The Man Behind the Green Cross Code, Dave Prowse

Excerpt from Skywalking Through Neverland episode 311: ‘Dave Prowse is Darth Vader!’

Before he was known as the evil Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader, and the father of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, Dave Prowse was known to many children in the UK as the Green Cross Code Man—promoting road safety to young and old alike. This is a look at the man behind the green cross and a primer into this Superhero of Safety.

The Green Cross Code was created to raise awareness of pedestrian road safety in the United Kingdom sponsored by the British Government’s Central Office of Information for the Department of the Environment. The initial campaign ran from 1971-1990 as a series of Public Information Films (PIFs) with Dave Prowse portraying the superhero where he eventually earned an MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) from the Queen in the year 2000.

Where does the Green Cross Come From?

Generally, today, a green cross has a secular meaning, and the most common use is health care. In particular, the green cross represents First Aid. The Green Code itself is a set of these following rules to follow before crossing the road:

  1. THINK! (First, find the safest place to cross)
  2. STOP! (Stand on the pavement near the curb)
  3. USE YOUR EYES AND EARS! (Look around for traffic and listen)
  4. Wait until it is safe to cross! (If traffic is coming, let it pass)
  5. Look and listen! (When it is safe, cross the road. Walk only; don’t run)
  6. Arrive alive! (Keep looking and listening)

Who was The Green Cross Code Man?

David Charles Prowse was born in Bristol in 1935 to Gladys and Charles Prowse and brought up by his mother on a housing estate in the city after his father died. He won a scholarship to Bristol Grammar School and was forced to wear a leg brace for two years as a teenager because of chronic arthritis, which he would suffer from throughout his life.

Prowse, a former bodybuilder played the first Green Cross Code Man, a superhero-like character used in road safety advertising aimed at children in 1975. Director Edgar Wright (Baby Driver) said that Prowse stopped ‘a whole generation of kiddies from being mowed down in the street’.

Having opened his own Star Gym in 1969, he trained Christopher Reeve for Superman’s role in the 1978 film after being turned down for the part himself. “The director told me I was perfect,” said Prowse, “except, of course, that I was British and not American, and that the Americans wouldn’t accept an Englishman as this great American hero.”

After being seen in 1970s television commercials as the Green Cross Code Man, Prowse continued to visit schools and make public appearances as the character until 1990. After obtaining the role of Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977), it was thought that Prowse shouldn’t be the Green Cross Code Man anymore because it would frighten children and they wouldn’t listen to the man who played an evil character in this blockbuster film. Quite the opposite was true.

What Does the Green Cross Code Man Do?

In the PIF’s the Green Cross Code Man watches pedestrians from Green Cross Control on a video monitor, ensuring they are following the Green Cross Code. Once the person crossed the road, he would then tap the Green Cross on his wristwatch, transport himself down to the person, and either praise them for following the rules or speak to them about what they did wrong and how they could do better next time. Ending each mini-episode with, “Always use the Green Cross Code. because I won’t be there when you cross the road.”

Before the Cross, there was Tufty

Before the Green Cross Code Man, there was Tufty Fluffytail, a childlike red squirrel created in 1953 to introduce clear and simple safety messages to young children. The late Elsie Mills created Tufty, who was featured in The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. In 1961 The Tufty Club for children under 5 was launched. By the early 1970s, an estimated two-million children were members. The campaign continued well in the 1980s. Tufty and his Furryfolk friends, including Policeman Badger, Willy Weasel, Minnie Mole, and Mrs. Owl, also made forays into other areas of child safety, including home and water safety.

In 2014, the Green Cross Man was revived, bringing the 80-year-old Prowse back in two PIF’s produced for Road Safety Week. The target audience was young adults, alerting them to the dangers of being distracted by smartphones while crossing the road.

Check out the full discussion about Dave Prowse’s career, including some more reactions from his co-actors. Find out how prolific Dave’s career was on episode #311 of ‘Skywalking Through Neverland.’

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