TV Cream

Cream over Britain

Census’ working overtime


TV Cream hasn’t always been the most reliable when it comes to wielding them, but celebrating and encouraging them is another matter.

And this month we’re raising our empirically-hewn banners particularly high, for there is a light blue satchel-esque hue to the horizon.

Yes, the decennial (and there is such a word) national census is almost upon us.

Now let’s get one thing clear. Anyone who objects to the census because they think it’s “snooping” or “the nanny state” or is planning to write “Jedi” as the answer to the religion question can just fuck off.

How happy you must be in your world where you can’t go to a hospital, walk on a pavement, drive down a road, turn on a tap and find water coming out of it, or just sodding well live a dignified, fulfilling life. Wazzocks!

Right, now that’s out of the way, let’s see how this grand countywide exercise in form-filling has been praised and promoted in the past.

1951: High time we had some up-to-date facts about ourselves

“How many men are there?” In 1951 it’d been 20 years since the last census, or “stock-take” as this homely information film puts it. A ripe occasion, as such, for the “head of the household” to put his pen (and it would have been *his* pen) to paper.

But How, the nation asked, Will The Census Work? Cue another smashing short film mixing a dash of menace (“wherever they live, the census will find them!”) with a dose of do-it-yourself elbow grease, topped off with lots of shots of people moving bits of paper around giant desks and a plug for all those “girls” making the census cards.

1971: From time to time through history, the greatest need has been… for facts!

Fast forward 20 years, and “facts” are still being cherished as a source of national pride, not (once we all became a load of cynical bastards) pity. Step forward an “army of men and women with light blue satchels”, willing to travel anywhere, including push a bike over a mountain stream, to get the job done. And look, even Her Maj is getting involved, for this is The Big Form With The Big Job To Do, and there can be “no exceptions!” Could this be the “big society” in action?*

2001: Complete the form, and complete the picture

Much blander fare here, as a montage of Day Today-esque “everything’s all right” shots reminds the nation that it has made it safely into the 21st century, where even girls play football, but that we still need to fill in a piece of paper. A nicely-spoke woman steps up to the microphone to coax (not command) us to “help plan all our futures”, and there’s a recurring motif involving someone sticking their hand into the air.

2011: Help tomorrow take shape

“Every penny counts”. Don’t we just know it, Mr Osborne. This year’s effort is a nicely-judged, matter-of-fact appeal, with people coming together to build a giant paper hospital. Look, now you can even fill in the census online!

We’ve also been given this rather charming potted history of every census since the war:

And Scotland has even got its own film, starring one of descendants of that army of men and women with light blue satchels.

*No, no it couldn’t.



  1. Gary

    March 12, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    Interesting (for grammar Nazis/pedants) that in the second film, Bob Danvers-Walker gives the plural of “census” as “census”. Like sheep and cannon (if you see what I mean).

    ( gives it as “censuses”).

  2. w0nKeY HeNrY

    March 13, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true.

  3. Richard16378

    March 13, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    The pub in the 2001 ad is The Crown in Stockport.

    Some people turned up there with their competed forms assuming it was being used as a collection point.

    The 1991 ad with the talking baby was clever. I remember a poster for that census was around on a wall until at least 1994.

  4. Andy Elms

    March 13, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    The talking baby ad was so clever it even featured on Tomorrow’s World.

  5. Richard16378

    March 14, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    I think it was one of the first things (at least made in the UK) to use morphing technology, when it seemed like nothing else done before by CGI.

  6. Stegron

    March 18, 2011 at 4:02 am

    With you on the Jedi thing, but is it okay to object to the census on the grounds that it’s an expensive and out-moded waste of time?

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