Talk is cheap, by royal appointment

No 125: BT
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IS BT claiming the Crown or disclaiming it? Is it reminding us of its historic might and rights under the Imperial dispensation or taking on a new profit-maximising identity? The UK's biggest telecom company seems to want it both ways in its new campaign.

We open on a world of creamy sepia, on an old Bakelite telephone, with significant exposure of the Emergency Calls message on the dial. And while we drift to Forties music over East End terrace houses, telephone poles (are we in for a John Grierson pastiche?) and ancient vans, we're told: "For many years there was just one voice when it came to telephones." "Number please?" says an operator and her disembodied red lips hang above the street scene. The Crown also seems to hang in space. It's actually on the shiny side of a van and gives way to the Piper in short order.

And with that we're with the new BT. Times have changed: "there are now dozens of phone companies." And BT's been labouring away in this competitive new world, improving services and lowering prices, "so much so that every month customers who left us have been coming back in the thousands". Customers who left us. So that's what this nostalgic build-up's all about - fighting back against the cable-TV companies with their cheap telephone offers. BT's using every asset it's got: history, scale, reassurance - and royal endorsement? Plus Glamour. In a room somewhere between the Crimewatch studio and a Starship flightdeck, people stride past massed ranks of TV monitors showing born-again BT subscribers welcomed back into the fold.

"If you'd like to come back just ring our Helpline right now." For all those afflicted, BT is offering therapy and swift reconnection. This commercial looks very big and expensive, like a privatisation launch. It has golden filters and a cerulean beyond and tremendous emphasis on the brightly painted mouths of telephone operators. What better way to stimulate the flow back to mother than by announcing that it's started already.

! Video supplied by Tellex Commercials