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Tite, famously locked himself in the despatch box of the House of Commons, refusing to emerge until the legislation was repealed.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.