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How To Tell (1931)


Main image of How To Tell (1931)
35mm, black and white, silent, 1541 feet
Production CompanyBritish Instructional Films

Parents tell their children about the facts of life and venereal disease.

Show full synopsis

"Babies - oh, you find them in the cabbage patch" is a father's convenient response to the awkward enquiry of his inquisitive young son, curious to comprehend mysterious facts of life. This charming and little-known instructional film disputes the effectiveness of such an approach, warning that by not addressing sex and its consequences parents are breeding unhappiness and failing to alert the sexually naïve to the dangers of venereal disease.

How To Tell was produced to advise parents on how to equip their children with the truth about reproduction, without the worry of putting the family off their dinner. The title cards encourage parents to explain the process openly and scientifically by reinforcing the school's biology lessons with the assistance of plants and pet rabbits. Warm domestic fires are used to establish a loving and happy home. There is no cause for a raised eyebrow or any hot flush of embarrassment. This instructional guide employs flashbacks among other techniques to illustrate the importance of relaying facts to children about intimate relations between men and women, the implication being that such discussion may indeed promote better communication between parent and child.

Little, if anything, is known about how How To Tell was received by a contemporary audience and whether its advice was heeded. This may be an early example of a sex education film, but its positive advocacy of "true knowledge and understanding" make it an admirable and forward-thinking piece of filmmaking.

Rebecca Vick

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Video Clips
1. Innocent questions
2. Honest answers (8:44)
3. Venereal diseases (4:53)
Complete film
Any Evening After Work (1930)
Growing Girls (1949)
Mystery of Marriage, The (1932)
Whatsoever A Man Soweth (1917)