Thursday, 13 December 2012

“Kelp, clam and carrion,” 1941

The Second World War II was an era of thrift and self-suffiency. Government campaigns entreated the resourceful British to turn their potato peelings into costume jewellery, grow mushrooms in their Anderson shelters, use their shirt buttons as currency, lay their own eggs, and even hibernate.

This poster was one of some to encourage scavenging. At a time when most of the country’s food supplies were requisitioned to feed the pigs that provided pork to the workers who melted down railings to make armaments to destroy enemy food supplies, survival was often a matter of eating whatever could be sourced.

Other campaigns promoted the consumption of roadkill, rare birds’ eggs and invalids.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

“Don’t throw hammers,” 1985

For decades, the only way to pass a hammer to somebody was to first secure a position in their workshop, and even then, it was considered impolite to hand over the tool at anything other than bent-arm’s length. But the so-called 1960s revolutionised attitudes, and suddenly gently passing a hammer looked as repressed and old-fashioned as wearing a bath-bowler or putting up an umbrella when you coughed.

But after a seemingly endless summer of groovy hammer-throwing, dark days were ahead, and first reports of deaths by flying hammers started to emerge from the club scene in 1970s New York. The messsage was hammered home in Britain when Ponda Tang, the flamboyant-groined bassist of Tingletip, passed fatally out during a showbiz mallet-tossing weekend in 1978. The post mortem revealed that his death was not due to excess alcohol or just enough drugs, but blows to the head from some sort of blunt object.

The party was over, and by the time of this NOI campaign, demands for safe-hammermanship had ushered in the more puritan age in which we now live and carefully pass each other hammers.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

“Now there’s no excuse not to sing,” 1978

The decline in public singing that characterised the last two quarters of the 1970s was attributed to, among others, the television, the discothèque and the ravioli restaurant.

Keen to hear Britain’s saloon bars avoice with revelry again, the NOI teamed up with the BBC to launch a radio programme, For Pubs And Oil Rigs, and an accompanying book of traditional pub singalong songs.

For a brief, glorious period, pubs up and down the width of the land were again arenas of full-throated crooning and gay serenade. Regretfully, it didn’t last, and by the 1980s most pubs were silent places full of the tearful unemployed, staring holes in their solitary pints while the etiolated afternoon surrendered all hope to the sickly grey of empty evening. Luckily, there was Bananarama.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

“I before E except after C,” 1977

Rising levels of dimbo-ism in the 1970s led to a campaign for national literacy, championed by then education minister (now fascinating King of Tuvalu) Hadleigh Carport.

Carport declared that he wanted “Every mechanic to have a not inconsiderable grasp of litotes, every labourer to owe a debt to the masters of bathos (as well as the bookmakers), and every-damn-body to understand tmesis.”

In 1978, the first National Spelling Test was set. At 7am on Thursday, 11 May, queues started to form outside Spelling Stations all over the UK. 56% passed, with 37% failing and 18% spoiling their papers – figures which resulted in calls for a national numeracy test. The answers to the Spelling Test appeared in national newspapers the following day. The Guardian printed 37 wrongly, and the Daily Telegraph asterisked the word “plumbago,” for fear of “mortifying the more delicate reader over the puckles of his hot crumpet”.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

“Disburse contiguum against yet the most squamous bulwark,” 1940

With war comes confusion, and with confusion comes a need for clarity. So it was with simple, determined messages like this that the National Office of Information kept the undersieged civilians of Britain in a robust frame of mind during the teething pains of the Second World War.

The language may be arcane, but the message is plain: disburse contiguum against yet the most squamous bulwark. Firm and reassuringly steadfast, it is a call to action that still resonates today, during times of national pandæmonium. Will Self has a tattoo of this poster on his tongue.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

“Got something to say? Write it on a wall,” 1970

How times change. What once seemed harmless, devil-may-care – illicitly thrilling, perhaps, but no more – hindsight renders sinister, grisly, even reprehensible. Ask any light entertainment star of the 1970s

and they’ll tell you that Graffiti was the craze that none could afford to shun. The practice was introduced by the Italians during the reign of Franco, as the country’s first hand-gesture-free form of protest. When it became clear Franco was in charge of Spain, not Italy, this was claimed as an early victory by the protestors.

The craze soon spread beyond its seditious roots and into the soil of art. Brian Eno made an entire album by typing “found Graffiti” into an ARP sequencesizer; Do Your Walls! was the most watched BBC-2 series of 1974; and Dennis Healy was famously photographed daubing the perimeter of Buckingham Palace with the popular phrase “Nelson Riddle is innocent”.

But decades of gleeful free expression left their mark, and the 1980s saw Graffiti fall from favour. Home Secretary Lord Bravilor of Bonamat campaigned long and wide against the criminalisation of walligraphy, but the tide was well and truly in over his head, and his refusal to yield to public opinion led to his faking his own botched double-suicide in 1983, in a resignation that still gets heads wagging today.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

“A lunchtime drink makes work go with a swing,” 1966

British commerce boomed through the 1960s, and nowhere did it boom more noisily and merrily than in the humble pub.

The first sketches for Concorde were famously done in a puddle of spilt Gin & Quosh, and the iconic hand-drawn logo for Welland’s Filter-Tipped cigarettes was, said designer Neville Turpin, “scribbled on the back of a fag packet”.

Long liquid luncheons are said to have saved the UK many a multi-million on the Channel Tunnel, as the British construction team had only advanced thirty yards in sixteen years when they met the French coming the other way.

Keen to capitalise on the productive (not to mention reproductive!) atmosphere of the lunchtime tipple, the NOI ran this campaign, featuring the then and still unheard of Angela Moldewarp.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

“Don’t think about monsters,” 1972

Much of the NOI’s output was designed for the classroom. Campaigns like “Mind that rat!” and “Not everyone’s called Simon” still live on in the collective memory like nostalgia.

This poster – designed to reassure young heads destined for the pillow atop the wooden hill to Bedroomshire – appeared in every primary school the width and breadth of Britain. It was accompanied by a controversial Public Information Film, only passed by the BBFC after cuts which director Ken Russell said rendered it “disjointed and chthonic”.

The Welsh-language version (“Peidiwch â meddwl am anghenedlgarwch”) was withdrawn after a typogryphical mistake left the children of Wales baffled by the stern instruction, “Don’t think about a lack of patriotism”. It is no coincidence that the red dragon, for centuries the Welsh national monster, was removed from the Union flag shortly afterwards, in an unrelated incident.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

“Whistling is killing music,” 1981

The success of the title song from Monty Python Live At Brian’s (1979) tempted millions to experiment with whistling, almost destroying the British music industry. Takings at concert venues and sales of LP records plummeted as ordinary people found they could make their own entertainment, a phenomenon Jonathan King described as “morally repugnant”.

Acting on instruction from the Lord Privy Minstrel, the NOI mounted this memorable campaign, which ran alongside a macabre television advertisement showing a young Dexter Fletcher whistling himself to death in a public toilet. The music industry was eventually revivified by the cassingle.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

“Don’t delete that blank document,” 1995

The arrival of the electro-digital office coincided with a passing fad for environmentalism, leading to this well-meaning advertisement from the NOI.

The scientific adviser for the campaign was TV phlebotomist Roy Cheddar, who had become the public face of global warning after fronting the “shock-umentary” series Kettlesphere: Earth.

Cheddar claimed at the time that every one of these posters would save “enough trees to stretch a double decker elephant to the size of Wales and back”. By 2011, he had became a high-profile outspokesman for climate change denial, insisting his advocacy of environmental causes was merely youthful naivety. “I was green,” he told Kermit The Frog on Muppet Island Discs.

“Going upstairs? Get your jabs,” 1967

Little did NOI typing pool attendant Maureen Diddley know what she was letting her pussy in for when she agreed to his being photographed for this campaign. Honky, her lager-coloured four-week old Bodleian shorthair, soon became a national star, appearing on Ways Of Seeing, The Ascent Of Man and the ICI trousers advertisements.

Honky toys were the must-buy purchase at Christmas 1971, and his autobiography, Always Landing On The Same Feet (co-written with Fay Weldon) was the bestselling book of 1972, and won the Duff Cooper prize the same year, causing historian Robin Lane Fox to threaten to set himself on fire.

Honky later drifted into a life of homelessness and milkoholism, and died in a wet cardboard box in 1977.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

“Watch That Girl,” 1967

The Singing Sixties were a high tide mark for female emancipation. The pill was introduced, hemlines headed north, and sex before marriage was legalised for women, as it had been for men in 1182. But this newfound freedom rattled some in Government, and, in an infamous speech he made in Doorford in 1967, Cabinet Secretary Sterling Bellend warned that
The once fairer sex has become a foul plague. There are now as many women as there are men in this sceptr’d isle, and the indigenous British male is in danger of being swamped by these giddy creatures. As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. I see the rivers of this green and pleasant land running red with their lipstick. And this must never be let happen, say I. We are men. We are resolute. We will not secede to Babylon.

Bellend lost his seat and three toes at a by-election shortly afterwards, and his career never recovered from what Joan Bakewell called his ‘rampant homomania’ in her 1968 single, Bubblecar Ding-a-ling.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

“Keep Britain Tipsy,” 1962

An epidemic of bar slops and leftbehinds in the early 1960s sent the staff of the NOI scurrying to the drawing board of Christmas Mintz. The Hungarian draughstman and chess grandmaster was to contribute a string of striking designs, starting with this thrifty-and-thirsty poster.

A decade later, Mintz’s stylish graphics were themselves abandoned, like a flat quarter glass of Red Rodney on a formica bar top; fashion had shifted to a personality-fronted campaign. Thus the memorable black and white image of hellraising Rod Fivepole, tousle-toothed wildman of Lipstick Jazz, with its brazen message: “Leave a drink unfinished? You might as well cast a bedstead into a lake.”

“Make an appointment with style,” 1969

The burgeoning National Health Service was in the pink by the autumn of the 1960s and started to extend its quotidian reach beyond dentistry and optometry and into deodorants, singing lessons and hairdressing.

There were two available styles of National Health haircut: the Monsieur, and the Woman. By the mid-70s, their popularity had fallen away, and a brief attempt to replace the Monsieur with the Mohican proved calamitous, and caused punk.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

“Summer is here,” 1975

The three-season year had been in place in Britain since its formalisation by Wodecnute in the 9th Century, so when Prime Minister Harold Wilson proposed changing to a four-season year, in keeping with most of Europe and the United States, opposition was fierce and vocal. One MP, Galwin Tite, famously locked himself in the despatch box of the House of Commons, refusing to emerge until the legislation was repealed.

Despite the upheaval, the transition went smoothly, and Potter Widd, the head of the British Seasonal Adjustment Board, later wrote, “We sat in our office, my staff and I, on the first day of Summer, waiting for the telephone to ring, hot with complaint and inquiry. Came there of either none. At 10.45am, we went for lunch as usual, and, by the time we returned at 3.45pm, it seemed the worst was over. One of my secretaries bought me a desk parasol as an amusing gift.”

“Tonight and every night, you MUST press your Not The End Of The World button,” 1968

The climate of fear fostered by The Cold War left people in need of reassurance. The innovative Not The End Of The World button, the last major undertaking of the Ministry of Works, was piloted in 3,840,000 homes across London, the Scilly Isles and the East Riding of Liverpool (now Manchester). The project proved a success, with Postmaster General Roger Clout calling it “Among Britain’s finest hours, alongside The [Battle of the] Bulge and [The 19]66 [World Cup Final which we won].”

Everyone with a Not The End Of The World button complied faultlessly throughout the six-year trial, although, in Government papers released under the 33⅓-year rule in May 2001, it was revealed that over half of the buttons had been dummies, wired to earth and no farther.

Each of the five major Isles of Scilly had its own button warden, or Sheriff-at-Armageddonsnook, patrolling the island nightly to check that the inhabitants had carried out their duty. One of them, Billy Trewilliams, was a renowned practical joker who took great delight in teasing Scillonians that their buttons were showing as inactivated at the local exchange, often causing hilarious fugues of late-night panic. He is remembered today in the phrase “Scilly Billy,” and mysteriously disappeared on a quiet night in July 1972. His body was never sought.

“Nobody is interested in your dreams,” 1970

In his book The Ugly Hangover Of The Awful And Feckless, socialitarian Rupert Sprimm described the 1970s as
“...when the childishly colourful idiocités of the 1960s finally came to a halt. A sobering era of hardship and hard-heartedness was the only possible antidote. Thank Jesu, then, for the Prime Ministry of Ted Heath, a refreshing bastard who acted instantly to bring the country down from its reefer-and-pimple high and robustly back to earth. Witness the first two tracts of legislation that mighty boatgoer piloted squarely through Parliament: the Beatles (Disbandment) Act 1970 and the Self-Indulgence (Emergency Controls) Act 1970.”

Heath’s espousal of austerity may have been popular, but it was very unpopular. Millions were furious that The Beatles were outlawed (legislation eventually repealed by Ken Clarke in 1992) and that bubble-writing was made treasonable.

Two of the Heath government’s rare successes were the three-day week (called “the greatest holiday this country has ever enjoyed” by The Daily Telegraph) and this acclaimed campaign, which rightly encouraged people to shut up about their dreams. Although talking about them was never made illegal, it soon became as socially unacceptable as flashing at schoolgirls or removing one’s glass eye at lunch.

“Crackers aren’t just for Christmas,” 1985

With British manufacturing in sharp decline in the 1980s, export tariffs dealt the Christmas cracker industry a further blow by imposing severe restrictions on anything explosive that couldn’t kill or maim. By 1985, the government was staring down the barrel of a cracker mountain, and the NOI responded with this campaign.

This poster, however, was short-lived, after a furore whipped up by the National Looking At And Listening To Association, who objected to the model’s exposed décolletage. It was hastily withdrawn and replaced by the more familiar image, featuring Jocky Wilson in an Popeye outfit.

“Think before you drink before you hover,” 1964

A spate of near-mortal hovercraft snarls (not least, perhaps, the Duke of Edinburgh’s notorious mouth-on collision with a giant sculpin on Lake Rothervere) prompted the National Office of Importance to launch this groundstaking campaign in 1964.

Breathalysers (or, as they were then known, puffpouches) were carried by Hover Police, and, of the 18,000 hoverpilots tested in the first week, over 13,500 were found to be drunk in charge of a bag of air. The crack-down that followed caused consternation in the hovering community, who, in 1965, staged a mass deflation in protest, and took to the Solent in unbuoyed craft, resulting in over 200 drownings.