Probing the 1970s: A case study: Inflation, public relations, and the health administration, 1972

The history of 1970s Britain has been re-appraised by journalists and historians in recent years. This article seeks to encourage contemporary historians interested in the 1970s to carry out detailed investigation of governmental files held by The National Archives, as these records give real insights into the mindset of government officials and ministers of the time.

The records created by the Central Office of Information, and information officers in key government departments, are a rich source highlighting the relationship between government and the public. This is illustrated by the records of a proposed anti-inflation campaign of 1972 which are revealing on several levels.

The records reveal: the level of concern of politicians and officials, faced with the danger posed by the new threat of spiralling inflation in the early 1970s – a concern reflected in the dramatic language of draft publicity texts; the low opinion of officials regarding the public’s understanding of the inflation problem; and the dangerous prospect of a government overstepping the normal conventions regarding objectivity in government publicity. The case study shows how detailed probing of the public records can enable historians to acquire a richer and fuller understanding of the governance of Britain in the 1970s.