“It’s easy enough to know who’s good and who’s bad on the telly…but people are not always what they seem to be, in real life…”
No, this isn’t me posting a satirical blog about Nigel Farage et al. Rather, in celebration of half-term and The Kiddies being palmed off to various holiday clubs, outdoorsy-play schemes, neighbours and grandparent’s stomping-grounds, I thought that it might be timely to remind us all of the bread n’ butter of our childhood horrors; the British Public Information Films.
The quote provided above, is taken from the 1981 film (slightly less scary than the 1971 version) and the subject material of today’s blog all began when my 10 yr old, her dad and I were chatting about the fact that her little brother was spending the day away from us all. She says; “Well, I bet he’s having a right nice time of it. Going swimming and that.” “Yes,” I reply, “I hope he behaves for Grandma. And is sensible. Especially important to be sensible during half term and when you’re away from parents and your usual routine. Do they tell you that at school these days? Before the holidays?” “What d’yer mean?” she asks. “Well,” husband begins, “The things that you must never ever do…You know…”
HIM: ….Stuff like – don’t venture onto iced over ponds and lakes. And in – fact – beware of all open water swimming and whatever you do, never eat a heavy meal beforehand and….
10 YR OLD: Eeeek! He’s going swimming! He is! I just said!
ME: Yes but Grandma’s with him. And she’ll only let him have a Waggon Wheel beforehand or something.
10 YR OLD: He is so spoiled.
HIM: And….don’t climb electricity pylons … Oh God. That awful film – where the kid climbs one and gets electrocuted and falls off. Remember?
ME: No – but you’re older than I am. (To daughter) So don’t they show you films at schools about dangers… in the holidays? And, well. Dangers in general? Dangers-for-all-of-the-time.
10 YR OLD: No.
ME: Don’t you get a policeman coming in and describing that if you got run over by a bus – you’d look like a piece of cotton wool soaked in red ink?
10 YR OLD: No…
HIM: Is that what you got, then? In Manchester?
ME: Yeah. They pensioned him off soon after that, so I heard.
HIM: Bet you remembered to stay away from buses though.
ME: Absolutely. So…hang on sweetie. Who warns you about the accidents and the hazards and the mad strangers who might steal you?
10 YR OLD: Dunno. Well, just the teacher. Goes ‘BlahBlahBlah be careful of ponds. And did-you-know-that-you-can-actually-drown-in-a-millimetre-of-water’. And all of that.
ME: So no videos? Or stern policemen?
10 YR OLD: Nope.
HIM: That’s rubbish! Every child deserves to be scared witless! Chip pan fires! Wandering off on your own! Fastening your seatbelt!
ME: And what about the Stranger Danger stuff?(To him) Hey! Remember the car that flashed red to show you that the man in the car was really evil? And the bad stranger fella… whose face suddenly went all nasty and twisted to show the kids that you can’t judge whether someone is a sicko by the way that they look?
HIM: Yeah. Why don’t they show that kind of thing anymore? And the puppies – they always had puppies. Or said that they had. And tried to give you sweets.
ME: (To daughter) So tell me… what would you do? Do you know your stranger-danger code? Because you’re very friendly with most people aren’t you?
10 YR OLD: Yeah. But I can usually tell who’s a weirdo and who isn’t.
ME: Ah but no. That’s the whole point. Horrible stranger sorts can often appear to be very nice. And charming. So… what would you do if someone had like, a really nice bag of something yummy and offered it to you?
10 YR OLD: I wouldn’t eat them because they’d be poisoned.
ME: No – that’s just in America where they do that. Try and poison little kids at Halloween. That doesn’t tend to happen here. So what would you do…?
10 YR OLD: I wouldn’t touch them if it were fruit! You know me! I don’t eat any fruit at all!
HIM: (Sighs.) Yes, we know. So, okay. It’s sweets then! Your favourite sweets.
10 YR OLD: So long as they aren’t Haribo. I hate Haribo. Most kids don’t. But I do.
ME: Fine, fine! So it’s not Haribo, okay? It’s … a bar of Cadbury’s Caramel. And…. some nice puppies to go and play with.
10 YR OLD: Do you really think that I’m stupid? I’d tell him that I’m allergic to chocolate! I’d just LIE!! And say that I preferred kittens, anyway. Honestly! You two!
ME: Well. That’s good enough for me. But anyway, when we’re back home – I’m tracking down those videos on youtube and you can watch them. The ones that me and your dad were exposed to as kids.
10 YR OLD: NO WAY! NO WAY ARE YOU MAKING ME WATCH SICKO VIDEOS!!
ME: Don’t be silly. They’re fine. Look at me and your dad! We never got drowned or kidnapped or electrocuted. They never did us no harm!
10 YR OLD: Ahem – you stand corrected, Mother. You did electrocute yourself once. You fell off a chair trying to change a lightbulb in my bedroom.
ME: That wasn’t my fault. That’s ’cause your dad was away and he should have been doing it.
10 YR OLD: AND…. Dad also said that when you lived in Africa you got electrocuted when you tried to feed a monkey some sausage and you forgot that the fence was electrified.
ME: Yes, okay. That IS true.
10 YR OLD: …And that it went ‘BANG’ and you flew backwards…and you were more embarrassed – than dead. And Dad said that all of the monkeys couldn’t believe how stupid the mad white lady was.
ME: …But all the same….
10 YR OLD: AND you ran off with a man to Africa. Who gave you a kitten. So this is all a bit hypno-critical, isn’t it?
ME: Let’s not get into that. And your Daddy isn’t an evil-stranger sort. But, as I was saying…You’re watching those videos. And I’m going to judge your reaction. I believe in using my children as a social experiment.
10 YR OLD: Noooooooo! I REFUSE TO WATCH IT!!
ME: Well if you do, that’ll be no telly for the rest of the holidays for you.
HIM: I mean – you’d think we were trying to force her to watch ‘Saw’ or something!
ME: …Rather than Jimmy Saville glaring at us until we fasten our seatbelts. Because I have a strong feeling that some of those videos now contain some dreadful ironies….
So that’s that. And for those of you who want to ‘remind’ yourselves, or hey – for those of you who have never been blessed with watching these informative wee videos issued by the British Government – here is….
1971 – ‘Never Go With Strangers’ – the one that I most vividly remember watching (at the age of 7)
1981 – ‘Say No To Strangers’- 10 years later and the government released a different version. I remember this one too. And not just because of the host of ‘later to be famous’ 80’s actors. Timothy Spalding fiddling with a Rubik’s Cube etc.)
Now, give me a few days to expose my own children to such traumatising material from the 70’s and 80’s and I will soon report back…