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.

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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”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnPkjyglhRs

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”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fErrB8NfARE

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.

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Tom Fishburne is founder of Marketoon Studios. Follow his work at marketoonist.com or on Twitter @tomfishburne See more of the Marketoonist here

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