Public information film

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Public information films or PIFs are a series of government commissioned short films, shown during television advertising breaks in the UK. The US equivalent is the public service announcement (PSA).


The films advise the public on what to do in a multitude of situations ranging from crossing the road[1][2] to surviving a nuclear attack.[3] They are sometimes thought to concern only topics related to safety, but there are PIFs on many other subjects, including animal cruelty, protecting the environment, crime prevention and how to vote in an election or fill in a census form.

Many of these films were aimed at children and were shown during breaks in children's programmes during holidays and at weekends. The general low-budget quality and the infamous static "crackle" before them gave them a Hammer Horror style aura. Some of them were quite terrifying and remained ingrained in the child's psyche well into adulthood, others were quite humorous and used comedy to show the dangers or ridicule the folly of those who ignore them (Joe and Petunia are a good example of a comic PIF). Many of them involved or were narrated by celebrities of the day.


The earliest PIFs were made during the Second World War years and shown in cinemas; many were made by and starred Richard Massingham,[4] an amateur actor who set up Public Relationship Films Ltd when he discovered there was no specialist film company in the area. They were commissioned by the Ministry of Information, and Massingham's work has since gained a cult following for their quirky often humorous tone. After the war PIFs were produced by the Central Office of Information (now closed), and again by private contractors, which were usually small film companies.

PIFs were supplied to broadcasters free of charge for them to use whenever they wished. Their usefulness as a cost-free means to fill the gaps in fixed-duration commercial breaks left by unsold advertising airtime led to their being used regularly and extensively in the 1960s, 1970s and much of the 1980s, and consequently, within both the COI and broadcasting companies, they were typically known as "fillers". They are still being produced, although the vastly reduced need for broadcasters to turn to third-party filler material to deal with unused airtime during breaks or junctions means they are now only seen rarely, usually in night time spots. Fillers are still produced and distributed by the Cabinet Office by the Filler Marketing team. The COI closed on December 30, 2011 after 65 years, and no longer makes PIFs. However, there are a few companies still distributing PIFs, such as; THINK!, Fire Kills, DOE, NSPCC, and National Rail. [5]

Some advertisements and charity appeals have gained the status of honorary PIF among fans, including Cartoon Boy, a 2002 campaign about child abuse produced by the NSPCC, while films such as the 1980s British Gas advertisement about what to do in the event of a gas leak can be considered non-Governmental PIFs.

PIFs have a nostalgic cult following and a DVD was released in 2001 called Charley Says: The Greatest Public Information Films in the World, comprising the contents of two earlier VHS releases. A sequel was released in 2005.[6]

Public Information Films produced by the COI covered a wide range of subjects. The fillers listed above were for domestic consumption. However COI Films was also commissioned by the British Foreign Office to supply films for overseas use. These films dealt with research and development, British products and the British way of life. They were usually distributed through the diplomatic network but not always. Some films were sold commercially to overseas outlets, mostly television.

Notable public information films[edit]

Cultural references[edit]

A number of musical artists have been heavily influenced by the analogue, overdriven sound of British PIFs, including Boards of Canada and most artists on the Ghost Box Records label, especially The Advisory Circle, whose album Other Channels directly references or samples many PIFs, including Keep Warm, Keep Well. Additionally, their debut album features a few reprises with the suffix "PIF". Another example of PIF influence in music was that of the song Charly by The Prodigy, from 1991, which heavily sampled the meows of Charley Cat. The song Two Tribes by Frankie Goes To Hollywood made use of the sirens from the Protect and Survive films. The comedian Chris Morris satirised Public information films in The Day Today in an episode where there was a constitutional crisis.


  1. ^ Lextronica DaForce (2014-07-19), Public Information Film - Green Cross Code Man 03, retrieved 2016-07-24 
  2. ^ "Watch The Balloon online". BFI Player. Retrieved 2016-07-24. 
  3. ^ "Watch Protect and Survive online". BFI Player. Retrieved 2016-07-24. 
  4. ^ "Watch Coughs and Sneezes online". BFI Player. Retrieved 2016-07-24. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Charley Says: Volume 2". Retrieved 2016-07-24. 

External links[edit]