Classic Moments The First British TV Car Ad

As seen on television...

At 7.15pm came the opening ceremony live from London's Guildhall, followed at 8pm by a variety show from ABC's Television Theatre. At 8.40pm, the actor Robert Morley introduced three excerpts from plays, while half an hour later Terrence Murphy and Lew Lazar began trading blows in 50 minutes of middleweight boxing. Come on, stay with me - you can do it!

At 10pm came the news, and at 10.15pm was Gala Night at the Mayfair. It was followed, at 10.30pm, by Star Cabaret. A preview of upcoming shows was transmitted at 10.50pm, and proceedings ended just after 11pm with the National Anthem. For most viewers, however, the evening highlight must have come at 12 minutes past eight. This was when the variety show host Jack Jackson announced: "Here's the moment you've all been waiting for - it's time for a natural break."

Britain was about to see its first TV car commercial. It could, in fact, have been the first commercial shown on ITV, had the demand for the 23 slots available, costing £1,500 each, not been so intense. Lots had to be drawn for the pioneer, and so the first TV advert in the UK was for Gibbs SR toothpaste. In the event, Ford got its moment of glory during the Murphy vs Lazar bout. It was entitled Practice and Precision and was 57 seconds long. Most of Ford's promotional films are archived at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, but a copy of Practice and Precision has recently been unearthed in Germany.

To watch it today is to be transported back to a time when a mug of Bovril was about as close as most of us got to central heating, and a new car was a luxury for the privileged few.

The opening shot has gemstones being carefully tweezered into place on a velvet cushion. "The hands of the jewel-maker," explains the narrator "sense to one-hundredth of an inch..."

The scene cuts to vehicle components being tested in a laboratory.

"...Yet at Ford of Dagenham, every day the hands of craftsmen, as part of their normal tasks in making vehicles, use instruments to measure 100 times more accurately, to one ten-thousandth of an inch."

The viewer is treated to several scenes of artfully lit pistons and gears being caressed by gloved operators.

"This precision in every part of every vehicle is one of the secrets of Ford's success," the narrator decides.

A steering wheel is shown being slid with a tight, well-greased fit on to the steering column of a Ford Zephyr convertible. Then the picture cuts to the dashboard of a finished car, and the camera pans upwards to a factory door through which an army of Ford engineers is pouring. The background music builds to an urgent climax.

"On this historic night," concludes the Big Brother-like voiceover, "Ford pays tribute to the men who make your Ford cars, trucks and tractors with such jewel-like precision." The picture cuts to a still of a symmetrical arrangement of jewels on velvet, before fading into the final frame - the curly Ford typescript in gems surrounded by five stars, to reinforce Ford's long-running sales slogan of "Five-Star Motoring".

Obviously it's in black and white, and has the stagey, harshly lit atmosphere that characterised most early TV adverts. The British advertising industry had been spooked by accusations that this new television medium would be trashy and Americanised, and endeavoured to make its output stiltedly British.

In this company, Ford's effort appears extremely filmic and slick. Perhaps that's because it employed not a Soho advertising agency, but a young Karel Reisz to direct it. He was 29 at the time, an accomplished Czech film critic and the author of a classic textbook, The Technique of Film Editing. It was quite a coup for Reisz, since he'd never been on a movie set at the time. Later, however, Reisz won massive acclaim in 1960 for his feature film debut Saturday Night and Sunday Morning; his The French Lieutenant's Woman from 1981 was also a masterpiece. The career of Reisz's 23-year-old assistant on Britain's first car commercial was also remarkable. It was Terence Conran.

But the big hitters were unmoved by those early adverts. On 23 September 1955, Bernard Levin wrote: "I feel neither depraved nor uplifted by what I have seen... Certainly the advertising has been entirely innocuous. I have already forgotten the name of the toothpaste." The Observer noted that "there wasn't enough vulgarity to attack the ads".

But The Advertiser's Weekly of 30 September 1955, wasn't taken with the creative efforts of Reisz and Conran. "Nothing lyrical about the Ford offering that followed later," remarked its critic. "We were shown lots of precision machinery and told how that made better cars. I do not remember seeing one of these beautiful models. I was always taught to sell the finished product, not the process by which it was created."

Any talk of ITV's opening night invariably includes mention of the BBC's spoiler: it had Grace Archer perish in a fire in its radio soap The Archers.

But what's often overlooked is that most of Britain missed out on the grand opening anyway. Ford spent a fortune advertising itself to tiny numbers of viewers. Only homes in the London area could receive ITV, via the Rediffusion weekday franchise, and the region boasted just 170,000 compatible TV sets. Of these, only 100,000 were tuned in. And a quarter of viewers loyally watched the BBC.

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

    salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

    Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

    Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower