Peter York on Ads: All change in ice-cream selling. Especially the women

Wall's Cornetto

"Two ladies". Joel Grey spoke for millions of men the world over with that little song in Cabaret. (Julie Burchill once wrote that it worked the other way too: nothing turned young women on more than the sight of two pretty boys necking, she said.)

"Two ladies". Joel Grey spoke for millions of men the world over with that little song in Cabaret. (Julie Burchill once wrote that it worked the other way too: nothing turned young women on more than the sight of two pretty boys necking, she said.)

But two ladies is a positive pillar of British panto sex now. Almost like men in drag. Recent tradition, the great British art - see Eric Hobsbawm on the 19th-century remaking of British tradition, the tartanwear and Lorimer view of Scotland especially - comes thick and fast in the new Wall's Cornetto commercial.

For a start, Cornetto is a deeply historic product itself. It must go back to oh, 1976 or so. It had a "classic" ad too, the kind they show when mature admen gather for a tearful retro. It's built around the late 19th-century Neapolitan tune "O sole mio", once as familiar as tag ends from the Bible and Shakespeare, and reworked by three of the greatest musical hams of the 20th century: Caruso, Presley ("It's Now Or Never") and Pavarotti.

As "Just One Cornetto", it was sung by a Venetian gondolier in one of those live-action narrative commercials they don't do any more.

"Just one Cornetto, give it to me. Delicious ice-cream of It-al-ee", it went. And there was a traditional pay-off shot - someone snatching the Cornetto from a bridge, I think.

That was when we had a British culture, before globalisation and foreign investment bankers buying up all the houses in Kensington, putting Sloane grannies on the street.

The new version is set in a Victorian theatre, with a sort of seaside grotto effect. There's a bare-chested boy/man in a deckchair eating a Cornetto, and a chorus of three friends in shorts to the side.

Enter a pretty girl in a bikini from top centre, between cardboard rocks. "Just one Cornetto, give it to me," she's singing as she advances on the lad. "What's in it for me?" he asks. And - here we go - she says that she's really a man, but she won't tell the guys if he surrenders the sweetmeat. So she gets it pronto. End to thunderous Victorian applause - a Leonard Sachs moment.

"Try all six limited edition love potions from Wall's," they urge you. The original '76 ad was a bit of cod Continental, like the product, actually made in Belgium. But now they've gone for panto sex - another version features an Agent Provocateur-type naughty knickers ensemble.

What next from the Golden Treasury of jolly sex practices? Two ladies, trois garçons, or getting to the heart of British things, a pantomime horse with lovely long eyelashes?

peter@sru.co.uk

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