A Gentler Ministry of Truth

Cover of "Brazil"
Cover of Brazil

For just over 60 years after the end of the Second World War, there was a government department called the Central Office of Information (COI), a grey and bureaucratic title which does sound a little like something out of Orwell’s masterpiece, or Central Services, the overarching bureaucracy of Terry Gilliam‘s Brazil.  The COI’s function was to provide public information and it’s best remembered for the short Public Information Films that it produced.

The topics of these films ranged from learning to swim to the role of the coastguard, from being responsible with litter to using your seatbelts when driving.  A department to brainwash the public?  It does sound like it, and in many ways some of my generation’s attitudes were undoubtedly influenced by the films.  The grumpy old man in me wishes that there was still such a tool to remind those who regularly jump red lights or exhibit other anti-social behaviours.

The success of the films was down to the light hearted approach they took to their subject matter – often with cartoon characters whose catchphrases still ring in my ears decades later, such as today when I was walking into Darlington.

I had a package to collect from a part of town that I’m less familiar with, and with a couple of miles or so to walk I didn’t hang around to wait for portraiture subjects, preferring to rely on the luck of a chance encounter, and I did spot plenty of likely people in shops along the way if I’d only had time to stop. 

The rain clouds were building over the town so I hurried on, ignoring the signs of a recent atrocity in a back lane, when I was given a sign of better pickings ahead.

Clearly I was about to encounter a pale, long necked beauty for today’s portrait.

A few hundred yards later and I was just about at my destination when Dave came my way.  Now ok, he wasn’t quite the swan like model I’d anticipated, but at least he had the right coloured plumage!  Just got to him in time to as he was about to go and have it cut off.

Inevitably at the furthest point of my journey the rainclouds broke, which is when the public information film about Pelican crossings came to mind and I heard Deryck Guyler‘s voiceover:

Wish I’d brought me brolly!”