Directed by: Various (Documentary)
Countries & Regions: United Kingdom
Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 215 mins
Region: Region 0
Released: 7 November 2011
Cat No: BFIVD935
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COI Collection: Volume 6 - Worth the Risk?
A collection of short information films made by the Central Office of Information (COI) during the 20th century. This volume focuses on... Read More
The very first film on Worth the Risk?, the BFI's latest collection of films drawn from the archives of the Central Office of Information – here on the subject of safety, risk, health and welfare – opens with the logo for The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents; what follows over the next 3 1/2 hours is a catalogue of near-misses, dinks, scalds, crunches, shocks and bumps, along with such a diversity of fatalities that you are set to wondering just how you are going to get through the days ahead without succumbing to the many traps that await. Over-confident drivers, broken glass in sand, broken glass in the road, a butcher's dirty fingernails, strangers with bad intentions and car bombs all await if we take to the streets. Better to stay at home; but are you really sure of that corned beef?
Taking us from the un-seatbelted era of the 'one for the road' 1940s to the zebra crossings and Green Cross Code Man of the 1970s and beyond, these many and various exhortations to take care and be a responsible citizen feature popular cartoon characters such as Tufty and Charley (the latter in a 1948 Halas & Batchelor animation that outlines the case for paying National Insurance) as well as well-known faces and voices of more recent years to help get their various messages across. Sometimes these are subtle, mostly necessarily not, as with John Krish's short, sharp 'Peach and Hammer' shocker. Films range from the genuinely creepy (Say No to Strangers, 1980) and disturbingly inventive (Grain Drain, 1975, which sees a doll sucked in with the grain in a silo), to the amusing (decimilisation drama Granny Gets the Point, 1971). The latter also features the best line in the collection, which goes to the smartarse kid who, after his granny wakes from a nightmare in which she is assailed by fears about the new currency, saying: 'them decimals, comin' at me from all sides they was, decimals by the dozen,' responds with, 'by the ten grandma, decimals come in tens.'
Some of the films are surprisingly audacious for their time too; the 1948 film Worth the Risk, which follows two characters whose lives are fatally linked, features the attention-grabbing words, 'Mr. Williams, meet Miss Jones – you're going to kill her in exactly 20 minutes' time', before going on to show how Mr Williams does exactly that.
Signs of the times come with UDR recruitment shorts and the looming clouds of nuclear war, although anyone concerned about such conflict would have been little reassured by the 1962 film The Hole in the Ground, which looks at the the work of the control centres for the UK Warning and Monitoring Association, where nuclear fallout is mapped with chits of paper and chinagraph pencils and a sort of desperate calm reigns. (If your appetite is whetted for more on this subject, a more comprehensively dispiriting set of films on the theme comes in the shape of the collection, Nuclear War in Britain: Home Front Civil Defence Films.)
So, just who are these films for? The answer is in the aforementioned Worth the Risk: 'people just like you who know that they will never have an accident'. So, whether you are a mad skateboard dog, a deerstalkered scooterist or the careful driver of a butterscotch-coloured Austin Allegro, the message is the same: 'Keep looking, keep listening, keep living.'