Sunday, 14 February 2010

Tufty Under 5's

In 1973 our screens were hit by a series of five road safety films starring a stop-motion squirrel named Tufty. The National Archives website gives a brief history of the character, who predates the shorts:
Tufty Fluffytail was born in 1953. It was a hugely successful road safety campaign aimed at young children. The late Elsie Mills MBE created Tufty, who featured in stories for The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). The squirrel and his friends introduced clear and simple safety messages to children.

In 1961 The Tufty Club for under fives was launched. More than 30,000 books about road safety were issued to parents. At its peak there were nearly 25,000 branches throughout the country. By the early 1970s an estimated 2m children were members. The movement continued well into the 1980s.
The films feature Tufty, his mum Mrs. Fluffytail, and his friend Bobby Brown Rabbit. Other characters include Willy Weasel and Harry Hare - who exist to show what happens when children forget road safety - and Mr. Policeman Badger. Or possibly Mr. Policeman-Badger - could be a double-barrelled affair.

This BBC article sums up the world of Tufty:
This film, narrated by the legendary Bernard Cribbins (who must have spent nearly the entire 1970s being one children's character or another), neatly illustrates how the world has changed: it was a place in which children called their mother "mummy", in which they were in awe of policemen, and in which they might have actually seen a red squirrel.

Tufty's still around - as the official website for the Tufty Club testifies, he lives on in the form of books, stickers and hand puppets. To the best of my knowledge, though, he has been in no more animated films.

All five stop-motion Tufty films can be found on the DVD compilation Charley Says. One of them's included in both English and Welsh, and you can't ask for more than that.

See also More Tufty.

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