Statistics on those attending venereal disease (VD) civilian treatment centres during the Second World War initially reveal a drop in figures. After 1941, however, as in the First World War, there was a rapid rise in cases (see appendix 9).[1] In this chapter we discuss how VD was characterised as a ‘problem’ within scientific and religious discourse. We look at how medical, legal, political and religious institutions influenced, and gained the power to deal with, the ‘problem’ within discourses of citizenship. The poster designs are considered, and the truths they produced (and reflected) through their form and function are described. A respondent to the project questionnaire claimed that ‘VD posters were unheard of prior to the war’,[2] but this is clearly not correct. What was significant about the Second World War is that VD posters were placed in open public spaces for the first time, causing great controversy.[3] As we reflect on reactions to the posters, we see how far people recognised the need to fulfil their duties of citizenship through altering their sexual behaviour in order to remain ‘undiseased’, maintaining a healthy body that would fight the war and have the potential to build a new future. Several competing discourses were involved in the construction of VD as a problem in the Second World War. These included discourses based on government, religion, scientific medicine, the law, and education, which collectively addressed questions of gender, nation and citizenship. VD has a long identifiable history,[4] in which Second World War thinking was grounded, particularly drawing on Victorian values.

The Context and Planning of VD Posters

In 1889 the ‘Independent Advertisements Act’ was passed ‘against persons who advertise their specifics against a certain class of disease of a nameless character’.[5] The issue of VD did not suddenly surface in the UK in the mid-nineteenth century, although the key legislative action of the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866 and 1869 has focused much attention on this era.[6] As chemical treatments were developed, Hall maintains that their availability led to the abolition of regulatory approaches, and the adoption of a strictly voluntary approach to treatment.[7] Chemical treatments were available to cure VD at the outbreak of the Second World War, however, it was still illegal to promote them as cures for such a disease, or give instructions for use.[8] This was partly because it was felt that those men who ‘behaved irresponsibly’ could not be trusted to treat themselves, and there were also worries that it would lead to a false sense of security, promiscuity, and even a rise in VD.[9]

The Royal Commission on Venereal Diseases reported in 1916, having been established in 1913 in response to calls from prominent medics attacking the ‘conspiracy of silence’, and feminist and social purity groups.[10] It recommended educating the public on the ‘grave evils which exist among us, and their effect on the national life, present and future’, concluding that a consistent effort would need to be made to keep the issue before the public mind.[11] In 1916, The Public Health (Venereal Diseases) Regulations of 1916 required local councils to provide treatment facilities, but allowed them to decide what education and publicity was felt to be desirable,[12] and the National Council for Combatting  Venereal Diseases (NCCVD) was established. With an interest in education, publicity and the treatment of VD, this became the British Social Hygiene Council (BSHC) in 1925, when it took on wider issues of health education.[13] There were criticisms, particularly from ex-Army doctors, of the focus on moral prophylaxis by the NCCVD,[14] and in 1919 The National Society for the Prevention of Venereal Diseases (NSPVD) was founded. Largely concerned with encouraging the use of preventative medical prophylactic measures to halt the spread of VD,[15] although the Ministry of Health (MOH) refused to entertain the notion of prophylaxis.[16] The NSPVD dismissed the argument that calling for chastity of all would solve the VD problem, as there would always be ‘rebels’, and that it was usually the ‘absolutely innocent’ who bore ‘the cross of suffering and degradation’.[17]

Initially in the early twentieth century, ‘many men considered their first dose of clap a rite de passage into manhood’. By the Second World War a ‘“manly man” appears to have become one who had the sense and control to take precautions against infection’.[18] The First World War had changed attitudes to VD, challenging the clear demarcation between military and civil spheres established by the Victorians.[19] With increased infections, or possibly just more cases brought to attention as men entered the armed forces, VD was a cause for concern. Officers provided lectures on sexual continence, with the stress on medical rather than moral messages.[20] Thinking was influenced by the eugenics and social purity movements that had become significant in both the UK and the USA prior to the First World War. Eugenics, the ‘science of improving the human race by better breeding’, promoted evolutionary ideas.[21] Eugenicists studied ‘the problems of venereal infection for information, not sensation’. Describing VD as a ‘menace to civilisation’, they regarded the problem as a sanitary and economic one, rather than a ‘God-given plague to keep people from sin’. Eugenicists believed that education about the causes and means of treatment was the key means of dealing with the problem, although prophylactic measures (including treatment) would help halt the spread of the disease.[22] Eugenicists regarded the man as the main source of infection, and called for VD to be made legally notifiable.[23]

Health propaganda or publicity in general became more acceptable in the interwar years, although it was often perceived as education,[24] and many films had been produced on public health subjects, including VD.[25] By 1935, health weeks had become a normal part of life, and the Central Council for Health Education (CCHE), BSHC, and the NSPVD all dealt with the issue of VD.[26] By 1938, there were calls for a central body ‘capable of giving expert advice appropriate to local circumstances’, for the ‘difficult subject’ of VD propaganda.[27] Despite the centrality of the VD issue to health education, and MOH claims that it was ‘fully aware of the importance of education’, there was no compulsion for local authorities to undertake such propaganda,[28] and many failed to.[29] VD was deemed to be a problem intensified by war, exacerbated by the disruption to normal life and by the movement of peoples and the armed forces.[30] In 1939, the NSPVD tried to place adverts in magazines, but the funds were largely returned, as, for example, Odhams Press had a policy to have no adverts relating to sex in their magazines.[31] At the same time, the BSHC called for funding to be enforced, arguing that the costs would be offset against the savings in medical costs, time off work, and would be of ‘great and lasting benefit to our young men and women, both morally and physically’.[32] The Exchequer did not wish to expend extra funds and hoped that the publicity that had been devoted to the subject in the interwar period ‘would have had the effect of minimising the danger of any widespread trouble during this war’.[33] In 1941, the NSPVD complained that the government was still not dealing with the problem of VD. Despite dealing with many requests from Service personnel, both men and women, for information on the issue, funding was not available for NSPVD either.[34]

In October, 1942 Sir Wilson Jameson, Chief Medical Officer of the MOH gave a press conference in London regarding VD. In his view, the incidence of disease was increasing due to wartime conditions, particularly those that encouraged ‘loose living’. Facilities for diagnosis and treatment were freely available throughout the land, but due to the ‘old tradition of hush-hush’, this knowledge was not being transferred to the general public. Jameson recognised that they were moral aspects of the problem, but they were not for him to deal with. He regarded the problem as ‘just another medical and public health problem’, like diphtheria. He called for a change in attitude, such as had already occurred in the Dominions and the United States, for people to face up to the facts.[35] The British Medical Journal (BMJ) approved of this speech, which gave official backing to a medical approach. The BMJ felt that VD would now simply be regarded as an infectious disease, voluntary methods of control would be rejected, allowing VD to be dealt with properly.[36]

In 1942, the CCHE took over the educational role of the BSHC, and undertook an intensive and extensive campaign in order to ‘create an informed opinion and to encourage early and continued treatment’.[37] The MOH believed that that campaign would be much more effective if the national campaign was supported by local publicity.[38] Central action gave incentive to local action and ‘responsible Authorities’ were urged to take fullest advantage of the facilities the CCHE could offer,[39] with a leaflet issued, detailing material available for local use. Publicity materials needed to be ordered, but were free of charge,[40] distributed through the Ministry of Information (MOI). Posters were particularly targeted at indoor and outdoor areas of travel such as railway stations, linked with the intensified movements of people during wartime. With families split up, there was seen to be more danger of immoral behaviour. Despite media reluctance to devote much space to the subject, the campaign was supported by press advertising.[41] At the end of 1942, Regulation 33B was brought into force, providing for the notification of carriers of VD. In an atmosphere of all-pervasive total war, identifying bodies who were clearly harbourers of the disease, such as prostitutes, helped limit the perceived dangers of VD.[42] ‘Immoral’ behaviour was defined within the narrow sense of implying sexual misbehaviour.[43] Foreign bodies were also stigmatised, with the government needing to deal with a perceived ‘problem’ posed by American soldiers.[44] Women were making it clear that they would welcome advances from the soldiers, but could not be described as ‘common prostitutes’ as they did not accost them.[45]

In 1943, following nationwide approval of the first wartime VD campaign, the MOH ‘decided that it would be wise to increase the publicity given to the subject’ amongst the civilian population. The MOI Campaigns Division ‘stepped up the circulation and display of VD posters’, along with wider publication through newspapers, magazines, radio shows, on screen, as well as through lectures and plays. A widespread educational campaign covered the nature of the diseases, the need for treatment, where to seek treatment, the repression of prostitution, the provision of adequate treatment facilities and the development of methods of case tracing.[46] The campaign was to break ‘down the secrecy which covers the subject’, demonstrate ‘the need for early treatment’, and ‘the need for continuance of treatment until a cure has been effected’. The campaign also aimed to ‘explain the dangers of quack medicines or self-treatment’, and encouraged people to visit a clinic for proper treatment. Posters had two distinct functions for the campaign. They were to reinforce the press advertising message and emphasise where to go for treatment.[47] As far as possible, plans were made to work within the existing legal framework, although if ‘desirable and practicable’, it was recognised that changes to the law were possibly needed.[48]

In February 1943, the Medical Advisory Committee for Scotland (MACS) was asked by the Secretary of State for Scotland to advise on how far propaganda would be helpful in halting the rise in incidence of VD. Statistics were collected on the rise of VD in Scotland, particularly the number of new cases. The Committee called for information to be better collated, and for routine tests ‘on a large scale’ in order to identify many who they believed had VD without being aware of it. MACS called for a ‘concerted and persistent effort’ to eradicate the ‘scourge’ of VD from ‘civilised communities’. As the ‘precise aetiology and methods of spread’ of VD was known, with ‘a high standard of enlightened citizenship’, and the ‘moral sanction and active co-operation of the general public’, there was no reason why this should not be achieved. Within the past year attitudes were believed to have changed, with more acceptance of the need for information on VD and its control, and there was a call for ‘courageous leadership’ to deal with ‘almost universal’ bans on even the most elementary publicity.[49] Figures are given for a campaign for the first six months of 1943, showing that an increased number had come forward for treatment, and an increased number were found to not be infected. This was taken as a sign of success for the poster and advertising campaign. MACS did question, however, whether those who were ‘not socially conscious’ would have been affected by the campaign. In the report they wrote that it was ‘clearly in the national interest that the family and the home be protected against the ravages of these infections’. Education and propaganda therefore needed to be ‘addressed to the individual as well as to the community as a whole’.[50]

MACS felt that propaganda was best when presented factually, in an educational manner, and ‘prepared by competent people’ (presumably medical). Propaganda should stress that VD was best avoided, and dealt with quickly through treated if contracted, and commented that official propaganda had slowly moved in that direction in recent months. MACS noted that the overwhelming majority of cases were a result of ‘illicit sexual contact’ with an already infected person. The best method of prevention was ‘personal chastity’, and that this should be taught to ‘young people’ as a part of ‘clean living’. For those who had already ‘run the risk’, it should be made what should be done; that it could be done in confidence; the dangers of delay through ‘self-treatment’; and the effect on a wife and unborn children. Those who gained VD through ‘no fault or responsibility of their own’ were in the minority. MACS considered the possible offence to social and moral codes through the provision of information on prophylaxis. There was a fear that this might engender a false sense of security, although on medical grounds such information should not be withheld. MACS recommended that posters be displayed prominently by local authorities, supported by leaflets. Fear and alarm might be raised but a certain amount of ‘fear’ was healthy. They hoped that the public would come to adopt a similar attitude to venereal infection as to ‘ordinary’ infectious diseases, and hoped that ‘the morbid interest and prejudice’ towards VD would disappear. Education of the young was important, but ‘fraught’ with ‘dangers’, with ‘health education’, rather than sex education, to be taught by both male and female medical practitioners (rather than regular teachers). With the confidence of parents obtained, this was to cover the rules for ‘clean living’, including the ‘moral and physical dangers of promiscuity’. The responsibility for such a campaign was to fall on government departments, and whilst support from voluntary societies was deemed useful, responsibility was not to be delegated.[51]

With religious views still commonly held during the war, and the problem ‘as much moral as medical’ MACS commented that ‘the Church should be pressed to attack the moral side of the question fearlessly in straightforward, outspoken teaching’.[52] Despite the ‘wages of sin’ being VD, pre-war the Church refused to preach ‘the truth about the evils and dangers to be avoided’. Religious discourses emphasised the moral aspect of the problem, emphasising that ‘fornication’ and ‘illicit’ sex were the main problem, although as others pointed out, pre-marital sex was not illegal.[53] At the other extreme scientific discourse propagated an approach of chemical and mechanical prophylaxis. Between those two views there was a wide difference of opinion, and a wide field of controversy, visible at a conference held in February 1943, attended by representatives of the MOH, the CCHE and the Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury complained that ‘what is primarily a moral problem with a medical aspect is being treated as if it were primarily a medical problem with a moral aspect’, and that ‘there is a great evil and a grave menace to be met’.[54] The most favourably received opinion at the conference was that ‘the prevention of the causes of VD was a moral problem’, whilst ‘the cure… was definitely a medical one’, and that people should not be prevented from coming forward for treatment through shame[55]

From October 1943 to March 1944 an experimental contact-tracing scheme was carried out in Tyneside, persuading those who were known to be at risk of infection to attend a VD clinic, and establishing patterns in the social background. The idea was to treat both sexes equally, although, due to inexperience health workers, for the first three months, it was limited to tracing women. The categorisation is interesting. They interviewed married women, some of whom admitted to extramarital relations. They defined the group of women who ‘indulged in sexual relations with a chance acquaintance and on the first occasion’ as ‘promiscuous women’. In contrast, they found it difficult to define ‘promiscuous men’ possibly because they did not contact as many, but identified that men ‘indulged’ in sex relations outside marriage after quarrels, through boredom, or through ‘necessity’.[56] Suggestions for further measures included more control over the activities of females, particularly in public houses, with excessive drinking a key cause.[57] The distribution of prophylactic packets, considered useful for the Services, was deemed not appropriate for the civilian population, where it would be difficult to give mass instruction, and would be ‘undesirable’, encouraging ‘a false sense of security’.[58]

Sir Wilson Jameson, Chief Medical Officer, made a speech in October 1944, which indicated that the health of the nation was good after five years of war. Although people were tired, mortality rates from infectious diseases were lower than in the pre-war years. Influenza was at lower rate than 1937, typhoid fever at all time low, and diphtheria slowly coming under control; the two black spots were tuberculosis and VD. The rates for syphilis could be measured most readily, with an increase in 1943 of 139% over 1939, although only 7% more than 1942. This was partly deemed to be the result of a change of attitude, as:

[n]o longer are we shutting our eyes to this social plague, no longer do we refuse to discuss it, no longer are we withholding from young people information about its dangers.[59]

The ‘problem’ of VD had largely been recognised as an urban problem, within a long ‘tradition’ of urban prostitution. With the war-time movement of populations, the Scottish Council for Health Education believed that it brought the problem into rural areas for the first time.[60] By 1944 the previous attitude of secrecy had been overcome sufficiently to launch a programme of public education through the BBC, the press, films, posters and leaflets. Believing that such a programme was largely welcome, the government was encouraged to continue it, with posters displayed nation-wide to draw attention to ‘some of the features of this social problem’. With government plans for a better post-war world evident, in return, people needed to take an interest in their own welfare,[61] with citizenship rights and duties in respect of healthcare.[62]

In March 1945, the MOH sent out details of new material available for local use in support of the national educational campaign against VD. The MOH worked in conjunction with the MOI, the CCHE, and the Department of Health for Scotland, to produce centrally organised publicity. Largely in the form of detailed publicity such as press advertisements, films, lectures, leaflets, it had been supported by large posters displayed on hoardings nation-wide.[63] In May 1945, a photographic display, designed to be frank and informative, was offered by the MOI to factories. With no compulsory attendance at the display, different (and separate) displays were organised for male and female viewers. For males, the possible reasons for VD were given as boredom, too many drinks, and the ‘easy’ girl-friend; women were given other reasons, but these are not specified in the archival material.[64]

Discussion of the matter of VD reached both Houses of Parliament on several occasions, including in January 1943. Viscountess Astor raised questions in the House of Commons regarding the timing and nature of propaganda campaigns designed to combat the spread of VD. By this point the distribution of the first poster had begun, whilst others were in the process of being printed.[65] The discourses involved in constructing VD as a problem in the Second World War were: government, religion, scientific medicine, legal, education, and questions of gender, nation and citizenship. The following section will examine whether, if, and how these discourses were articulated in the posters through their content and style.

The Design of VD Posters

Although the general chronology for VD campaigns is fairly clear, the same cannot always be said for the posters themselves. Advertiser’s Weekly, for example, obviously did not feel it appropriate to illustrate their discussion of VD campaigns, and in some cases we are reliant on the IWM categorisation system to ‘know’ that posters are British Second World War posters. Some posters are mentioned in other primary sources, which confirms the date of their original display, although not for how long they were displayed, or whether they were reused in later campaigns. Complete coverage of posters even for so small a topic appears impossible, and no details can be found of posters before the 1942 campaign. Posters did exist, but did not attract the controversy that later campaigns did, as they were not displayed on billboards, but limited to places such as public conveniences. In January 1942, blue and white posters, produced by the MOI for the MOH, started appearing on hoardings in anticipation of the major ‘delay is dangerous’ campaign, double-crown posters to be placed in public conveniences.[66] In January 1943, railway companies allowed the MOI to display posters for free in railway station toilets, giving details of nearby treatment centres. It was hoped that these would eventually also appear on platforms.[67]

Wartime posters aimed not to construct social difference, everyone was a part of ‘citizenship’, with an emphasis on similarities. Citizenship, however, involves concepts of social difference, and is a gendered concept itself, publicly articulated as male.[68] We will see through images whether the same message is involved when a man or woman is depicted or appealed to, and see cases where there are posters that appear to be ‘genderless’, often with a message solely based on text. In April 1943 a series of posters was released, all clearly marked with MOH logos, designed in duplicate form for specifically gendered audiences. Figures 250 to 252 were directed at those who exposed themselves to risk of infection, whilst figures 253 to 254 were addressed to the public at large. The former were considered more suitable for indoor sites, the latter for outdoor sites, although it was hoped that as a result of the amount of discussion already on the subject, all could be displayed on outdoor sites.[69] Figures 250 and 251 each depict a lone civilian, one a woman, one a man, in contrast with many wartime posters which depict men only in uniform. Each walks past a marker displaying a month, indicating the passing of time. The dangers of delay are a recurrent theme throughout wartime VD literature, a time when the nation needed its citizens to be ‘fighting fit’. As in the earlier campaign ‘Diphtheria is Deadly’, the MOH favoured the use of alliteration to get this message across.[70] The posters use quasi-traditional imagery, realistic looking without photography, with indistinct faces. As with many VD posters, sombre colours are used, appropriate for a sombre topic, although possibly simply a result of restrictions on paper and ink. As is common in VD posters, the ‘VD’ letters are emphasised. In this case ‘venereal disease’ is also spelt out, possibly because it was expected that people would not know what it stood for. In general, VD posters do not appear to spell out the name or nature of the diseases. In figure 252, syphilis and gonorrhoea are named, although the symptoms are not spelt out, information more suited to accompanying leaflets.[71] The photographed man in the image looks rather wary, as though he is unsure about the, assumedly ‘quack’, pills he is taking. A graphic arrow points away from the ‘quack’ pills, towards the ‘true’ medical solution. With the shame associated with the disease, and doubts about the confidentiality of a consultation with the family doctor, people turned to ‘quack’ medicines. The government needed to emphasise that only proven medical methods would work, and wanted to stop people wasting money and delaying ‘proper’ medical treatment.

In August 1943, the Ministry of War Transport was directed by the MOI to display the montaged figures 253 and 254 on railway sites, including the Underground.[72] Figure 253, obviously aimed at men, depicts a bride in pure white. At the time women would have been expected to be pure at marriage, although the same standards were not applied to men. She is heading towards grasping, shadowy hands (the concept of shadows is discussed on page 216). It is designed to induce feelings of guilt in a man committing the ‘vile’ moral crime of infecting his wife and the children yet to come. At a time when knowledge of contraception was still limited, the assumption is that there will be children. In figure 254, children are perceived as ‘the future’, as ‘tomorrow’s citizen’. Aimed at future parents of both sexes, the poster follows eugenics ideals; parenthood is something one should be ‘fit’ for, something to be earned. The poster does not specify the symptoms of VD, or the way in which a child would be disabled, as the word ‘handicapped’ alone would probably strike fear. The spotlight shines on a young, innocent looking boy, with the shadow behind of a young man, standing tall and straight: what he should grow up to be if his progress is not hampered by VD.

Designed by Reginald Mount, including the copy, figure 255 has since become a very famous design. It, however, was simply the first of three posters, designed to indicate that VD was not just caught from prostitutes, reflecting worries about ‘amateurs’ who harboured the disease. Distribution of the poster was restricted to some 500 copies, and certain port areas, with an obvious male audience intended. The flower on the hat has a certain fleshy ‘unhealthiness’, viewed as a ‘symbol of enticement’.[73] The skull gives an indication of the ‘kiss of death’, smiling as it beckons (emphasised by the text) the man towards the faceless ‘easy’ woman. The veil adds a furtive atmosphere to all this, suggesting that the true nature of the woman cannot be seen, that she is behaving in a ‘shady’ manner, as a prostitute would. The message is consistent with Victorian moral discourses of sexuality: a man has natural sexual urges, whilst a woman should remain a virgin until marriage, otherwise be stigmatised ‘easy’. The diseases are specified, and the medical damage spelt out, although not the emotional damage. The government appeared to be less in favour of religious or particularly emotional messages. Medicine allowed the problem to be dealt with in the present, in a pragmatic way. Religion, however, deals with the hereafter and while redemption is possible, some viewed the hereafter as pre-ordained.

In early 1945 a series of seven posters was offered free to local authorities, consisting of three pictorial designs (figures 256 to 258), and four non-pictorial, designs (figures 259 to 262).[74] Several VD images use the colour red, signifying danger in western cultures, and in the pictorial designs the VD letters are used to graphically reinforce their message with a blood-red shadow falling over lives. The image of a shadow often recurs throughout designs dealing with VD, indicating something that darkens, or lurks, maybe in the background, damaging what it casts its range over. The image would have been familiar from other health campaigns about the ‘shadow on the lung’, tuberculosis (TB).[75]. The shadow has long and evocative associations in discourse. It draws on religious ideas of coming out of the dark into the light, enlightenment coming from education, urban living in enclosed and shadowy areas; and criminal activity transacted in furtive, secretive, shadowy areas. The subject for figure 256 is a woman, with VD a threat to her happiness, damaging her potential chances at marriage, thought the key path to happiness for women in the 1940s. For the man, the shadow is on health (figure 257), rather than on happiness. The significance of this unclear, although women were maybe deemed more concerned with ‘emotions’, men with concrete ‘health’. The woman looks apprehensively over her shoulder, although whether she is ‘to blame’ or an ‘innocent victim’ is unclear. The man has a different gaze that connects with the viewer, possibly to induce feelings of guilt. The use of photographs for these images indicates ‘reality’, ‘real people’ have this problem, and so could the viewer of the poster  The persons used in these images look serious, young and middle class, challenging the traditional conception of VD as a problem of the urban poor.

The poster ‘Shadow on his future’ (figure 258) purveys a similar message, although allowances would have to be made for a slightly different audience. This would have been aimed at both parents, one of whom may be an ‘innocent’ party. No trace can be found of a similar poster dealing with her future. The poster particularly deals with syphilis, an inheritable condition, and stresses the need for clean living to allow the family the best future. Children and babies are often represented as ‘the future’ of a nation, although this appears to be focusing on the child as an individual, to get (future) parents to think about the facts. It does not specify how it will affect the child, with accompanying literature able to give more medical detail. The message is a very emotional, hard-hitting one, aimed at inspiring guilt about the potential to damage future generations.

The remainder of the 1945 campaign used only text, no images (figures 259 to 262), possibly indicating times when it was questioned how to illustrate such a sensitive topic to appropriate audiences, or a wish not to categorise the target audience. Significantly, the text in many posters is serious, grave-like and monumental in style.[76] In figure 259, it was seen as the duty of ‘every citizen’ to know about VD, presumably to aid prevention. The emphasis on ‘clean living’ indicates that those who did contract VD were ‘dirty’ in some way, and treatment almost appears to be offered as an afterthought. In figure 260, ‘evil’ and ‘menace’ are not friendly terms. Such terms were used in the Second World War in relation to VD, demonstrating ideas of the ‘enemy within’. Within these posters particular subjects are not identified, no class or gender divisions appear, although provision of free treatment indicates that it was the poor who were particularly seen as a problem. Although VD is seen as a ‘great’ problem, with ‘grave’ and deathly consequences, there is no stress on speed of treatment as in previous posters (figures 250 to 251). The major emphasis is on prevention, with an emphasis on clean living as the ‘real’ and ‘only’ ‘safeguard’, was consistent with the interwar idea that ‘where there’s dirt there’s danger’ (figure 60). In figure 261, VD is not just a threat to the individual: eugenics ideas surface as it is perceived as a threat to ‘the whole nation and to the future of our race’. Those who run the risk are failing in their moral duties as a citizen by being careless. Figure 262 has space in the centre available for overprinting of times and location of confidential treatment centres. The poster is informational rather than emotional, containing no visuals, aside from an official logo, and an arrow leading to more information. Such posters were a staple part of every campaign, and would have built on those in 1943 that had been widely displayed on hoardings, in public buildings, stations, and were not confined to public lavatories as previous placards were.[77] Photographic displays were also used, presumably issued blank, with the message changed according to the location (figure 263).

Henrion, responsible for the photographic designs in the series, used uplighting to make the atmosphere look sinister. Two other posters that look rather like they belong to, or are a continuation of, the same series, although possibly not produced until the late 1940s, are figures 265 and 266. Once again the theme of shadows, and the emphasis on skilled treatment is used. In figure 265, the wording draws attention to parents, throwing equal responsibility onto them for the child as the future. If one parent was irresponsible, the other had to deal with the consequences, and needed to be persuaded to overcome shame, anger at betrayal, and fear of the consequences, to be treated. In figure 266 the faces are unseen, indicating that this could be anyone, although in this case a middle-class male/female couple is depicted. The cinema, often the place for a first date, offers a shadowy atmosphere that may allow for ‘unsavoury’ behaviour. We note throughout that the assumed audience for these posters was a heterosexual one. In wartime homosexuality was illegal, and thus was not officially perceived to exist.[78]

Figures 267 and 268, not necessarily produced by the MOH as they do not have the logo which the MOH appeared happy to place on its other posters, stress the idea of the damage to the home. At the centre of this discourse lies the idea of the home at the heart of the nation, with its gendered notions of citizenship. Homes had already been split by war, through evacuation, and service overseas, and damage limitation needed to be applied. In figure 267, the use of red could indicate danger, a red light district, or a red traffic light indicating ‘stop’. The poster presents a stark image with a stark message. The letters ‘VD’ take over most of the poster, casting a shadow over the whole life. The person, of unclear class, but almost certainly a man, is depicted in the centre of the poster in a very dejected attitude, head bowed in shame. In figure 268, the letters ‘VD’ take on the function of an image, depicted as a V-bomb, arriving fast and unexpectedly, something people would have been very familiar with. The poster depicts structural damage, but it is clear it is the emotional life of the home that will be damaged. There is a very clear graphic message although no people are depicted. The colour red again stands out, and we have to question whether it was chosen for its ‘dangerous’ connotations, or whether it was simply a typical colour for a roof. As we saw on page 69, the public was most accepting of the idea that abstract, non-representational forms, such as those used in figures 267 to 269, conveyed moral messages.

The campaigns aimed at the military have a slightly different tone, ‘construed not so much in religious terms, but in terms of civic responsibility’.[79] As we saw on page 205, the armed forces had a long history of dealing with the problem of VD, felt to interfere with the smooth running of warfare. Abram Games, working for the War Office, produced posters for ABCA, providing educational material to the armed forces. Figure 269, ‘Guard against VD’, is one of his modern designs, published in 1941. Stark colours and stark design present the issue as black and white. The outline, with a forage cap, is of an ordinary soldier. Not identified as a particular type, it could be any soldier, in the same way as VD could strike anyone. With a play on words, the soldier must be ‘on guard’ against VD, in the same way he is ‘on guard’ as part of his regular military duties, keeping upright and straight. The incidence of VD is linked with the idea of being drunk, persuading soldiers to ‘keep sober’, although getting drunk was one way out from the fighting and killing. It is not clear however, that it is sending out a moral message. It does not indicate that abstinence is the key; rather, that there is a need to be sober enough to remember to use protection. There are seen to be duties appealing to different emotions: there are appeals to self-interest; appeals to protective instincts towards ‘womenfolk’; appeals to pro-Soviet feelings; and appeals to patriotism. Figure 270 was produced in both blue and brown, both fairly dull colours, although the letters ‘VD’ are in red, raising the question of how much attention the designers wished to attract attention to the poster. The poster is aimed at men in the armed forces, away for a long time and likely to forget the women they had left, designed to make men stop and think. If they were behaving in a two faced manner writing loving letters home whilst sleeping around, they needed to think again, although whether this was through abstinence or prophylaxis is unclear.

It is not clear if figure 271 is even a British image. It looks quite different from all the other images seen, and the uniform looks American, but it is lodged with the British posters at the IWM. There is always the possibility that it was part of the VD campaign for American troops in England mentioned in Advertiser’s Weekly. This was to ‘be launched by means of special posters, cartoons and educative talks on the dangers of the disease’.[80] The couple appears to be doing the jitterbug, associated in popular parlance with bad habits. She appears to be dancing seductively and is depicted as a ‘loose woman’, ready to be ‘picked up’, with a short skirt, heels, nylons, and the latest haircut. Behind the happy looking scene, the dangers of VD are clearly spelt out alongside the skull, noted earlier as associated with death. Only three facts are provided to remember, although one would have to be up close to read them; but the fiery orange colour would make the poster stand out from a distance.

Figure 272 is a very different poster from all those previously discussed, very wordy, probably intended for placement in areas like a mess where there would be time to read it properly. Who would wish to be seen looking so closely at the text, attracting a bad reputation, or ribbing from their colleagues must be questioned. The letters ‘VD’ function as image as there are no others, and every sentence begins with a confrontational ‘venereal disease’ highlighted in red. A medical prevention model is evident, with the words ‘entirely preventable’ emboldened. The alliteration plays a rather strained rhyme: ‘venereal disease means victory delayed’. The soldier is damaging his (unless this was also displayed in female service areas) duty as a citizen. ‘Your release can be delayed’ (figure 273) was obviously produced near the end of the war, or even early post-war, with demobilisation clothes visible. With the end of the war in sight, and the soldiers returning home, the need to cure VD in soldiers became more urgent. Even without compulsory schooling, there was obviously expected to be recognition of a cell shape, referring to the medical model of understanding. The cell contains calendar dates, indicating the passing of time, promoting the all too familiar idea of the danger of delay, although in this case there is more a fear that demobilisation will be delayed. In figure 274, the bacterial shape is again evident. At the end of the war, ‘delay’ could mean men missing the chance to get the boat home. The man in the image is rather comic looking, the everlasting fool. The red text is designed to be eye-catching and bold, although there are minimal other colours used.

Irresponsible sexual behaviour did not just affect the individuals involved. It had consequences for the whole nation, for the outcome of the war, and for ‘innocent’ parties affected by others who by implication were ‘bad’. A constant stress is evident throughout the poster campaigns on the availability of ‘free and confidential treatment’. Dealing with the problem appeared to be more important than ‘punishing’ those involved with public pillorying or financial penalties, continuing pre-war thinking that treatment was the key way to deal with the problem. The most important message to get across was to ensure that people knew what facilities were available. Exactly what is at stake, and the damage caused, is generally not spelt out. Often the threats are rather vague and non-medical, playing on emotions of guilt and fear. We have seen an emphasis on ‘duty’, the duty of citizenship, to women, children, the country, the race, the future, rather than any religious or moral messages. Unlike in the past, blame was attributed in a gender-neutral fashion, although we see a protective attitude to women and children emerging, consistent with the idea of building up the nation. The designs used in the VD campaigns draw primarily on scientific discourse, but also moral discourse, to get their message across. Strong graphic design styles, non-realistic elements, and photography were all used in an effort to demonstrate that the issue is one that can be tackled in a modern and scientific way. Stereotypical ‘medical’ staff are featured, and there is constant reference to the need for swift medical treatment, with moral behavioural changes advocated as a secondary message. The message is a difficult one to represent; too much detail would have been resented, and, unlike in the ‘careless talk’ campaigns, there is little humour evident. The statements used within the posters, however, are direct: ‘you will’, rather than ‘you might’ is the message, whether traditionally moral, or modern scientific.

The Reception of VD Posters

Within the questionnaires circulated for this project in 1998, respondents were asked if there were any poster campaigns they particularly remembered. The interest in this case study was partly triggered by information received from a respondent:

The one that seems very funny to me now but not at the time was VD Kills. In those days such a thing was never mentioned such was the ignorance, but it must have been a very big problem as this was the largest poster of the lot. When you asked about it, a look of horror would come over the person’s face and you would get no explanation. Then one of the schoolboys got the full facts from a soldier at the nearby camp. “You went deaf, and blind and your nose fell off” and you caught this affliction by talking to girls. Needless to say after that you only spoke to boys. I remember averting my eyes every time I passed that poster.[81]

My research did not identify any posters using the phrase ‘VD Kills’, although VD was certainly viewed as dangerous to society and the individual. The interwar educational efforts of local and central government were believed to have led to widespread knowledge about VD, but the rising incidence after the outbreak of war had led to calls for special measures to check the spread of the disease.[82]

A small mention of VD campaigns, obviously based on a press release, can first be found in Advertiser’s Weekly on 5 November 1942, giving information on the publicity in preparation by the CCHE for the MOH. It was hoped that support would be given by the press, through editorials, with a ‘realistic attitude’ adopted.[83] Press support for the campaign was vital, but in February 1943, Advertiser’s Weekly noted that the press were not allocating the subject space.[84] The Daily Mirror devoted a whole page to attacking the ‘humbug and hypocrisy with which the subject of venereal disease has been surrounded’. Under the headline ‘False modesty won’t stop this disease’, they detailed the changes that newspapers had made to original copy supplied by the MOH and attacked the ‘optimistic complacency which is based on the assumption that if only a thing can be kept hidden it will disappear’.[85] In December 1942, Mass-Observation (M-O) questioned people about press advertisements. 50% still seemed ignorant about the subject, with only about 10% embarrassed, although some men worried about their womenfolk viewing the subject in the papers. Few understood the different venereal diseases, although ‘the pox’ and ‘the clap’ were referred to and in one case the ‘venerable’ disease.[86]

M-O was responding to a government request to investigate attitudes towards the anti-VD campaign. There was largely approval, both for the campaign and for Regulation 33B, although some felt that it did not go far enough and that regular checks should be made on people for the infection. There was some resistance to Regulation 33B, with fears that it would drive the disease even further underground, but little ‘on the ground that existing treatment facilities were adequate and used by all who needed them’. There was a ‘fear of blackmail’, and worries that ‘it interfered with the liberty of the individual’, as the CD Acts had proved in the 1860s. A great variety of opinion existed as to what people thought constituted the best way of reducing VD, with the need to combat ignorance and superstition through education key. In general there was a tendency for women to be more inhibited about the subject of VD than men and to be more afraid to bring it out in the open.[87] In January 1943, M-O observed a MOH ‘Fighting Fit’ Exhibition at Charing Cross Station. The last panel of this exhibition was concerned with VD and the need to ‘find out the facts’. Some comments were overheard but none regarding the VD panels, although they observed a woman pick up leaflet, peer at it short-sightedly, look at the title ‘venereal disease’, throw it down in disgust and leave.[88]

The Minister of Health commented that Home Intelligence (HI) reports were ‘of great help in the development of our general publicity on this delicate subject’, influencing the ‘substance and emphasis’ of publicity.[89] Fife Clark of the MOH commented that regular reports on the progress of the VD campaign were particularly useful as ‘public feeling on this subject does not express itself through the ordinary channels of opinion’.[90] The first comments on VD in HI reports appeared in October 1942, after Sir Wilson Jameson’s broadcast. Favourable comment was received, although the subject was still felt to be too ‘hush hush’, with a need for more detail on symptoms.[91] By December 1942 there was much of comment on VD, and on the recently introduced Regulation 33B, of which the details were little understood.[92] By March 1943, comment was appearing on the content of advertisements, felt to be readable and human. It was believed that ‘frankness should not be sacrificed to prudery’, and more wanted the consequences to be stressed, rather than the moral tale.[93] The rate of rise of the incidence of VD was lower in 1943 than in previous war years, and it was felt that the new measures of control and the educational campaign were being effective. The wide range of media used in the campaign, produced by the MOH in collaboration with local authorities, the MOI and the CCHE, appeared to be generally welcomed and approved by the public.[94]

Between March and April 1943, the Wartime Social Survey (WSS) carried out a survey, mostly concentrated in urban areas, for the Campaigns Division of the MOI into how the first widespread MOH campaign regarding VD (in the press) was being received by the public. The VD campaign was regarded as different from previous campaigns, as it dealt with a subject that had until recently largely been regarded as taboo. Previously notices had been placed in public lavatories regarding where to obtain treatment, there had been a few films, and a few non-medical books and pamphlets, but the subject had otherwise largely been hidden from public view. The survey was intended to measure the extent of approval for the publicity, whether there should be a ‘plain and frank statement of the facts’, or whether secrecy was believed preferable, and also which advertising media were thought appropriate. The survey opened with general questions regarding MOH publicity, abandoned only if people became too embarrassed once the subject of VD was introduced, which happened in only 3% of cases. It was noted that people often became embarrassed but continued to answer the questions posed. It was realised that some might be reluctant to admit that they had read the statement, fearing that as an admission of a personal reason for being interested. Further questions were therefore asked in order to suggest that these were matters in which the public had a right to be interested. 91% of interviewees approved of the use of newspapers and the wireless to remove the secrecy surrounding VD, with 52% deeming this the best way. Only 1% suggested that posters were an appropriate medium.[95]

In early April 1943, doctors noted more patients attending clinics in expectation of a cure. HI noted less comment, although the moral approach was described as ‘useless’, with the medical angle, combined with confidentiality, expected to be successful.[96] By the end of the month increased interest was noted as films and posters promoted discussion, and helped remove the shame associated with the topic.[97] There were worries that increasing figures of infection indicated that the campaign was failing.[98] Consternation increased for some, as it was felt it must be a problem for the MOH to give it such publicity.[99] In May 1943, there were reports in the north-west that ‘loose living’ posters were being torn down almost immediately after placement. These were described as ‘melodramatic’, and ‘cheap and nasty’.[100] In July people complained that the adverts were ‘lifeless and monotonous’ and so were not read ‘by those who need them most’. Suggestions were made that clinics should be provided at ‘ordinary’ times and places, as otherwise other people, particularly those in small towns, would ‘know’ what treatment was being obtained for.[101] There were worries that the campaign was being given ‘too much publicity’, which would be nullified by the jokes being told about it.[102] By August 1943 comment had declined again. Approval was still being noted, although there were doubts that it was reaching ‘the right people’ and that it was worrying the ignorant unnecessarily.[103] In November 1943, approval was noted for the posters and publicity displayed, with desire that they should be even stronger,[104] although some found them ‘rather embarrassing’.[105]

Early in 1944, the WSS was asked to investigate the second campaign, to find out how effective increased publicity had been. They were also asked to assess public attitudes to posters on display (still only on display on a small scale, but figures 253 to 255 and 262 were available to interviewees on small hand-held cards), the suitability of other media, the state of knowledge about VD, and to make suggestions for improvement for dealing with the issue. Again, the issue of VD was ‘hidden’ within a general survey about MOH publicity, with questions about the ‘Coughs and Sneezes’ and Diphtheria Immunisation campaigns. Only 1% of individuals refused to answer questions.[106] Many had seen posters, although the largest proportion (83%) of those interviewed regarded newspapers as their main sources of information, with radio, magazines (particularly for women) and films also influential.[107]

Figure 253, the ‘Bride’ was noticed most in London and Northern England, and by more men than women. Out of 2,587 people interviewed, 67% made favourable comments about the poster, with comments falling into the following categories: those that thought it would make people ‘look before they leap’ into marriage; agreement that it was a crime (for men) to pass VD onto innocents; that it provided good information stressing confidentiality, and others that the ‘wording and picture catches the eye’. There was some negative comment about the poster. Some felt it was ‘too forceful, outspoken, frightening or crude’, others that it was not suitable for public display, or would not reach the intended audience, while some said that it was horrible, but served as a good warning. Other criticisms fell into the following categories: the poster implied that only men were to blame; the wording would be unclear from a distance; the meaning was unclear; or the poster lacked information. 500 in the sample chose this as the most striking poster, with 25% choosing it because the physical attractiveness of the poster, 35% because they felt it was useful for those about to get married, giving good information. This poster, as with ‘Tomorrow’s Citizen’, had been purposely designed to appeal to people’s sense of responsibility for the young and innocent but the poster was felt to appeal more directly to men, and the wording was felt to imply a reproach, and thus was not so constructively suggestive.[108]

70% of the sample made favourable comments about figure 254, ‘Tomorrow’s Citizen’. Comments fell into the following categories: its appeal to everyone; emphasising the effect on children; its direct message; and the striking shadow. Some made criticisms of this poster, complaining that the image was not forceful or striking enough; the figure of the boy was insignificant; that the picture was confusing with an unclear message; or that the colour-scheme or general layout would not catch the eye. Others complained that the poster did ‘not tell you anything’; and that ‘the results of VD should be emphasised or shown in the picture’. 905, the largest proportion, in the sample chose this as the most striking poster, few because of its physical attractiveness, most because they felt it would make a special appeal to parents because of the child. Others felt that it depicted the tragedy and suffering of the child, and others felt it had a general appeal to responsibility and decency. This poster was felt to carry a definite message urging all adults to ensure that they ‘do not risk endangering the lives of health of young people, by themselves being carriers of such a dangerous disease’.[109]

Figure 255, ‘Hello boy friend’ attracted 59% of favourable comments, falling into the following categories: a ‘good warning to young men, troops, etc’; realistic and to the point; explains the results; and good colour; and this poster was felt to ‘carry a special message to “those girls”.’ 20% made criticisms: some felt that the design was not striking enough, whilst others felt that it was too gruesome, blatant or crude. Some felt that it was horrible, but necessary, whilst others were disgusted at the thought of the poster being displayed at all. Some asked where was the ‘easy boy-friend’; others felt that it should give more detailed information; whilst others felt that it would not reach the ‘right section of the community’; and that the display should be limited to particular areas such as ports and camps. 850 in the sample chose this as the most striking poster, with 33% choosing it because the physical attractiveness of the poster, and 32% because they felt it got to the root of the problem. Others felt it gave good information; that it would make a particular impression on young people. Aimed at a fairly small sample, the poster was felt to gain by its unusual presentation, and the clarity of its warning details about the possible results of VD.[110]

The WSS was interested in the terms people used to describe VD, particularly whether medical or colloquial terms were best used in posters and accompanying literature. Those who had seen MOH publicity seemed better informed, and were more likely to recognise the correct terms than those who had not. The vast majority of those interviewed were aware that there was a need for medical advice, particularly through VD clinics. People did not wish to appear over-curious about the subject, and when asked what else they would like to know about VD, only 35% said they wished for more information. People were generally in favour of more information on VD, although some were worried about the effects on children, particularly if children ‘were not fully enough informed to understand the real significance of the problem’. The younger age groups were shown to be relatively ignorant about the venereal diseases, and there were calls for sex education to be taught in schools and factories. Explicit knowledge about VD was felt to be essential in regard to gaining swift treatment. The survey concluded that:

[I]t is abundantly clear that far from being shocked at VD publicity, people are keen to learn everything they can about the diseases, provided the information is given in a form which they can easily understand.

It was clear that people wanted knowledge, but although many professed to have no need of services, there was an emphasis on preserving privacy and anonymity of those who attended treatment centres.[111]

Interviewees were questioned as to which media methods were most appropriate in disseminating knowledge about VD, and roughly 90% agreed that newspapers, magazines, posters, radio, films and lectures were all suitable mediums, with only 3% disagreeing with the use of posters. Concerns, proved correct by the questionnaire respondent on page 222, were that children and young people would get a distorted view of sex, or that parents would have answer awkward questions. There was a feeling that information should change frequently, as familiarity would otherwise breed contempt. It was recognised that newspapers, magazines, radio and lectures could appeal only to certain sections of the community although radio and lectures were thought to be good if ‘expounded’ by the ‘right people’, such as the medically qualified or the padre. Overall there was definite approval from 82% of the sample for the publicity on the subject, although just under half felt there was even more that could be done in the way of publicity.[112] In March 1945, the public seemed generally in support of the campaign, with calls to increase this over the next twelve months.[113]

Posters were a highly visible medium for VD campaigns, although newspapers were still the main source of information. The campaign that was noticed by more people than other health campaigns, possibly because of its more ‘shocking’ nature.[114] People were interviewed about VD posters with a view to seeing how they would react if they were displayed more widely. Posters were deemed as successful for a variety of reasons: their appeal ‘to decency and sense of social responsibility’; their appeal to particular groups in the community; the ‘colour, design and pictorial qualities’; and the subject matter or information they contained. The results of the survey were felt to confirm psychological studies of advertising, which claimed that an interest in the subject in a poster was more important than any other elements, and that positive, rather than negative suggestions were more likely to produce desired results.[115] WSS investigators checked for posters in railway stations and public lavatories in the areas they were working. Posters did not appear to be on display in many areas, although whether this is because there was an aversion to displaying them, or simply because they were looking in the wrong places, or some other reason, is not clear. Considering the placement of the posters, the investigators believed that they would be more effective if placed in a position where the lighting was good, and in prominent display areas. These included the centre of train platforms, rather than in corridors where people were less likely to stop. Some posters were observed to be defaced, or even torn down, and it was suggested that such posters should be placed high up, and even possibly within a frame to prevent such damage. VD posters tended to be quite small, and were thus overshadowed by large posters that surrounded them, rendering them largely ineffective.[116] Advertiser’s Weekly criticised the colours used in figures 259 to 262, red on a black background, as once the blackout ended, mercury vapour streetlighting would again be used, and the red would fade and become a muddy brown.[117]

Unlike previous campaigns, as a more controversial campaign, the VD campaign used a smaller, more modern, range of stylistic influences, with the main criteria that the message would reach the appropriate audience. Photography, non-representational images, montge, and abstract shapes were all elements of the modern style used, whilst text-only proclamations were also used. Most of the images are very strong, with no wishy-washy, realistic, pen-and-ink drawings as was evident in less controversial campaigns, and cartoons were used exclusively for a wholly male audience, hardened by the rigours of war. Reactions to the poster campaigns are similar to government approaches to dealing with the problem, partly because the government responded to the information gained from surveys and HI. As was seen in attempts to deal with the problem of VD before the war, the sanction of both science and religion was transferred to the campaign, although the cards were stacked more in favour of the medical approach. Moral and medical approaches to the problem of VD were not seen as polar opposites, the transfer of authority of both science and religion was applied to the message, with discourses often intermixed in a medico-moral approach. VD was constituted, or name-called, as ‘bad’ and ‘evil’, and those who ran the risk of contracting it were failing in their duty, as a citizen, to remain healthy and disease free. It was implied that everyone else was doing their duty, and thus all should jump on the ‘band-wagon’ and remain clean. The testimonials of medical and religious experts were provided in support of the campaign, and ‘card-stacking’ of the facts was applied to provide the worst-case scenario if the diseases were contracted. This continued into the war, with medical, religious, government, legal, and educational institutions influencing the campaigns. Having discussed these four case studies, the next chapter draws together the conclusions of the thesis.

[1] Howlett, P., Fighting with Figures: A Statistical Digest of the Second World War, 1995 p.20. Statistics must be used with care however, as increased figures may demonstrate either increased medical examinations, or more willingness to deal with problems, rather than an increase in the number of cases. The drop can possibly partly be attributed to the exclusion of men who went through military systems. Hall, L. ‘War always brings it on’, in Cooter, R., Harrison, M., and Sturdy, S. (eds), Medicine and Moral Warfare, 1999, p.215, notes that the rate for VD was at an ‘all time low’ at the outbreak of war, but by 1942 incidence had ‘risen at an appalling rate’.

[2] Female, Northumberland, reply to questionnaire, April 1998.

[3] Such controversy has inevitably provided large amounts of information available for historical investigation, stored within a variety of institutions, both political and voluntary.

[4] Tannahill, R. Sex in History, 1980, p.65, noted that VD was recognised about four thousand years ago by the Akkadians as ‘copulation sickness’, although as Davidson, R., and Hall, L., Sex, Sin and Suffering: Venereal Disease and European Society Since 1870, 2001, p.5, note, syphilis and gonorrhoea were not recognised as separate illnesses until the 1870s. See Anonymous, ‘Warts and All’, Observer Monthly, November 2003, pp.24-33, for modern campaigns dealing with modern Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), which continue to look to the past for inspiration.

[5] Davenport-Hines, R., Sex, Death and Punishment: Attitudes to Sex and Sexuality in Britain Since the Renaissance, 1990, p.199. This act was proposed by the Earl of Meath, a Christian philanthropist who blamed VD problems on urban lifestyles.

[6] The CD Acts, suspended in 1883, and repealed in 1886, are discussed in, for example, McHugh, P., Prostitution and Victorian Social Reform, 1980; Mort, F., Dangerous Sexualities: Medico-moral Politics in England since 1830, 1987; Spongberg, M., Feminising Venereal Disease: The Body of the Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century Medical Discourse, 1996; Walkowitz, J.R., Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class and the State, 1980. Davidson, R., and Hall, L., op.cit., 2001, p.1 note that the Acts were inspired by the high numbers of military men infected with VD, in an Empire that relied upon a fit fighting force, and attempted to regulate prostitution to ensure this fitness.

[7] Davidson, R., and Hall, L., op.cit., 2001, p.7: In 1905, Schaudiin and Hoffman discovered the causative organism of syphilis, and the Wasserman test was evolved in 1906, proving that the traditional mercurial treatment was ineffective. In 1909 Erlich discovered the ‘magic bullet’ of Salvarsan, although there were problems with dosing and duration of treatment, and problems of access for those at war after 1914.

[8] Wellcome SA/PVD, ‘Medicine: Social Puzzle’, News Review, December 2 1937, p.33. Such treatments were only effective if applied before the disease reached the tissues.

[9] Wellcome SA/PVD, ‘Army’s Social Problem: Does Prevention Really Work?’, Reynolds News, Late 1939, p.9. Hall, L., ‘War always brings it on’, op.cit., 1999, p.215 notes that sulphonamides available to treat gonorrhoea were available from 1937.

[10] Evans, D., ‘Tackling the ‘Hideous Scourge’: The Creation of the Venereal Disease Treatment Centres in Early Twentieth-Century Britain’, Social History of Medicine, 1992, Vol. 5, pp.414-417.

[11] PRO MH 55/1330, ‘Memorandum from Alan Smith, Treasurer BSHC, for the attention of the Minister of Health’, October 26 1938.

[12] PRO MH 55/2325, ‘Venereal Disease Treatment Services’, June 1943. (The file is marked as ‘Historical Documents, not to be destroyed’).

[13] Wellcome SA/BSH, Hall., L., Introductory notes, ‘British Social Hygiene Council formerly The National Council for Combatting Venereal Diseases’, 1996.

[14] Towers, B.A., ‘Health Education Policy 1916-1926: Venereal disease and the prophylaxis dilemma’, Medical History, 1980, Vol. 24, p.80. See p.72, where she defines prophylaxis as ‘the preventative treatment of disease’, although in the case of VD it was often applied to methods such as disinfection and ‘the sheath’.

[15] Wellcome SA/PVD, Hall, L., Introductory notes, ‘National Society for the Prevention of Venereal Diseases’, 1981 or 1987.

[16] Hall, L., ‘Venereal diseases and society in Britain, from the Contagious Diseases Acts to the National Health Service’, Davidson, R., and Hall, L. (eds), op.cit., 2001, p.128. Wellcome SA/PVD, ‘Interim Report for 1937-38’, March 1938 notes that the NSPVD was still complaining in 1938 that the Ministry of Health, amongst other organisations, ‘repeatedly opposed the efforts of this Society to spread a knowledge of the possibility of Prevention amongst the public’.

[17] Wellcome PA/PVD/5, ‘Draft of The Problem of VD: The Role of Prevention’, Late 1939.

[18] Davidson, R., and Hall, L., op.cit., 2001, p.10.

[19] Hall, L., ‘War always brings it on’, op.cit., 1999, p.211. Several studies have considered the importance of the military, and the effect of the First World War, on how VD was dealt with. For instance, see Beardsley, E.H., ‘Allied Against Sin: American and British Responses to Venereal Disease in World War I’, Medical History, 1976, Vol. 20, pp.189-202; Harrison, M., ‘The British Army and the Problem of Venereal Disease in France and Egypt during the First World War’, Medical History, 1995, Vol. 39, pp.133-158, Harrison, M., ‘Medicine and the Management of Modern Warfare’, History of Science, 1996, Vol. 34, pp.379-410, and Hall, L., ‘War always brings it on’, op.cit., 1999, pp.205-223.

[20] Hall, L., ‘Venereal diseases and society in Britain, from the Contagious Diseases Acts to the National Health Service’, Davidson, R., and Hall, L. (eds), op.cit., 2001, p.125. There were two opposing viewpoints among officers in the armed forces. As Towers, B.A., ‘Health Education Policy 1916-1926’, op.cit., 1980, p.77, notes, on the one hand it was believed that an outlet for sexual energy was essential for the morale of armed forces, with provision of regulated prostitution, whilst Harrison, M., ‘The British Army and the Problem of Venereal Disease’, op.cit., 1995, p.135, notes that, on the other, good morals demonstrated good discipline, as ‘proven’ by eugenics movements.

[21] Jefferis, B.G., and Nichols, J.L., Safe Counsel or Practical Eugenics, 1938 (Fifth Edition), p.11. Eugenicists called for sex education from an early age; the teaching of self-control; the need for small families; the need for ‘weaker’ and ‘diseased’ individuals to restrain from having children; the importance of clean living and healthy bodies; and of love between men and women through marriage.

[22] Ibid., pp.282-283.

[23] Ibid., p.301.

[24] Connan, D.M., Better Than Cure: A Handbook on Public Health Propaganda, 1927.

[25] See Boon, T.M., Films and the Contestation of Public Health in Interwar Britain, University of London: Unpublished PhD, 1999. Hall, L., ‘Venereal diseases and society in Britain, from the Contagious Diseases Acts to the National Health Service’, Davidson, R., and Hall, L. (eds), op.cit., 2001, pp.128-129 notes that Debates continued in the interwar years, with Lord Trevethin’s 1923 Committee of Enquiry on Venereal Disease basically advocating the continuation of the status quo. In 1925 a Medical Society for the Study of Venereal Diseases was formed by those working in public treatment centres, as clinics were often placed ‘out of the way’ in inappropriate areas, doctors were often looked down on and nursing staff often appeared sanctimonious.

[26] Crew, T., Health Propaganda: Ways and Means (With Illustrations): Covering the Propaganda Services of the National Health Associations and others, Organisation of Health Exhibitions and Health Week Campaigns, 1935.

[27] PRO MH 55/1330, ‘Minute Sheet, J.E.C.’, January 27 1938.

[28] Ibid., ‘Mrs Neville-Rolfe meeting with Ministry of Health regarding social hygiene’, February 21 1939.

[29] Hall, L., ‘Venereal diseases and society in Britain, from the Contagious Diseases Acts to the National Health Service’, Davidson, R., and Hall, L. (eds), op.cit., 2001, p.129 notes that the 1929 Local Government Act meant that the BSHC lost its generous block grant from national government and had to rely on non-compulsory payment from local authorities, which often failed to appear.

[30] PRO T 161/1176, ‘Letter to Sir Kingsley Wood, Treasury, from Malcolm Macdonald, Ministry of Health’, September 9 1940.

[31] Wellcome SA/PVD/5, ‘Reynolds’, Attitude of War Office is Revealed, November 26 1939.

[32] PRO T 161/1176, ‘Letter from Sir Charles Seligman to Sir John Simon’, November 30 1939.

[33] Ibid., ‘Letter from JS to Minister of Health, Walter Elliot’, December 20 1939.

[34] Wellcome PA/PVD/7, ‘Letter to John Hanks’, February 28 1941; ‘Letter to W. Widdicome, Esq.’, July 22 1941.

[35] PRO MH 101/31, ‘Ministry of Health: Transcript of a press conference’, October 29 1942. PRO T 161/1176, ‘Letter from Ministry of Health to Rt. Hon. Sir John Simon, Exchequer’, December 1 1939: After the First World War, a national scheme had been introduced, still in place at the outbreak of the Second World War, for the free treatment of VD in the civilian population.

[36] Wellcome, PP/JRH, ‘Control of Venereal Disease’, British Medical Journal, November 21 1942.

[37] PRO MH 55/2325, ‘Venereal Disease Treatment Services’, June 1943.

[38] PRO MH 101/31, ‘Material Available for anti-venereal diseases campaign’, 1945.

[39] PRO MH 55/2325, ‘Venereal Disease Treatment Services’, June 1943.

[40] PRO MH 101/31, ‘Material Available for anti-venereal diseases campaign’, 1945.

[41] PRO MH 55/2325, ‘Minutes from meeting of Joint Committee on Venereal Disease’, 10 August 1943.

[42] Hall, L., ‘War always brings it on’, op.cit., 1999, p.216-8.

[43] PRO MH 102/1149, ‘Civilian venereal disease Control, Memorandum from Children’s Branch, Home Office’, probably July 1943.

[44] PRO INF 1/292D, ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No. 162’, November 2-9 1943, pp.426-431.

[45] PRO MH 102/1149, ‘Minutes of conference held at the Home Office’, April 16 1943.

[46] PRO MH 55/2325, ‘Civilian Venereal Disease Control’, July 1943.

[47] Anonymous, ‘Education Angle Gets Results – So VD Campaign Planned to Continue’, Advertiser’s Weekly, Vol. 124, No. 1,620, June 8 1944, p.300.

[48] PRO MH 55/2325, ‘Minutes of the Joint Committee on Venereal Disease’, undated but mid-1943.

[49] PRO MH 71/104, ‘Report on Venereal Diseases by Medical Advisory Committee (Scotland), to the Secretary of State for Scotland’, 1943. A problem was identified in that some patients, particularly seamen, might be identified as ‘new cases’ in more than one clinic.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Wellcome SA/PVD, Dr Maitland Radford (Medical Officer of Health, St Pancras), ‘The Central Council for Health Education: Conference on Health Education and the Venereal Diseases’, February 26 1943, p.18.

[54] The Archbishop of Canterbury: Most Rev. W. Temple D.D., Ibid., p.10.

[55]M-O, T/C 12, Box 1/H, ‘VD Meeting on Friday February 26 1943’, Friends’ Meeting House, Euston Road. WC1, (emphasis in original).

[56] PRO MH 71/104, ‘The Social Background of Venereal Disease’. The document details the methodology of the experiment, mid-1944, which followed on from an experimental scheme that had been carried out in the United States.

[57] RG 23/56, ‘The campaign against venereal diseases by P.J. Wilson and V. Barker.’, January 1944.

[58] PRO MH 55/2325, ‘Minutes from Joint Committee on Venereal Diseases’, probably September 1943.

[59] PRO MH 101/33, ‘The Health of the Nation: Broadcast by Sir Wilson Jameson, Chief Medical Officer, Ministry of Health’, October 31 1944.

[60] PRO MH 55/2325, ‘Joint Committee on Venereal Diseases’, August 1943.

[61] PRO MH 101/33, ‘The Health of the Nation. Broadcast by Sir Wilson Jameson, Chief Medical Officer, Ministry of Health’, October 31 1944.

[62] Harrison, M., ‘Medicine and the Management of Modern Warfare’, op.cit., 1996, p.396.

[63] PRO MH 101/31, ‘Memorandum from Ministry of Health to all Local Authorities’, March 2 1945.

[64] Ibid., May 24 1945. A miniature illustrated version of the ‘panels’ for the exhibition for males are provided, within the file, explaining where they are different for women, but not how.

[65] 386 H.C. DEB, 5s, January 28 1943, Column 613. The Viscountess raised the question of loose morals and drink contributing to VD, although she was stopped due to inappropriate timing of the question. 387 H.C. DEB. 5s, February 25 1943, Col. 289. In February 1943 David Adams, concerned that many families considered the subject untouchable, raised the question of whether the propaganda campaign would appeal to parents to instruct children ‘in at least an elementary knowledge of sex and the natural functions of the body.’ The Minister of Health said that at the moment, such action would be left to the initiative of parents.

[66] Anonymous, ‘Poster Schemes Aid Drive Against VD’, Advertiser’s Weekly, Vol. 119, No. 1,547, January 14 1943, p.46.

[67] PRO HLG 7/756, ‘Sir Wilson Jameson to Medical Officers of Health of the County and County Borough Councils, and of the Common Council of the City of London’, January 20 1943.

[68] For more, see Lister, R., Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives, 1997.

[69] PRO HLG 7/756, ‘Ministry of Health Circular 2805 to Medical Officers of Health of the County and County Borough Councils, and of the Common Council of the City of London’, April 15 1943.

[70] PRO MH 101/31, ‘Immunisation against diphtheria campaign’, April 21 1942.

[71] For instance, the pamphlet ‘What are the venereal diseases?’ was issued by the Central Council for Health Education in December 1942, and can be found in M-O T/C 12, Box 1/H.

[72] PRO MH 55/2325, ‘Venereal Disease Treatment Services’, June 1943. PRO RG 23/56, ‘The campaign against venereal diseases by P.J. Wilson and V. Barker’, January 1944: 45,000 Crown Folio posters of figure 253 and 50,000 Crown Folio copies of figure 254 were distributed to Local Authoritites for display ‘in public lavatories and elsewhere’. 5,000 larger Double Royals of each were distributed for display in L.T.P.B. underground stations.

[73] Gubar, S. ‘“This Is My Rifle, This Is My Gun”: World War Two and the Blitz on Women’, in Higonnet, M.R., Jenson, J., Michel, S., and Weitz, M.C. (eds) Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars, 1987, p240.

[74] PRO MH 101/33, ‘Venereal Disease: educational campaign’, March 2 1945.

[75] TB had long-lasting effects after the first infection, and was never quite shifted for good.

[76] This was later echoed in the AIDS posters of the nineteen-eighties (figure 264).

[77] PRO RG 23/56, op.cit., January 1944.

[78] See Hyde, H., The Other Love: An Historical and Contemporary Survey of Homosexuality in Britain, 1970, pp.197-213.

[79] Harrison, M., ‘Sex and the Citizen Soldier: Health, Morals and Discipline in the British Army during the Second World War’, in Cooter, R., Harrison, M., and Sturdy, S. (eds), op.cit., 1999, p.231.

[80] Anonymous, ‘Publicity –Answer to V.D.’, Advertiser’s Weekly, Vol. 120, No. 1,568, June 10 1943, p.316.

[81] Male, Rotherham, reply to questionnaire, March 1998.

[82] PRO MH 55/2325, ‘Central Council for Health Education, VD Publicity Campaign, Medical Advisor’s Correspondence’, September 1942.

[83] Anonymous, ‘Concentrated Campaign Against V.D.’, Advertiser’s Weekly, Vol. 118, No. 1,537, November 5 1942, p.114.

[84] Anonymous, ‘Newspapers Cause Last-Minute Hitch in V.D. Campaign’, Advertiser’s Weekly, Vol. 119, No. 1,553, February 25 1943, p.169. Those newspapers that still refused to print the advertisement were Observer (although they were prepared to print if further changes were made), Daily Express, Dumbarton Herald, Glasgow Citizen, Dundee Courier, Dundee Evening Telegraph, and Yorkshire Evening Press.

[85] Quoted in Anonymous, ‘Newspapers Cause Last-Minute Hitch in V.D. Campaign’, Advertiser’s Weekly, Vol. 119, No. 1,553, February 25 1943, p.169.

[86] M-O, T/C 12, Box 1/A, ‘Impressions from questions regarding press advertisements’, December 14-16 1942.

[87] M-O, T/C 12, Box 1/A, Report from investigation into attitudes to venereal disease. The survey was limited to London, and M-O recognised that as a cosmopolitan city, the findings could not necessarily be applied nation-wide. The following suggestions were also made: compulsory notification and treatment, the provision of approved brothels, the inspection of prostitutes, medical examinations for the entire population, increased self-discipline, the use of precautions and preventative measures were also suggested. Some women suggested that young girls should take ‘greater care in their choice of friends’. Men tended to suggest most often that the social stigma at present attached to all who suffered from VD should be removed. A minority of women looked on VD as arising essentially from immoral and antisocial behaviour and feared than the lifting of this taboo would result in the spread of immorality.

[88] M-O, T/C 13, Box 1/A, ‘MS, Observations at ‘Fighting Fit’, Ministry of Health Exhibition, Charing Cross Station’, January 11 1943.

[89] PRO INF 1/285, ‘Home Intelligence: Special Enquiries into Use of Home Intelligence Reports, Sir William Jameson, Minister of Health’, September 14 1943.

[90] Ibid., September 30 1943.

[91] PRO INF 1/292B, ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No.57’, October 27 to November 3 1942.

[92] Ibid., ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No. 65’, December 22-29 1942. Managements were reported to be worried about giving out information related to VD as the implication would be that the firm was the centre of infection, unless all firms gave out information.

[93] PRO INF 1/292C, ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No.128’, March 9-16 1943, ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No.129’, March 16-23 1943, and ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No.130’, March 23-30 1943.

[94] PRO MH 101/31, ‘Ministry of Health, Summary Report for Year Ended March 31 1944’. 1944.

[95] PRO RG 23/38, ‘The campaign against venereal disease: A study of public attitudes to a publicity campaign, for the Ministry of Information’, April 1943. 2,459 people between the ages of fourteen and fifty were interviewed nationwide. 86% of interviewees had seen the adverts. 69% of interviewees knew what the venereal diseases were. 46% correctly knew that they spread only through sexual intercourse, although others believed that lavatory seats and drinking vessels were also possible sources.

[96] PRO INF 1/292C, ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No.133’, April 13-20 1943.

[97] Ibid., ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No. 134’, April 20-27 1943.

[98] Ibid., ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No. 140’, June 10 1943.

[99] Ibid., ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No.136’, May 13 1943.

[100] Ibid., ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No.135’, May 6 1943.

[101] Ibid., ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No.143’, July 1 1943.

[102] Ibid., ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No.146’, July 22 1943.

[103] Ibid., ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No.150’, August 18 1943.

[104] PRO INF 1/292D, ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No. 166’, November 30 -December 6 1943.

[105] Ibid., ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No. 170’, December 29 1943 – January 4 1944.

[106] PRO RG 23/56, op.cit., January 1944. Some managements needed to be approached for permission to question their staff, but only five out of 3-400 managements refused. In only one case was this recorded as not wanting to take responsibility for the subject. The WSS surveyed 2,587 people aged sixteen to sixty from England and Wales. As with the previous survey, all the investigators were women. Investigators were asked to record what they thought the attitude of the person they were interviewing was. They believed more men were shy about the subject (although this was possibly a problem of women interviewers), and several women were ‘supercilious’.

[107] Ibid., 40% had seen posters in lavatories (highest proportions by men, in London, who were probably less shy about using such facilities), 28% outdoors (highest proportions by men), and 15% on railways and tube stations (highest proportions by men, in London).

[108] Ibid.

[109] Ibid.

[110] Ibid.

[111] Ibid. A list of terms (including non VD terms) were listed on a card, from which 72% picked out gonorrhoea, and 77% recognised the term syphilis. Pox, ‘a dose’, and clap were recognised by about a quarter of those questioned. Women, single people and men without service in the forces were all found to be more ignorant than men, marrieds, and men with service, but this was possibly attributed to age differences, rather than these factors. 86% knew at least one correct name for VD, and 57% knew that it was contracted through sexual intercourse, although 15% described that they might be caught through “loose living, immoral conduct and going with prostitutes”; and another 15% from lavatory seats. The survey investigated the knowledge people had of the symptoms, and answers were largely correct, although unclear about the location of symptoms, although this was possibly put down to embarrassment.

[112] Ibid. HI report on October 20 1943 noted that there was approval that medical men recognised the moral angle when a combined radio broadcast was made by a doctor and a padre. PRO INF 1/292D, ‘Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No. 160’, October 19-26 1943.

[113] PRO MH 101/31, ‘Memorandum from Ministry of Health to all Local Authorities’, March 2 1945.

[114] PRO RG 23/56, op.cit., January 1944. Respondees of the survey were categorised by percentages of visibility for buses, trains and stations; hoardings and lavatories, with the last being of particular significance for VD campaigns (the only acceptable place for VD poster display up until the Second World War).

[115] Ibid. Bartlett, F.C. Political Propaganda, 1940, p.78 noted that fear was not an affective technique, although in many departments propaganda tended to emphasis the negative more than the positive.

[116] PRO RG 23/56, op.cit., January 1944. It was recognised that people might react differently, and more strongly, to a small hand-held poster about which they are being directly questioned, from the way they may view seeing the same poster on a hoarding, or in a railway station. The interviewers were influenced by anthropological studies, and considered not only what people were saying, but their body language.

[117] Anonymous, ‘How to Avoid Poster-Colour Distortion After Dim-Out Ends’ Advertiser’s Weekly, Vol. 127, No. 1,656, February 15 1945, pp.248-249

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