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It’s a Sin on C4: What was the terrifying AIDS advert in the 80s? Watch it here

It was notorious for its hard-hitting message

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Russell T Davies drama It’s a Sin takes us back to the 80s, when the threat of HIV and AIDS began to loom over the lives of the British public and THAT advert terrified us all.

It was a scary time, especially for the gay population – who were believed to be most at risk.

Similarly to Covid-19 now, some people lived in fear for their lives.

Those who grew up in that time will remember the public service announcements and terrifying TV advert which attempted to raise awareness.

Here’s everything you need to know…

Olly Alexander and Shaun Dooley star in It's a Sin
Olly Alexander and Shaun Dooley star in It’s a Sin (Credit: Channel 4)

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What was the HIV advert?

The HIV/AIDS advert went out in the 1980s, intended to convey the seriousness of the illness that was claiming lives.

Along with adverts about child abuse and drink driving, it remains one of the most sobering public service announcements to this day.

The 40-second film combined apocalyptic imagery with John Hurt’s grave voiceover.

The late actor narrates the highly-charged and doom-laden advertisement from the 1986 AIDS awareness campaign.

The ad begins with a volcano erupting under a dark sky, with rocks exploding down a cliff face in slow motion.

Then an industrial drill bores into a huge block of rock.

The word AIDS is chiselled into the polished surface of a granite headstone.

A leaflet entitled ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ is dropped onto the surface along with a bouquet of white lilies.

The key film was part of a £5million campaign to combat the growing AIDS epidemic.

Aids advert (Credit: YouTube/BFI)
What was the HIV advert in the 1980s? (Credit: YouTube/BFI)

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Who voiced the AIDS advert?

Actor John Hurt narrated the sinister ad.

In it, he ominously says: “There is now a danger that has become a threat to us all.

“It is a deadly disease and there is no known cure.

“The virus can be passed during sexual intercourse with an infected person.

“Anyone can get it – man or woman.

“So far it’s been confined to small groups, but it’s spreading.

“So protect yourself. Read this leaflet when it arrives.

“If you ignore AIDS, it could be the death of you.

“So don’t die of ignorance.”

The speech was accompanied by the funeral tolling of a bell.

Did the advert work?

With its stark warnings and bleak message, the advert shocked viewers when it first appeared on British screens in 1986.

Immediately, it faced accusations of panic-mongering and complaints that it would terrify any children who happened to be watching.

The campaign was the world’s first major government-sponsored national AIDS awareness drive.

Advertiser Malcolm Gaskin says: “Scaring people was deliberate to guarantee that the viewers would read the leaflets posted to their house.”

The advert was deliberately short to keep the viewers attention.

Director Nicholas Roeg was chosen for his signature “doom and gloom sci-fi aesthetic”.

Keeley Hawes stars as Valerie in It's a Sin on C4
Keeley Hawes stars as Valerie in It’s a Sin (Credit: Channel 4)

What is It’s a Sin about?

The drama follows a group of young gay men in the 1980s during the Aids crisis.

First of all, we meet 18-year-old Ritchie who is leaving the Isle of Wight to go to university.

In London, Roscoe walks out of parents’ home, while Colin arrives from Wales to start a new career on Savile Row.

The three men meet, and along with fellow student Ash and best friend Jill, form a gang and move into a flat, christened the Pink Palace.

However, a distant threat on the horizon means that life in the 80s might be all too precious.

Olly Alexander, Omari Douglas and Callum Scott Howells star.

Russell T Davies wrote the drama.

It’s a Sin begins on Friday (January 22 2021) at 9pm on Channel 4.

Do you remember the terrifying advert? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page @EntertainmentDailyFix.