For those already suffering withdrawal symptoms over the BBC's decision not to schedule yet another Only Fools and Horses "special" this Christmas, help is at hand thanks to those thoughtful people at WH Smith whose festive advertising campaign stars that nice young Nicholas Lyndhurst.

You'll remember the earlier ads in the campaign in which Nicholas single- handedly stars as every member of the fictitious Smith family - mum, hubby, teenage daughter Sasha and her cheeky kid brother. Well, this time you're in for a treat as not only do we see our Nick once more in drag, he dresses up Princess Leia from Star Wars, too.

It's all rather jolly, really. Each of the 21 ads in the seasonal series (yes, 21) suggests a different gift idea or special offer available from WH Smith. So, we see a clip from last summer's blockbuster, Batman and Robin, followed by Lyndhurst as leggy Sasha dressed as Bat Girl. In another ad, a clip of the Spice Girls is followed by Lyndhurst as small boy presenting big sister (aka "lanky Spice") with the girls' Spice World CD. You get the idea.

There's even a cameo appearance from ageing Status Quo rockers Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt who are seen busking outside the shop while Mrs Smith is shopping for a Status Quo album. "Funny looking woman," says Rossi as "she" approaches the pair, pauses to toss some coins into their hat then passes by. "Nice legs, though," Parfitt grins.

WH Smith's formula - clip of product plus Lyndhurst's cameo and the Hugh Laurie voice over - does not immediately strike one as particularly inventive - unless you've yawned through the latest offering from Woolworth's with its computer generated Jiminy Cricket introducing clips from videos and CDs. Whereas Woolies's seems to take up an entire commercial break, WH Smith's fast and funny ads manage to stand out.

True, sparing use of the Smith clan threatens to make the ads look as cut price as the discounts and special offers they promote. But Lyndhurst provides a real bonus for watching. He injects the retailer with the sense of humour its rivals lack. And, more importantly, he gives WH Smith a sense of coherence at a time when its critics are attacking its apparent inability to decide whether it's a newsagent, a stationer, a book seller or a music shop.

WH Smith would be wise to keep hold of Lyndhurst when they and their ad agency. AMV/BBDO, discuss plans for future campaigns for the New Year. And no doubt they will try following his success at the National TV Awards in October when his Smiths work was voted most popular TV campaign. Only time will tell, however, if the new St Nick can convert viewers' votes into glowing till receipts for WH Smith this Christmas.

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