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.