Public information films are a series of British government commissioned short films, shown during television advertising breaks. Though they first appeared during the Second World War to impart life-saving information and generally gee up the population, by the 1970’s they had homed in on very specific subjects the Government wanted to educate people on the risks of, from rabies, to swimming in public places to playing near electricity pylons. So keenly felt was the Cold War period in Britain during the 1970’s, that public information films were created to essentially not tell the public what might happen but more what they should do after it does happen. Notorious for being one of the most graphic and disturbing of all the public information films, Apaches was made in 1977 and lasted a full 27 minutes in its complete form. Lonely Water is perhaps the best known and almost forgets itself in the hurry to warn children against playing in public waterways and turns into one of the classics of 1970’s British horror. Initial difficulties with the filming included getting the smoke to drift in the right direction, constructing a wooden platform for the spirit to stand on, and the noise of aircraft flying overhead due to the shooting location being close to Heathrow Airport.

The US equivalent is the public service announcement (PSAs). The films are intended to advise the general public on what to do in a multitude of situations ranging from crossing the road to surviving a nuclear attack and often show the risks of breaching health and safety regulations by graphically depicting the potentially tragic outcomes of doing so. Though they only lasted 1-2 minutes, they were startling brutal in their presentation, designed to shock the public into using common sense rather than perpetuate bad habits or ape other’s actions.
These films were especially bleak and instructed the audience as to how to shield themselves from the initial blast as well as more humdrum activities such as how to safely dispose of dead relatives. Lonely Water was produced by Illustra Films and directed by Jeff Grant, having been commissioned by the COI as a result of official concern over the high number of child fatalities in drowning accidents in the UK. Lonely Water was filmed over two days a few miles north of London. Planes can be heard in the tracking shot of the rusted cars and cookers, which were brought in specially for the filming. Public information films reached their dizzying heights in the 1970’s when film-makers pulled out all the stops to scare the British public half to death.

They were narrated by noted voice actor, Patrick Allen, who can also been seen in many films, from Captain Clegg, Dial M For Murder to When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. Some of the films appeared during the British TV classic, Threads, which imagined what would happen if a bomb were to fall on Sheffield. Director, John Mackenzie, also directed the excellent David Hemmings film Unman, Wittering and Zigo and went on to direct the gangland crime classic, The Long Good Friday.
The films ended with perhaps the most terrifying sound ever created and should have come with a warning in its own right.

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