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DVD Review

DVD cover

Public Information Films of the British Home Front (1939-1945)


RRP: £14.99
Certificate: E
Available 23 November 2009

It’s odd to think that governmental information films are almost a thing of the past. From the start of the second world war right up to the nineteen seventies they were a regular feature on the television. Whether it was the Green Cross Man, or some useful advice on surviving a nuclear war, they formed a regular backdrop to British lives. Prior to the mass rollout of television such short films appeared at the cinema...

Public Information Films of the British Home Front 1939 - 1945 brings together a collection of some of the best known short movies and trailers produced by The Ministry of Information. The films were produced to induce the population to behave in particular ways and, although important for the war effort at the time, for a modern audience, with different social moirés and steeped in a generation of lampoons of this genre, it is an odd watching experience.

The films are spread across two DVDs. Obviously, given the age of the films and the lack of restoration, at best the quality of the different black and white prints is variable. Following a quick overview, disc one kicks off with one of the most famous: ‘Careless Talk Costs Life’ which epitomises the problematic nature of these films for a modern audience. Having been given the chance to lead a bombing raid over Germany, the very upper class pilot tells the little woman, who blurts this information to a female friend who then repeats this to some friends at a cocktail bar. The working class barman overhears and quickly sells the information, but all is well as the middle class heroes catch the oik. The stereotypes have been used so often that now the whole thing feels, in equal measure, risible and insulting to the working class. There is a general theme in the films of the working class somehow being inferior or cheeky chappies.

Not all of the films suffer from this, with many of them attempting to disseminate general information on such a wide variety of subjects from the best way to tackle an incendiary bomb to not setting light to yourself (apparently this was a bad idea during war). So disc one (3 hrs, 23 min, 33 sec) contains Careless talk Costs Lives, You Can’t be too Careful, Fireguards, What to do in an Air Raid, The Blackout, Blitz Pack, Danger UBX, Salvage and Splinters 1943. The disc also contains some examples of the equivalent American shorts.

Disc two (41 min, 49 sec) continues with Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases, Public Health, Make-Do and Mend and National Savings. The disc also contains extras in the form of eight post war films (37 min, 28 sec) which concentrate on enlarging the army and the need to expand the economy.

For the most part the films were made by relative unknowns but if you look carefully you will spot Tommy Trinder, Cyril Fletcher, ‘Cheerful’ Charlie Chester, Old Mother Riley, Jimmy Hanley, Stanley Holloway, Arthur Haynes, a young George Cole and Alastair Sim.

For all its faults of coming from a bye gone age, the collection is a fascinating insight into Britain during the war and, for fans of this era of history, this DVD set is definitely worth a look.


Charles Packer

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