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Remember 'clunk-click every trip'?

A young male driver and an older male driver wearing seatbeltsTake a trip down memory lane - but be sure to look right, left and right again before you cross. Motoring journalist Maria McCarthy reminisces about public information films.

There are certain things that are guaranteed to bring on waves of nostalgia among those of us of a certain vintage.

Things such as old episodes of Top of the Pops, Space Hoppers, feather cuts and flares, for example.

But also, as I recently discovered, old road safety information films.

A few weeks ago I watched Britain Beware, a programme on ITV presented by Adrian Edmondson in which he showed a selection of public information films. (It's still available to watch on ITV Player, at the time of writing.)

These films were produced by the Central Office of Information, a government department which was scheduled to close in May.

Road safety films

The films tackled topics ranging from house fires to HIV, but the the films which really caught my eye were the road safety ones.

I was a child in the 1960s and 70s, when children walked to school and played out on their own far more frequently than nowadays. 

And there were road safety campaigns specifically aimed to help us deal with traffic.

For the youngsters there were the Tufty adverts, in which Tufty squirrel and his friends learn the importance of looking both ways when crossing the road to buy an ice cream. 

Then there was the Green Cross Code man, aka Dave Prowse, the 6ft 5ins actor and bodybuilder, who also played Darth Vader in the Star Wars films.

Teenagers, who were perceived as needing groovier role models, were targeted with adverts featuring Kevin Keegan and Alvin Stardust offering road safety advice.


But many would agree that the most memorable road safety information films from the 1970s were the "Clunk-Click Every Trip" series.

These were sponsored by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and began in 1971 and continued until 1993.

The idea was that the "clunk" of the car door closing should be followed by the "click" of the seatbelt being fastened.

One film called Accidents at Speed showed what could happen to an unbelted person in the front of a car.

Another entitled Shopping explained that belting up wasn't just for long journeys, but for short trips too.

Although car manufacturers had been legally obliged to fit front seatbelts in vehicles since 1965, it wasn't compulsory to use them until 1983.

Ahead of their time

"In many ways these adverts were ahead of their time," says Mark Dunton, contemporary specialist at the National Archives.

"They raised awareness of the importance of wearing seatbelts and paved the way for the change in legislation."

Many of the old road safety films can be viewed online at National Archives .

"Some films have a bit of a cult following," adds Dunton.

Charley Says

"Sometimes it's nostalgic. But other times it comes from more of a postmodern ironic angle, such as the Charley Says films where a cartoon cat gave safety tips, which was sampled on a dance track."

These days road safety films tend to be aimed more at motorists and take a hard-hitting approach.

There is one where a dead girl gets up to explain that there is more chance of her dying in a road accident if you hit her at 30mph than at 20mph.

In another, a man is haunted by images of a boy he killed in a road accident.

But I do wonder if drivers absorb these messages as much as the gentler films of the past, or whether the use of such upsetting images makes people shut down rather than reflect on their everyday driving. 

And will any of the current films be remembered in thirty years the way that "Clunk-Click" is today?

What do you think?

Do you have fond memories of public information films? Tell us your favourites.

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Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy is a motoring and lifestyle journalist and author of The Girls' Car Handbook and The Girls' Guide to Losing your L Plates published by Simon and Schuster. She's also a regular on BBC Breakfast news, and local and national radio, commenting on motoring matters. Her pet motoring hates are potholes and high fuel prices.

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