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COI films come to BFI

20 February 2008

The BFI (British Film Institute) has secured an agreement with the Central Office of Information (COI) to manage and commercially represent its collection of public information films.

The arrangement, which comes into effect immediately, will create a combined collection of 20,000 films; the biggest single source of moving image material produced by the British Government, which is now being cared for by the BFI National Archive.

The COI collection charts the attitudes and preoccupations of British society through every decade from the 1930s and provides a unique insight into Government’s changing priorities for public information, from simple messages telling children how to cross the road through to more hard-hitting information about how to survive a nuclear bomb.

Originally shown in cinemas, the films are an excellent example of social commentary and reflect the important social issues of the day. For example, in 1939, the Ministry of Information was preparing Britain for war and the threat of air attacks. In the 1950s, with the growth of TV, films delivered shorter and snappier messages that are now household phrases such as 'Cough and Sneezes spread diseases' and 'Clunk Click'. The 1970s saw classic characters like Charley the Cat, Tutfy the Squirrel and the Green Cross Code Man (Dave Prowse) promote personal and road safety, and today’s films cover important subjects such as climate change and internet safety.

Broadcasters from all over the world make requests for COI material on an almost daily basis and now that these films are available in one place at BFI, access to footage will be much easier and quicker.

Peter Fydler, Head of Footage Sales at the BFI, said:

“It makes good sense to bring the COI collection under one roof. Firstly, from a curatorial perspective a more complete body of work can be presented contextually and secondly, it is quicker and more efficient for customers when they come to us looking to use footage from the collection.”

Darren Long, Head of Collections and Information at the BFI, commented:

“The addition of such a swathe of important titles from COI into the BFI National Archive’s care represents a huge boost in our focus on collecting material that tells the social, economic and political story of Britain. The COI collection has found its natural home at the BFI and we look forward to developing and working on the collection in the years to come’’.

A lan Bishop, COI's chief executive, added:

"Public information campaigns – from wartime safety films, to music and fashion features and the famous AIDS awareness campaign during the 80s – form an integral part of British cultural history. I’m delighted that the BFI is looking after this important collection on behalf of COI and the public at large.”

The BFI and COI previously worked together in 2006 on a two-month season at the National Film Theatre (now BFI Southbank) showcasing some of best-known public information films. The nostalgic event – Stop! Look! Listen! –marked COI’s 60 th anniversary.