Gamers from Britain of a certain age may recall the educational videos released by the government about various saftety topics – stranger danger, farm safety, getting crushed by trains, what happens if you slip on a rug, etc. I remember being terrified by the farm safety video when I was at school, and having to write some stupid essay about making too much noise in the changing room and having a kid fall over and hit his head on a radiator and die[1]. Well, the Guardian has an article about these videos and how terrifying they were, including links to the worst of them. They are genuinely creepy and nasty. The article mentions that they seem to have quite a resemblance to the style of horror at the time, and I do wonder which inspired which.

If you look them up on youtube you’ll find some genuinely disturbing entries in the genre, including the horrific Beware the Rapist (they told it like it was in ’70s America – who could ever trust a door to door christmas card salesman after watching that?) and the hilarious one about the pram. One can also look up the Protect and Survive nuclear war survival videos, which make Duck and Cover sound like a fairground game. I would have thought that as soon as those kinds of videos are being aired, in all seriousness, by your own government, it’s time to say “fuck this for a game of soldiers!” and overthrow the entire system – it’s beyond madness that people were seriously contemplating this kind of situation. Younger generations are, I think, genuinely lucky that the threat of nuclear war has faded, if for no other reason than that they don’t have to put up with these horrendous videos.

Some of the comments under the article contain links to and/or descriptions of other videos, and some of them also contain some pretty funny comments on how society has changed. This one, sadly unlinked, about safety videos in India:

A dad is driving to work, imagining all the horrific things his toddler might be dying of back home because of his lack of safety precautions there. He successively imagines, in graphic detail, it dying by putting its finger in an electric socket, being boiled alive by a pot of boiling water he forgot to take off the stove, slashing its throat on the razor he forgot to put away, falling off the fourth-floor veranda that he forgot to screen in, and so on. In the end he decides to rush home to make sure his kid is safe. When he sees it is unharmed, he is so happy, he picks it up, joyfully throws it in the air, where it promptly gets mangled in the ceiling fan

Haha! Disasters are funny! But funnier still, this style of video seems to have spanned the globe. Were the Soviets doing it too? Japan? Of course we don’t see these videos at all anymore (at least not that I can tell), maybe partly because Health and Safety education has moved beyond the belief that accidents are the fault of individual choices, to ways of designing them away – many of the “accidents” in these videos that the audience are warned about could be avoided by, for example, redesigning electrical plugs or putting proper fences around slurry pits. But maybe people realized that it’s better to die young in a slurry pit than to spend your youth watching horrible B-grade horror stories about slurry pits. Or maybe because, as another commenter observes, society was harder back then:

It was great in those days, so many ways to die, no chance of getting fat as even if your father was still around he was on a three day week and so spent all the money in the pub, drink driving wasn’t even recognised as a crime, and child abuse was a national sport. All men died three weeks after they claimed their pension, probably because of the 100 fags they had smoked every day since they were 8 years old.

Or maybe it’s because the government realized that this kind of movie is counter-productive if it’s going to lead to adults who write comments like this:

This is what is wrong with society and why kids have no respect, today they get CBBC and Mr Tumble, but in the good old days you were fully informed from an early age that you were almost certainly going to be dead tomorrow unless we listened to a paternalistic State. Now we have a State that is actively encouraging us to fill our baths with petrol.

Anyway, it’s interesting to watch these videos and see how things were in the 1970s – grindingly poor and very dangerous, and if you didn’t die in a slurry pit you’d die of shame at the clothes you were wearing. Thank the gods of commerce for progress, and ask yourself what terrors could lie in even the best made horror movie, when every time you went to school you would be exposed to videos like this. Child abuse or public safety campaign? You be the judge!


fn1: This was in detention, because we were all given detention for being noisy. The reason we were being noisy is because some odious little kid was running around the physical education changing rooms waving his newly-erect willy about for all to admire, but when the teacher came in of course we all shut up and he put it away. So when I wrote my essay about a kid slipping over and falling because he didn’t hear someone yelling a warning to him about the puddle of water, I guess I was working out my post-erectile trauma.