A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46




Since February, 1943, the Campaigns Division of the Ministry of Information, on behalf of the Ministry of Health, have been directing public attention to the problem of the Venereal Diseases.

In October, 1942, the Ministry of Health launched a campaign with the object of breaking the “taboo” on public discussion of this problem. The Chief Medical Officer made a broadcast which attracted wide notice and favourable comment, and press statements were given considerable publicity. These first moves were followed by debates in both Houses of Parliament and by a national conference.

As the next stage of the campaign, with the object of presenting more detailed information, a publicity campaign based largely on press advertisement, was started in February, 1943. In April, 1943, the Wartime Social Survey was asked to carry out an inquiry, to estimate the extent to which the V.D. publicity had attracted attention, to find out the state of public knowledge about the Venereal Diseases, and to discover what was the public reaction to a widespread campaign on the subject.

Very briefly, this first inquiry showed that, of the 2,459 people between the ages of fourteen and fifty who were interviewed, 86% had noticed the statements about V.D. in the newspapers, 69%, had at least some knowledge as to the nature of the venereal diseases, and 92% were in full agreement, with publicity being given to the subject.

Having thus discovered that the public were very much in favour of a widespread campaign about V.D. , the Ministry of Health decided that it would be wise to increase the publicity given to the subject.

Consequently M.O.I. Campaigns Division considerably stepped up the circulation and display of V.D. posters and wider publicity was given to the subject in newspapers, magazines, on the radio and screen, and through lectures and plays.

Early in 1944 the Wartime Social Survey was asked to carry out a second inquiry about V.D.

The objects of this inquiry were:-

  1. (1) To find out how effective the increased publicity about V.D. had been, informants were asked if they had come across M.O.H. publicity about V.D., and if so what medium had brought it to their attention. They were also asked similar questions about the Ministry of Health’s publicity campaigns on “Coughs and Sneezes” and Diphtheria Immunisation.

  2. (2) To assess public attitudes to the V.D. posters which had been displayed (on a relatively small scale at the time this inquiry was in progress), informants were shown four small coloured prints of V.D. posters, and were asked to say what they thought about them.

  3. (3) To discover what public attitudes were on the suitability of using various types of publicity media for giving information about V.D. informants were asked if they agreed or disagreed with, or were doubtful about six specified media being used to publicise information about V.D.

  4. (4)To estimate the state of public knowledge about the venereal diseases, informants were asked if they knew what the diseases were, what names are commonly used for them, how they are spread, what the symptoms are, what the results may be, and what steps should be taken by people who become infected.

  5. 2.

    (5)To find out (a) on what aspects of V.D. people wanted fuller information. so that subsequent publicity might be directed to this end: (b) whether people were sufficiently aware of the V.D. problem to be able to make any constructive suggestions relative to (i) other means of publicising information V.D.,(ii) measures other than publicity which might be adopted to reduce the incidence of the diseases, and (iii) steps which might be taken to improve the facilities provided for treatment of infected persons.


The sample represented the civilian population of England and Wales between the ages of 16 and 60.

On the previous inquiry people between 50 and 60 years of age were not included and this should be borne in mind when results of the previous inquiry are

compared with those of the present inquiry.

A total of 2,587 persons was interviewed. These were selected in representative- proportions from different regions in England and Wales. For administrative reasons no interviews were carried out in Scotland, but Scotland was included in the previous inquiry.

Representative proportions from twelve broad occupation groups were included, the appropriate numbers of men and of women being interviewed in each group.

Details of the Sample are given in Appendix C on page 69.


When introducing the inquiry, investigators explained that it was being carried out on behalf of the Ministry of Health.

(All investigators taking part in this inquiry were women).

In cases where it was necessary to obtain permission to interview workers in factories, mines, shipyards, etc., a full explanation of the subject and purpose of the inquiry was given to the management; but individual informants were not told specifically beforehand that they were to be asked questions about V.D.

The questions relating to the venereal diseases and publicity on that subject were preceded by a few questions about Ministry of Health publicity on ‘‘Coughs and Sneezes” and Diphtheria Immunisation. These questions served the purpose of establishing a good rapport between the interviewer and the informant, before the more difficult subject of V.D. was broached.

The vast majority of managements were in sympathy with the purpose of the inquiry and allowed the W.S.S. investigators to interview their workers.

Out of approximately 300-400 managements approached for this purpose, only five were reported as unwilling to give permission for their workers to be interviewed. In two of these cases permission was refused because the workers were too busy and could not spare time from their work to be interviewed. In one case the management declined to take the responsibility of such questions being asked in the works. In two cases the reasons were not recorded.

As far as individuals were concerned only twenty, less than 1% of the whole sample, were unwilling to be interviewed and refused. With a further twenty-two, interviews were ended before all the questions had been asked.

In order to make an assessment of the way in which the inquiry was received by the people who where interviewed, a space was provided on the recording schedule in which investigators noted their impressions of each informant’s attitude to being interviewed about V.D.

It should be noted that people were not asked to answer questions unless they agreed to do so. Some people, having agreed to be interviewed, showed by their 3. subsequent attitudes that they where not really in sympathy with the purpose of the inquiry, though they were sufficiently co-operative to answer the questions put to them.

It was found possible to classify the attitudes of the 2,587 people interviewed into six broad categories, which are tabled below.

It is interesting to note that a higher proportion of men than of women seemed embarrassed and shy about discussing the subject, possibly on account of the interviewers being women: whereas a higher proportion of women than of men adopted a supercilious attitude to the inquiry. It will be seen that there were no marked differences between the proportions of men and women whose attitudes to the inquiry fell into any of the other categories.

Informants’ Attitudes to being interviewed about V.D .

Total Men women
% % %
Very willing, very interested in V.D. publicity 19 20 17
Willing, interested, natural attitude. 51 51 51
Not very interested, but co-operative: unpleasant subject to discuss, but necessary 6 5 7
Embarrassed, shy, nervous, but willing to discuss 11 14 8
Not keen on discussing subject, suspicious, dislike publicity 3 3 3
Difficult to interview, supercilious; felt problem of V.D. did not concern them 7 4 10
No attitude recorded. 3 3 3
SAMPLE 2587 1080 1507

It thus appears that the inquiry was received very well by the majority of people interviewed, since altogether 87% of the informants were co-operative in discussing the subject, and three-quarters expressed an interest, quite often a very keen interest, in the problem.

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