Mum’s the Word: Public Service Announcements

Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.

Except it is really, isn’t it? You don’t look forward to Bonfire Night and think: “Ooh yay! A time to reflect on a foiled assassination on King James the first of England, the sixth of Scotland. What a joyous event!”. Instead, if you are like me, you think: “Ooh I should bake some potatoes, and eat tiffin, and maybe buy some sparklers.” And, if you are like many, many people I see across social media, you will be thinking: “Why does bonfire night seem to last a month? Why are people letting off fireworks when it’s still light?! Why can’t they just ban fireworks because it’s utterly unbearable?” And ultimately: “… it wasn’t like this in my day!!!”

And you know what? As much as I love Bonfire Night and the crisp, evening air being heavy with sulphur, I begrudgingly admit they are right; the incessant banging that fills every November evening wasn’t as bad when I was younger. And I have a theory as to why… Public Service Announcements.

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See, in the 70s and 80s a Public Service Announcement wasn’t something you wrote on Facebook before ranting about your bugbear of the day. Instead they were unnecessarily terrifying adverts that warned the public of the dangers of railway lines or river swimming, of grain pits or flying kites near pylons, and at this time of year of fireworks. Those things were brutal. Whole generations of children who thought you needed full body armour to go near the government standard biscuit tin containing the rockets that were to be lit AT ARMS LENGTH down your grandad’s allotment.

Fireworks were seen as serious business; on par with electrocution and suffocation by grain. We wouldn’t have dreamed of letting them off down the park for fun (I’ll admit that some children did but they were the ones destined for borstal). The Public Service Announcements may well have caused a nightmare epidemic that stretched over two decades, but at least then the bumps in the night were in the kid’s bedrooms rather than hitting their windows.

So, if you want an end to the scourge of November bangs and flashes maybe you should campaign for their return? Though you will have to be prepared for the flashbacks of a sad child with a preposterously bandaged hand every time you see a sparkler. But for a bit of peace is that not a small price to pay?

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