Dr Derek J. Ripley explores the lost world of the public service film

PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 December 2014 | UPDATED: 17:51 19 January 2016

Health and Safety is serious business

Health and Safety is serious business


Dont talk to a stranger - he may be a Yorkshireman

It may be hard for younger residents of this fair county to believe, but it is less than half a century since we had to be warned not to leave the house without switching off our electric trouser press or unplugging our fondue maker. Appliance fires were just one of the many hazards faced by ordinary folk as they went about their daily routines.

Thankfully, for subsequent generations, there is a greater awareness, largely due to the sterling work of the Lancashire Office of Information (LOI), set up in 1946 by Lancashire County Council to help educate and protect its citizens.

During the Second World War, mobile cinemas had toured Lancashire towns and villages teaching the public how to stay safe in the event of a bombing raid or enemy invasion. When peace dawned, the County Council retained this valuable service and thus the LOI was born. Working from an extensive warren of basement rooms in County Hall, the LOI commissioned dozens of informative films on issues that impacted on ordinary lives; from health and education to welfare benefits, from public safety to how to dress tripe correctly. In this way, they also challenged some of the stereotypes and prejudices about the county.

The Public Information Films they produced have since acquired something of a cult status, often due to their unintentional humour. Anyone over 50 will remember the rasping growl of a ginger cat called Carlos, the hero of a film called Carlos Say, a short film, but one which touched a nerve amongst a whole generation of youngsters. The film warned Lancashire children of the dangers of talking to strangers — especially Yorkshiremen – unless, of course, they were seven feet tall and wore a tight-fitting bodysuit with a green cross, in which case it was perfectly acceptable for them to hold your hand while they escorted you across a road.

In 1953, the Oldham film studios of 20th Century Spatchcock won the exclusive production rights for LOI films. The short films they made were supplied not only to cinemas but to local broadcasters free of charge and were often used to fill gaps in commercial breaks left by unsold advertising airtime. The Spatchcock studio specialised in producing these films quickly and cheaply – cleverly using sequences edited out of their main film productions.

They cover a wide range of topics such as how to thread a needle safely, how to keep dry in the rain and how to survive a thermonuclear attack using only a rolled-up newspaper, a box of matches and half a pound of unbleached tripe. Many of the films were aimed at youngsters and were shown repeatedly during breaks in children’s programmes during holidays and at weekends. Some of them were quite terrifying and have been linked to bed-wetting and psychological traumas that persisted well into adulthood (despite five films in the series Uncle Alf and Auntie Phyllis Explain Bed-wetting and Psychological Traumas).

Alf and Phyllis became huge favourites with both children and adults as their appalling stupidity caused danger for themselves and everyone around them. They appeared in such films as: Too Many Pies Make You Fat, Keep Doors Closed To Stop Draughts, Always Wear A Hat and Don’t Talk To Stranglers. Sadly, Phyllis suffered a fatal accident whilst filming Avoid Dancing On Freshly Mopped Lino.

For more of this madness buy Forgotten Lancashire and parts of Cheshire and the Wirral by Dr Derek J Ripley. To purchase a copy go to www.forgottenlancashire.co.uk.

A wonderful Christmas gift!

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