It’s so much more fun than work. I’m writing a play set in the seventies and as part of my doing anything to avoid writing the next draft research I’m looking at some of the terrifying public information films of the time. My God it was a scary time. Strikes, political dissent, and Donald Pleasance. You might not have heard of him but his voice struck terror into any child of the seventies. Here he is disguised as the Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water ready to trap the show off or the fool.
And if you escaped Donald Pleasance you might end up buried alive inside a disused fridge. That’ll learn you.
Managed to dodge death by white goods? You might like to nip to the shops in your car. But soft! You ladies going to the shops and the launderette, smarmed Jimmy Saville (well this was before feminism) might not have the same face in the evening as you started out with, in the morning. What do you mean Jimmy Saville – yes you with the Lady Gaga hair and face like a melted welly. Of course! Because the lady doesn’t Clunk Clink on a short visit to the shops she is thrown through the car window! Well that’ll learn you – Mrs. Or Boris Karloff as you’re now known.
Ok so you’ve survived deep water, abandoned fridges and you’ve Clunk Clicked. But you’re still not safe. There is the lurking menace of Stranger Danger – an absolute obsession in the seventies. Never mind that over 90% of child abuse is carried out by someone who should be taking care of the child. I watched a two part film featuring a robotic voice saying Say No to Strangers about the danger of getting into a car with Duncan Preston before he was enshrined as a comedy star on Victoria Wood. I watched this film all the way through and it’s genuinely terrifying. The ten year old girl, Teresa is persuaded that if she gets into Duncan’s car, they’ll probably meet her mum on the way. And he has a kitten. (That old one. Nowadays a weirdo in the car would be more likely to say he was a record producer and could make Teresa the next Brittany Spears. Mind you – most record producers are perverts anyway). So Teresa gets into the car and two seconds later mum rushes up in her high heels and career woman haircut. But it’s too late!
Luckily a smart black girl (and I mention that because again, this being the seventies – rife with open racism and programmes like Love Thy Neighbour i.e. Oh My God There’s A Black Man Living Next Door) has noticed the car and gives a good description to the police. Meanwhile Teresa’s mum is sitting on the sofa next to her husband Bernard (Yosser Hughes) Hill. But they only send a WPC round to Teresa’s mum’s house. One WPC. She’s played by Brenda Blethyn but still. Where are the police out making door to door enquiries? Or the police helicopters? She could be dead or in hospital! weeps mum, in a curious reversal of possibilities. I thought the first twenty four hours after an abduction were crucial. The message seems to be that if you get into a car with a stranger, you’ll only get a bored WPC writing ‘Blue Car driven by pervert – probably’ who then pats mum on the shoulder and says, I’m sure she’ll turn up. You can almost see the thought bubble where she adds, in a body bag. Part One ends with a shot of Duncan’s car as the light fades. Teresa is clearly in the house with him. Argggh! Nightmares! But in part two the film wimps out completely. Teresa is back with mum and the whole issue of her assault is smoothed over. He tried to kiss me and when I said no he did this she sobs showing a bruise on her arm. Oh dearie me, says a now clearly bored Brenda Blethyn probably thinking, When is Mike Leigh going to rescue me from a life of playing bored WPC’s in Public Information Films? The message seems to be, if you get into a stranger’s car you’re asking for it. A bruised arm that is. But what amazed me was the lack of mobilising police effort. I know it was an information film but one WPC? Maybe they were all out framing suspects or taking bribes – another defining aspect of the seventies.
It’s always been dangerous being a child but I’ve never believed all that stuff about how bad it was before education for all and antibiotics and all that guff. Us kids who grew up in the seventies know better. We had to contend with The Grim Reaper with Donald Pleasance, disused fridges, killer escalators and Duncan Preston offering to show us his kittens. Now get back to you safe little computer game you overprotected fatso. And I’ll get back to work. Oooh lunchtime . . . . !