Central Office of Information: 75 years

21st June 2021

Clip from © IWM (COI 306). Airwomen of the WRAF. "Marriage or promotion - it's all a matter of choice". (1965) 

Explore and license films produced by the UK government's marketing and communications agency

To mark the 75th anniversary of the Central Office of Information (COI), the BFI, The National Archives and Imperial War Museums (IWM) are collaborating to showcase and celebrate the range of work produced by the department. 

COI Public Information Films (1946-2012)

Founded in 1946 as a successor to the wartime Ministry of Information, the COI communicated government messages to the public, devising and delivering a wealth of public service information (and propaganda) including films, photographs, leaflets, posters, newspaper and magazine advertisements and radio broadcasts. These were national communication campaigns designed to inform the public, at home and abroad on a wide variety of issues, such as health, safety, welfare, education, rights and military recruitment.

Though some of the information campaigns for domestic audiences remain well-known, the COI’s biggest client was in fact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, often for films not even shown in the UK, which painted a picture of British life for audiences abroad. The COI's vast archive of work provides unique insight into culture and innovation, covering fascinating events from British post-war history.

During the anniversary year, the partnership will explore the COI’s techniques which embraced all the main forms of film: documentary, animation and newsreel, drama, comedy and even horror.  BFI, TNA and IWM have come together, under hashtags #COI75 and #CollectionsUnited and kicked off with a BFI At Home YouTube event (still available to watch) on 23 June,  followed by blogs, podcasts and video output, with contributions from all three archives over the rest of the year.

The sheer scale of the COI’s film output made it central to Britain’s post-war film industry, with work from some of Britain’s leading filmmakers including Ken Loach (Talk About Work, 1971) and Nic Roeg (AIDS Monolith, 1987). The COI also made names such as Richard Massingham a familiar face to 1940s cinemagoers, played a bumbling everyman in a series of films with whimsical titles such as Jet-propelled Germs (1948) and Another Case of Poisoning (1949). After 1990, the COI’s film production declined, as government ministries were no longer required to use their services. The COI was finally disbanded in 2012.

The partnership between BFI, The National Archives and IWM is an opportunity for reinterpretation, new insights and a chance for rediscovery, exploring the COI’s significance and legacy through materials held across the three archives.

View COI Films in the IWM Collections

IWM holds around 600 COI titles pertaining to life in the military, as well as topics relating to national security, civil defence and the Cold War. These include Armed Forces training and recruitment films, demonstrating the emerging contributions of women. The collection also offers examples of government propaganda and a fresh perspective on social history, from the post‐war period, to the cusp of a new century.

Over 100 COI films can be viewed and licensed on IWM Film

IWM will be making more COI films accessible as part of Digital Futures, IWM’s mass digitisation programme. For priority access to collection items outside of the approved schedule, IWM offers a digitisation on demand service.  Contact the licensing team for more information.