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Building Sites Bite (1978)


Main image of Building Sites Bite (1978)
16mm, colour, 28 mins
Directed byDavid Hughes
Production CompanyMighty Movie Company
SponsorHealth and Safety Executive
Produced byMaggie Evans
Written byDavid Hughes
PhotographyBahram Manocheri

Cast: Stephanie Cole (Auntie); Nigel Rhodes (Ronald); David McKail (Dad); Jo Kendall (Mum); Miranda Hunnisett (Jane); Terry Russell (Paul)

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Young Ronald's cousins imagine how he might meet his end on a building site if his evident lack of awareness of the dangers is ever put into practice.

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Building Sites Bite was the third safety film released within twelve months to use shock tactics to instil a tough message to its young audience, following Apaches and British Transport Films' The Finishing Line (both 1977). Commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive following the deaths of around 20 young children on building sites in the previous year, the film aimed to dissuade youngsters from playing near derelict areas and construction works.

Like The Finishing Line, the majority of Building Sites Bite takes place in the mind of a young boy. Paul and Jane are visited by their cousin Ronald and snooty Aunt Mary. Sick of Auntie's boasting about Ronald's credentials as a future architect, Paul imagines six scenarios in which his cousin must negotiate the perils of different building sites. Each time he meets a grisly end, but is reanimated and given another chance to prove his claimed expertise. Although lighter in tone compared to Apaches and The Finishing Line, Ronald is nevertheless buried alive, electrocuted, run over, crushed by piles of bricks, drowned and has his neck broken after falling from a pipe, with lingering close-ups of a disembodied foot, a charred hand and a blood-soaked wall. As with Apaches, the deaths are preceded by an amplified heartbeat sound, a warning for those of a nervous disposition to avert their gaze. Comic relief is provided by Paul and Jane's commentary - the latter perpetually incredulous at her cousin's blunders.

Director David Hughes would continue to make films about building site safety into the 1980s, including Supercranes (1980) and Damaged Not Daft (1982). The adult actors continued to work in film and television, most notably Stephanie Cole (credited as 'Coles'), seen here three years before her breakthrough in Tenko (BBC, 1981-84). Nigel Rhodes, who had taken the lead in a TV adaptation of The Rocking Horse Winner the previous year, had a recurring role in the fondly remembered The Tomorrow People (ITV, 1973-79).

The film's gruesome content received attention from numerous publications, although unlike The Finishing Line, which was deemed to have gone too far in its traumatising effects, it received considerably more approval. Exhaustively assessed by educational psychologists (unlike The Finishing Line), it was praised by Audio Visual magazine, which stated, "like the building sites it shows, the film has teeth, and the teeth are pretty sharp. Within the context of the overall campaign, it should prove highly effective".

Alex Davidson

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'The COI Collection Volume 4: Stop! Look! Listen!'.

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Video Clips
1. Trench (4:58)
2. Electric cable (3:17)
3. Bricks (3:17)
Apaches (1977)
Finishing Line, The (1977)