Watch How to Properly Sneeze into a Handkerchief in 1940s England - Atlas Obscura
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Watch How to Properly Sneeze into a Handkerchief in 1940s England

These public health trailers also teach you about the dangers of crossing the street and germs.

It’s considerate to cover your mouth and nose when you feel a sneeze coming along, especially with the cold and flu season lurking around the corner. And that’s been the case since at least 1945, when the Ministry of Information for Ministry of Health in Britain warned of the dangers of sneezing in this jocular public health trailer.  

The department released a series of amusing health campaign films in the late 1940s to educate people on the spread of disease. In the clip above, titled “Coughs and Sneezes,” a man with a sizable nose sneezes loudly in crowded areas. The narrator explains how sneezers like him “are not a nuisance. They’re a real danger.” The menacing sneezer is pulled aside, gets doused with pepper, and is taught how to properly cover his nose and mouth with a hanky.

Between the Public Health Act of 1848 and the launch of the National Health Service in 1948, public health initiatives were at an all-time high. Posters emblazoned with the popular slogan “Coughs and Sneezes Spreads Diseases” could be seen everywhere around England. More films were made, titled “Modern Guide to Health” and “Jet Propelled Germs.” While disease and infection are no laughing matter, the health film campaign succeeded in capturing the public with a touch of humor.

With the success of the “Coughs and Sneezes” trailer, the confused sneezing actor became the star of all the health propaganda films, including one in which learns how to clean his handkerchiefs in a bowl of disinfectant (after being admonished for trying to drink it):

He also demonstrates how to safely cross a busy street.

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