You might remember that Britain was involved in your actual “Total War” from 1939 to 1945. Of course, that meant the civilians were involved and it won’t surprise you to know that our government thought it’d be a good idea to make sure they knew exactly what was expected of them, be it keeping themselves healthy or just digging for victory. So it was that the Ministry of Information commissioned (from Senate House - the real-life inspiration for the Ministry of Truth, fact-fans) a series of short, fairly light, instructional films to be shown in cinemas before the main feature. The BFI have collected a load of these on this disc and jolly good fun they are too.
The films are in five groups: “Cookery Tips”, “Save Your Shillings and Smile”, “Make Do and Mend”, “Fighting Fit” and “Dig for Victory” covering pretty much what you’d expect in each category. But the devil is in the details and there is some fascinating stuff in here. Have you any idea how much hassle it was to make porridge? Seriously, they had to build a box, fill it with straw and...actually we got lost there but we can confirm it involved leaving it overnight. Are you interested in cabbages at all? Then let us tell you that this is the DVD for you. It’s a bit troubling on that front because this was a time when apparently kindly grandmothers were more than happy to humiliate children if they used too much water. You’re mother did not make up the thing about carrots helping you see in the dark either, which is vital to know if you’re either a night-fighter pilot or a miner. We all know, of course, that we take tea pretty seriously but you have no idea what a life or death business it was in the ‘40s. Luckily the Empire Tea Bureau (no, really) stumped up the cash for a movie to tell us how to do it properly. The Germans never stood a chance against this kind of commitment. Mind you, while you can marvel at the way the meaning of “fit girl” has changed in the last 70-odd years, you can also be truly horrified at the sheer creepiness of Tommy Trinder as he decides which “lucky” member of his dance troupe will get the benefit of his attentions tonight. Subject of which, we also learn that poor quality foot health meant “some girls are more afraid of a sandal than a scandal”. We nearly choked on our tea in that one, when we completely misconstrued the phrase “going down”. Language changes and so does our idea of “weird”, so the masks to help prevent the spread of germs are apocalyptically terrifying today. But if all this wasn’t enough, the disc is worth it for numerous narrations from the much-spoofed E.V.H. Emmett. Yes, he really did sound like that.
If you’re interested in British cultural history, then this is an essential purchase. If you’re not, well you might still find it interesting and certainly amusing. Worth borrowing even if you don’t purchase it. But one thing we are not buying is that vitamin B gives you strong nerves. We don’t care how much bread we eat, we’re not jumping out of a plane into occupied Holland.
Special Features: Booklet
RATION BOOKS AND RABBIT PIES - FILMS FROM THE HOME FRONT / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / RELEASED: OUT NOW