Apologies for repeating myself, but in the previous Pointless Nostalgia I mentioned those emails we all keep getting, about how on earth danger-loving children from the 1970s survived to tell the tale. Well, I’ve just remembered how – in Britain, we had Public Information Films. The government of the day were so concerned about our health, well-being and general survival that they spent literally some money on producing a series of these helpful, informative, often funny, sometimes downright terrifying films, which were shown both on TV and in cinemas. Virtually every one of them was, necessarily, memorable: Charley the indecipherable Cat, whose owner warned us not to talk to strangers (“the man asked, would I like to see some puppies?”); Basil Brush and Roy North on being safe at the beach by using, amongst other things, terrible jokes; Rolf Harris on the necessity of learning to swim (he tells us his near-drowning experience“frightened the weets out of my mum ‘n’ dad”); Tufty the Squirrel on road safety in a town where the policeman was a badger; and, two of my favourite characters, the idiot couple Joe and Petunia, who were never more happy than when littering the countryside or watching sailors slowly drown – that’s comedy Northerners for you.
However, it’s the scary, gruesome and graphic PIFs that most people remember best from that era. I imagine some budding horror directors cut their teeth on some of these masterpieces of child-terrorizing imagination; after a daily dose of these from my TV set, damned sure I wasn’t going to climb on electricity pylons, go tightrope walking over a railway line, cross the road in front of speeding cars, go head-first through a windscreen or try to drive straight through a moving motorcyclist – these were films which drove their points home to gory and lasting effect.
But the one which still give me nightmares to this day comes from 1973, and goes by the infinitely spooky title, Lonely Water. The spectral, robed “spirit of dark and lonely water” stalks misty embankments and scrapyards, where foolish children are likely to play too close to water, usually with tragic results. The spirit is voiced, to spine-chilling, teeth-chattering, bowel-wrenching effect by the ever-malevolent Donald Pleasence. It’s the first film on this little compilation; please, don’t have nightmares.