Peter York on ads No 155 Tilda: Currying favour with Madhur Jaffrey

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The Independent Culture
In a time not so long gone by you hardly saw a brown face in a TV ad. Black, yes - meaning sports stars, pop stars and Lenny Henry - but there wasn't much call for brown. That's changing now, for two reasons. One is the repertoire of brown British suburban jokes from The Buddha of Suburbia, the other is the growing market for ethnic-style convenience foods, particularly cook-in sauces.

Homepride has run a series with regionally accented folk of varied ethnic origins; Sharwood's talks about "hundreds of dishes from three billion different people" - which strikes me as a rather less than seductive claim.

Now Tilda, suppliers of basmati rice to urban supermarkets, has entered the world of cook-in sauces. Its strategy is to promote Madhur Jaffrey as the Jane Asher of Indian convenience food. And, just like the Jane Asher McVitie commercials, Tilda presents a very traditional narrative - absolutely no attitude, sub-text or computer fun.

Madhur Jaffrey visits an Indian restaurant. The staff panic, mug delightfully in a range from cockney to Peter Sellers, decide they can't face the challenge of her orders - "she's so particular" - and pile out to the supermarket to buy her own sauces. The result scores high (you assume she's doing a report for the Indian Good Food Guide) and Jaffrey asks whether they've got a new chef. This allows the old chef to say, "Oh, very, very funny," in a particularly delicious Sellers way.

It's all nicely done, with the sequence establishing Jaffrey (her name echoing from waiter to waiter and from restaurant to kitchen) suggesting that the director has watched Thirties comedies with a sharp eye.

Jaffrey is regal, the casting is sharp and the whole thing is 30-second (actually 40-second) theatre as we used to know it. The truth is that any half-way decent example of the traditional well-made ad now stands out in what has become "a director's medium" to a tiresome degree.