COI: a history in ads

After 65-years, the Central Office of Information is to formally close for business at the end of this week. The perfect time, then, to look back, and celebrate several decades of public information ads launched on the COI’s watch.


Our retrospective starts in 1971, with a spot that explained, in a refreshingly mater of fact manner, the switch from pounds, shillings and pence to the pounds and pence that still makes the world go round today.

Moving through the decade that style forgot to one of several road safety campaigns fronted by the avuncular, if a little odd, staple of seventies TV and radio Jimmy Saville. This spot is an instruction to “ladies”, in a not at all sexist tone to “clunk click, every trip”.

Perhaps the most enduring, if unintentionally creepy, of all Government ads to marketers of a certain age. The Charley Says….spots that warned kids about the dangers of talking to strangers. These ads launched The Prodigy’s career.

Man mountain Bristolian David Prowse managed, with no discernable acting ability, to play two of the most iconic characters in film and TV history: The body of Dark Lord Vader and the Green Cross Code Man, seen here in one of several mid-seventies spots about road safety.

Changing tact, the Government roped in trusted sports and pop stars of the day to warn kids that they could die if they don’t look right and left before crossing. Boxer Joe Bugner, Glam rocker Alvin Stardust and a very stern Kevin Keegan, seen here.

The threat of nuclear oblivion at the hands of the Russians and their communist cohorts was still very real in the seventies. So much so that the Government produced this portent-filled guide to protecting against and surviving a nuclear attack.

To the eighties, and a campaign that, although criticised at the time for misinformation, carried a strap that still resonates today – “Don’t Die of Ignorance”.

Anti-smoking campaigns have progressed from the softly, softly “smoke if you absolutely have to but you might be left with a nasty cough” to the unequivocal smoking kills message slapped on packs today. This Blade Runner esque late eighties spot sits somewhere in between.

Briefly, as the eighties bled into the nineties, Hale & Pace were, incongruously with hindsight, considered by many to be hilarious. Their Mafioso enforcers creation The Management, therefore, was considered the ideal conduit to tell people to handle fireworks responsibly.

The scavenging, predatory behaviour of Hyenas was considered the perfect metaphor for car burglars in the nineties. Car crime continued to soar, probably.

Latest from Marketing Week

Influencers, consultancies and the recruitment crisis: The key topics of conversation at Cannes Lions

cannes lions

Cannes Lions 2018: Marketers turned out in force to advertising’s biggest annual event. But away from the usual talk of purpose and creativity, some big issues such as the recruitment crisis, how advertising responds to the #MeToo movement and cleaning up the influencer marketing space were discussed.


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here