It is one of the fundamental truths of the human condition that sometimes people have to be saved from themselves. Throughout the years following the end of the second world war, the British government and other bodies felt it important to issue films warning the general public of the dangers that surround us in our everyday lives. These took the form of Public Information Films which were shown between television programmes and in schools, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that they left their mark on the Great British public of a certain age. Sometimes humourous and sometimes weird, they are best remembered for being often completely terrifying, so we’ve brought together ten of those that may have had the most serious knock-on psychological effects on the middle-aged amongst us.
10. The Blunders: This short series of films was produced in 1976 with a view to reminding drivers of the perils of not wearing a seatbelt on account of the stupidity of others, focusing on three characters from a fictional family who have more on their minds than taking care whilst driving their cars, and where it succeeds in horrifying anybody who watches is in the speed with which the focus of the films switches from slightly undercooked comedy to somebody’s face smashing through the windscreen of a car.
9. Play Safe: The Play Safe series was originally produced by the Electricity Council as a short film to be shown in schools, but was then cut down to a series of shorter films to be shown on the television as Public Information Films. Now iconic as perhaps the most famous of the genre in terms of their style, they warned of the dangers of playing near extremely high voltage electricity cables and pylons.
8. Rabies Means Death: Being an island, Great Britain was for a very long time strangely proud of its record for not bordering the animal-transmitted foaming at the mouth horrorfest that was rabies, and the government aggressively sought to maintain this status by producing a series of public information films warning the public not to try to flout our extremely stringent laws on bringing animals from abroad into the country illegally. Rabies Means Death intercuts a harmless enough – although, it has to be said, somewhat shifty looking – middle-aged woman trying to sneak a cat into the UK in a bag with footage of some poor individual dying of rabies.
7. Lonely Water: Produced by the Central Office of Information in 1973, Lonely Water – perhaps better known as “The Spirit Of Dark And Lonely Water” – has enters the annals of infamy for its bleak warnings over what may happen to careless children playing near water. Narrated by Donald Pleasance, it has been argued that Lonely Water is reminiscent of his film Don’t Look Back. It was certainly effective. Many who saw it at the time later commented that because the film had scared them so much, they never wanted to go swimming again.
6. Robbie: It says something for this particular genre that Robbie, which was produced by British Transport Films, was made as a replacement for a film further down this list but which was considered too graphic to be shown to children. Robbie is a “feature length” public information film about a young boy who is multilated in three different ways as a result of straying closer to a railway line than he should have done. Each horrifying incident was afforded thirteen minutes, to be shown in schools. Here’s one of them.
5. Buiding Sites Bite: Perhaps it is merely a reflection on the era’s growing interest in science fiction, but Building Sites Bite – which is described in its own YouTube comments as being part of the “Holy Trinity of Public Information films”, along with The Finishing Line and Apaches, bot of which also appear on this list – is only presented from taking a higher place here by the unexpected appearance of a teleporter in it. Other than that, ths is the story of a young lad called Ronald, who finds himself dying in a series of most unfortunate manners on a building site.
4. The Finishing Line: Two places above on this list, of course, was Robbie, and in position number four comes the film it replaced, The Finishing Line. First produced in 1977 and withdrawn two years later, The Finishing Line has gained infamy within this genre for being probably the most graphic of them all. In this case, a railway line is used as the scene for an Olympic Games style tournament which ends in numerous children getting either killed or seriously injured.
3. Protect & Survive: Well, we’re down to the final three now and it’s starting to get very difficult to separate the contenders, so in third place is Protect & Survive, which is prevented from finishing any higher by not actually ever having to be shown. This series of twenty short film was produced as a spin-off from the British government’s ill-conceived guid to how to survive a nuclear attack and would only have been shown, on all channels on a loop, in the event of attack being imminent. Narrated by the late Patrick Allen and with a creepy electronic music soundtrack, Protect & Survive offers, depending on your perspective, either false hope or helpful advice to those just to be vaporised by atomic weapons.
2. Apaches: Perhaps familiarity has bred a little complacency into me, but I don’t quite have the heart to put Apaches, which is probably the most famous of the films at the stop end of this list, at its very summit. None of this is to say that this isn’t horrific viewing, of course. Produced to scare the bejaysus out of the children of the 1970s on the sbject of being around a farm, Apaches (the name comes from the Western theme that overarches it all) sees, amongst other things, one child buried alive in slurry, whilst another accicentally drinks some weedkiller and meets a similarly grisly end.
1. Never Go With Strangers: In the number one position, then, is Never Go With Strangers, another feature length edition which squuezes its way to the number one spot in our list for using primitive special effects to turn its creepiness levels up to eleven. Playing out a series of scenes in which children may find themselves vulnerable to being snatched by strangers, it goes out of its way to scare the living daylights out of its audience through a variety of different methods, including altering said paedophiles faces to make them look like the devil and shading the colour of their cars in with red felt tip pen. Once seen, never forgotten.
You can follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter by clicking here.