Exhibit / September 26, 2017
Object Name: The Green Cross Code
Maker and Year: The National Road Safety Committee, 1975
Object Type: Public information campaign
Description: (Richard McKenna)
In the Britain of the early 1970s, growing salaries meant that private car ownership was on the rise. Yet children were still often expected to circulate unsupervised, and worry was growing at the increasing numbers of them who were being hurt or killed on the roads.
Public information films, broadcast on national television to educate the public about virtuous behaviors and the risks of everyday life, were one of the tools the British government employed to train its populace in civic comportment. In response to the crisis around automobiles and child pedestrians, in 1971 the National Road Safety Committee (a body originally founded during the First World War to tackle the number of road accidents during blackouts) launched the Green Cross Code campaign, an initiative aimed at teaching children to cross the road safely.
In 1975, a costumed superhero known as the Green Cross Man was created to become the ideal mouthpiece for engaging children’s attention. The face of the campaign was Dave Prowse, a 6’7” Bristol bodybuilder who had won the British heavyweight weightlifting championship for three years running and who would later become famous as the body of Darth Vader. A genre regular, Prowse appeared in A Clockwork Orange, Vampire Circus, Doctor Who, The Tomorrow People, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Jabberwocky, Ace of Wands, Callan, and Space: 1999, as well as playing Frankenstein’s monster in Casino Royale, The Horror of Frankenstein, and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, training Christopher Reeve for his role in Superman, and acting as keep-fit consultant to Harrods for 10 years.
From 1975 on, Prowse appeared in a series of Green Cross Code films that were shown between children’s programs. In some of these, the pronounced West Country burr—overdubbed by James Earl Jones for his role as Darth Vader—could be distinctly heard. Prowse also toured schools around the country, speaking to children about the dangers of road-crossing.
To reinforce the message, Green Cross Man comic strips appeared in many British weekly children’s comics, with art by, among others, Ron Smith, one of the principal artists for Judge Dredd (and later the creator of Captain Caution, another educational superhero comic designed to inform children of the risks of playing near railway lines).
Contrite British children were also admonished by a diverse range of celebrities. In 1976, Doctor Who actor Jon Pertwee introduced them to the mnemonic SPLINK (Safe place, Pavement, Look and Listen, If there is traffic don’t cross, No traffic means cross, Keep looking and listening—after this proved too complicated for easy memorization, the code was simplified to “Stop, look, listen and think.”) and glam rockers Alvin Stardust and Les Gray, footballer Kevin Keegan, and boxer Joe Bugner also lent their fame—and commanding tones—to British road safety campaigns, which were said to have halved the number of youthful casualties by the end of the decade.
A completely different tack was adopted for 1983’s Don’t Step Out, which attempted to make the message of the Green Cross Code relevant to contemporary children by setting it to the music of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message,” which had spent nine weeks in the UK charts, peaking at number nine.