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The 5 Most Terrifying Public Information Films from the 1970s

The culture of health and safety video nasties

By Ian VincePublished 5 months ago 3 min read
Top Story - October 2023
Bizarre Midjourney Render

As parents, we are constantly on high alert for anything that could endanger our kids. We do it at the swimming pool, the roadside, the barbecue and in the kitchen.

And now that we live in an internet-enabled world of terror, even the sound of a new chip tune theme song coming from the iPad can make us wary. Modern life is scary for sure, but our parents and grandparents didn’t have it any easier, according to the film output of the Orwellian-sounding Central Office of Information or CoI.

There was a time – in the 1970s and 1980s – when the CoI were so worried about us all they tried to educate an entire generation on the wild dangers posed by rugs on parquet floors, flying kites and refrigerators. The CoI didn’t restrict itself to talking down to children, but included their parents as well, in a series of minute-long films on a variety of safety topics.

Smoker of the Future

This high concept film made by Saatchi & Saatchi in 1985 imagines an evolutionary future where the first human to be adapted to cigarette smoke is born. Against a dystopian backdrop that wouldn’t have been out of place in a high-budget sci-fi film, we learn of the special adaptations – a bigger nose to filter out smoke, extra eyelids to stop irritation, long index finger to tap the ash and smaller ears because “they don’t listen”.

Get Yourself Seen

Anyone who watched this cycle safety film from 1978 will still be humming its catchy tune well into their mid-fifties. Cut together film of cyclists signalling right, applying paint and wearing high-viz jackets might not sound too thrilling, but the snappily edited minute of happy, casual safety information shows that you don’t have to underscore serious messages with doom or a perfectly enunciated, clipped English voiceover that seems to come from a stuffed tweed suit.

Disused Fridges

A real horror from 1971, when fridges still had latches rather than the magnetic strip to seal them, this cartoon playfully suggests how children would imagine the inside of fridges to be rocket ships, castles or anything other than lethal white goods dumped at the end of your garden. No figures are available as to how many imaginative children were saved by not accidentally locking themselves in a fridge, but the problem mercifully went away with magnetic door seals.

Charley Says – Matches

As one of a series of Charley Says films released in 1973, Matches is officially one of the nation’s favourite PIFs, according to a recent poll. Like all Charley Says films, ‘Matches’ features the unintelligible musings of Charley the ginger cat, helpfully interpreted by his hapless young owner who would otherwise walk off with strangers, drown, pour a pot of tea on himself and all manner of other everyday perils. In this case Charley expresses, in strained mewling, the dangers of playing with matches. Charley, voiced by the late, great Kenny Everett, represents the high-art of relaying often quite disturbing messages to young children in a light-hearted way that would not give them nightmares.

Lonely Water

Nothing as cute as a poorly-animated cat in this 1973 mini-horror featuring Donald Pleasance as the distinctly unpleasant ‘spirit of the water’ – a reaper of souls dispensing karmic drownings to anyone idiotic enough to mess around by the water’s edge. Calmly and ominously, a grim, hooded figure shows up to take children’s lives one by one. Some of us couldn’t be in the bathroom for the full measure of the toilet flush for a good long time after catching this on a Sunday afternoon.

See more PIFs at the National Archives website:


About the Creator

Ian Vince

Erstwhile non-fiction author, ghost & freelance writer for others, finally submitting work that floats my own boat, does my own thing. I'll deal with it if you can.

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Comments (15)

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  • Kelly Sibley 4 months ago

    ......OMG.... Lonley Waters makes me scared to go outside! Very interesting, well done.

  • Scott Christenson4 months ago

    Back in the day, I waked to kindergarten alone when I was 5 through a not great neighborhood and no one worried about a thing. (the risks were probably higher back then tbh, its just the fear & paranoia of the internet didn't exist yet) Interesting to see the public service ads from the UK. never seen them before, interesting.

  • The Flying Man One4 months ago

    very nice

  • Joe Young5 months ago

    A fine collection that stirred memories. Lonely Water is a great little film - and Donald Pleasance is just right for it. I remember another PIF that showed kids making a camp on a farm by removing hay bales from a huge stack and tunneling their way inside. Someone lit a match, and out came the stock footage of a fire engine. I also recognised your rug reference. I believe it started with the narrator saying "Polish a floor, put a rug on it, and you may as well set a man trap." Great post.

  • Naveed 5 months ago

    Congratulations on achieving top story status!

  • Ian Vince (Author)5 months ago

    Many, many thanks for all the congratulatory messages and the positive feedback. I'm properly flummoxed by the TS accolade, but I'm running with it anyway. I don't tend to do a lot of list-type pieces in humo(u)r - my output has always been satirical and parody-based, but there's so much in the world that almost seems to satirise itself, “it's funny 'cause it's true” just doesn't seem to cut it anymore.

  • Novel Allen5 months ago

    It seems the more you ask kids not to do something, the more curious they are to find out what the fuss is about, Still, we have to try. Whether old or new, safety advice never grows old. Congrats on TS.

  • StoryholicFinds5 months ago

    great story ❤️

  • Lamar Wiggins5 months ago

    Thank you for sharing this. I love jingles of all kinds. So the song for “get yourself seen” is priceless 😂 to me. I think I’ve watched it 3 times already and will be forwarding it to a couple people. I know it’s a serious message but the song itself is hilarious to me. Congrats on your top story!

  • Dana Crandell5 months ago

    These were memorable. Almost as memorable as the films they used to show in Driver's Education classes in the early 70's. I think we'd have much safer roads if they brought those back. Nearly a half-century later, I can still see some of the grisly scenes in my mind.

  • Wow, I have not seen any of these 🎥 🎬 ♥️💯✌️😉Congratulation on your Top Story🎉🎉

  • Some excellent scary videos here, and I remember a lot from the seventies including Charlie Says

  • Paul Stewart5 months ago

    when i saw this I hoped Lonely Water would be there! damn those 70s! honourable mention should go to the ladybug, I think, matches one and Jimmy the electrocution one! fine piece! congrats on TS! you have a new subscriber!

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  • Alex H Mittelman 5 months ago

    I love the smoker of the future I don’t know why. It’s a good concept and I want a full length movie!

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