Film of the month: Help!

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Boy struggling to swim in the water

The fake drowning sequence from Help!

Help! A first aid film by Elastoplast, a black and white educational film, is one of many pleasant surprises in our collection. It is:

  • instructional – learning first aid is a useful skill
  • promotional – lots of product placement relating to Elastoplast
  • but also sociologically revealing – illustrating post-war childhood.

In the format of a drama, a doctor is initially fooled into thinking that a boy is drowning in the river (the location looks like somewhere along the River Thames to the west of London). In fact the boys are just larking about, claiming that this is a good ‘April Fool’. One of the boys does get into trouble and is rescued by another boy; the doctor assists the boy and suggests that he offers some training in first aid at their school. Sometime later, in the school playground, he demonstrates resuscitation and distributes first aid booklets to the eager children. The doctor then says he’ll offer a prize to a pupil for their first aid abilities. Various accidents are narrated by the doctor in which children are injured or have provided first aid assistance.

The children have a lot of freedom and in the scenarios their parents are conspicuous in their absence: whilst a group of boys play football on a bombsite, one child reports via a letter about how a boy sprained his ankle; the boys use an abandoned door for a stretcher. A make-shift bandage is immersed in a puddle. Then in another scenario, children make a bonfire and get scared by the fire – a boy then falls out of a tree. A girl watches her brother in a bike trial (she describes him as a ‘problem child’), he crashes and needs first aid. Finally a boy helps his father with a cut to the finger in the allotment. All these children are awarded the prize of a first aid kit (containing Elastoplast, naturally).

Young girl crying out in shock

A dramatic scene from Help!

The dramatic realisation of the children is interesting; they have delightful drama-school accents ranging from ‘mockney‘ to middle class Received Pronunciation. According to a catalogue compiled by the Scientific Film Association in 1966 in the department, the film was distributed for free by Smith and Nephew or Sound Services. The film’s screenwriter was Seafield Head (1919-2009) and the production company, Film Producers Guild. Head also directed Industrial dermatitis, 1950 made for the Ministry of Labour which is in the collection. Those interested in trivia will be keen to learn that he was Anthony Head’s father, an actor known for a number of roles including the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (playing Rupert Giles) and Merlin (playing King Uther) – he’s also known for his part in a series of Nescafé commercials which ran from 1987-93 (many are on youtube).

Author: Angela Saward, curator, Moving Image and Sound

The digitised film footage is free to download from the Wellcome Library catalogues.  Files are distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence.

Learn more about the Moving Image and Sound Collection at the Wellcome Library.

Angela Saward

Angela Saward is curator of the Moving Image and Sound Collection at the Wellcome Library.

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