charley Says, a DVD that featured almost 160 PIFs ranging from the late-50s to the early-80s.
The character of Charley was one of the most well-known in PIFs, an animated ginger cat (voiced by Kenny Everett) who passed on plenty of things that needed to be known by children in the early-70s, along with his human friend Tony. This was also sampled by The Prodigy for “Charley”, which was released in 1991 and was their first Top Ten hit single.
There really were a wide range of topics covered in PIFs, whether it was road safety, explaining decimalisation, keeping places tidy, or just generally hoping that people wouldn’t end up doing something daft that would make them or everything else around them explode, so listen carefully to the advice. Crossing the road isn’t as easy as you think. It seems that there was a lot of effort to make these PIFs on the mouldiest film possible too.
Another element to PIFs were the vast range of celebrities who featured, and if Jon Pertwee, the cast of Dad’s Army or Shaw Taylor feature, then that is definitely going to make viewers sit up and listen. Some of the topics covered might have had an incredibly obvious message, but people needed to be told. I don’t remember many of the PIFs featured on Charley Says from first time round, but they really do capture an interesting look back at this period of British history.
The DVD did well enough with viewers for Network to release a sequel called Charley Says 2, featuring even more classic PIFs taken from the archive. You wouldn’t think that there would be a market for such a thing, but they do bring back memories for people, even if they are remembering what you had to do if there was a impending nuclear war. No wonder people had nightmares.