Friday August 26, 2016
In the 1980s it was not uncommon for a television viewer to fall asleep during a BBC1 revival of Dracula AD1972 only to awake not to a be-caped Christopher Lee but a Morris 1100 attempting to overtake a Bedford CA pick-up.
As you wondered just when the Count managed to find the time to pass his driving test, there is a low budget crash, followed by Geoffrey Keen bellowing ‘Keep your distance – you’re a fool if you don’t!’ as various hubcaps fly.
Public Information Films - or PIFs - often populated late night television, and their standard format will be familiar to any reader who grew up in the 1970s and early 1980s. An actor who last played the part of “Third villain from the left” in Z-Cars would be driving along a country lane that bore a remarkable resemblance to a vehicle testing ground, whereupon his ten-year-old Hillman Minx Series V would explode due to his not adhering to the Highway Code.
A smug announcer would then explain the error of the foolish motorist’s ways – ‘Driving blindfolded whilst wearing flared trousers can be dangerous – don’t do it!’
Several marques and models of car populated the great British PIF, from the Austin Allegros of the Green Cross Code campaigns to the Mk.2 Cortina of Road Testing Pedestrians but one vehicle, in particular, became a Public Information Film star.
Even as a child, I soon learned that if an ADO16 appeared in a PIF this was a very bad sign for any protagonist. An 1100/1300 was used by the sort of driver who spread litter in the countryside, overtook at zig-zag lines, drove too close to Vauxhall Victors on the motorway and who dared to mix cross and radial ply tyres. Running for a bus would lead to your demise via a lethal Austin 1300 and one of the best PIF campaigns involved the Blunders, a family of 1100 Mk.2 driving twits who caused Ford Escort Mk.1 drivers to plough into telephone kiosks. By the end of the 1970s, I became afraid to leave the house in case I fell prey to the ADO16 of doom.
The Central Office of Information also commissioned some 20-30-minute PIFs to be screened in schools, colleges and offices. The central premise of 1975’s Drive Carefully, Darling is truly bizarre – the brain of an FE Victor driver is controlled by Colin ‘The Sixth Doctor’ Baker and John ‘Boysie’ Challis – but it is a thought-provoking and even moving production.
Another classic, Night Call, made in 1977, had Barrie Ingham’s journalist haunted by the Grim Reaper's Ford Granada GL and another favourite of mine is The Motorway Files which boasts a hilarious performance from John Malcolm as a hungover sales rep in a Cortina 1600L.
The PIF that made the greatest impression on more youthful me was Candles for Katie, which I saw when I was 11. From a 2016 perspective, the road scenes have a fascination of their own, a 1981 Britain when the Escort Mk. III was becoming established in suburbia and when every other car seemed to be a Vauxhall Chevette.
Some titles were recycled for years – the Joe & Petunia Coastguard warning dates from 1968 – but once the viewer became distracted by the fashions or some exceedingly ropey acting – their message would be lost. But whenever I see footage of a by-gone PIF I am instantly transported back to a time when the announcement ‘And now a public information film’ meant Edward Judd shouting ‘Think Bike!’. Or yet another bout of the terror of the BMC 1100/1300.
You can relive the great days of the PIF with http://shop.bfi.org.uk/the-coi-collection-volume-four-stop-look-listen-dvd-bluray.html#.V6L6PfkrLIU