Peter York on Ads: Because one national institution deserves another

BT
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The Independent Online

BA has P J O'Rourke, but now BT has Jeremy Clarkson. Clarkson, the man the men drink, is a tribune of the people, a Daily Mail "why oh why" column on legs, the grumpy-funny voice of Guildford. Clarkson is the obvious - meaning quite inspired - choice to front BT's new campaign. It's about how generous they are to all their existing customers - while competitors are always over-blandishing new ones to join.

It's directed like typical Clarkson television. Jeremy walks to camera in a city street full of people with special offer placards and starts saying, "Have you ever wondered ...?" Then he's walking through a TV studio where a silver-haired store-front preacher type is pleading, "Join our company, you won't regret it."

"Free this, join that," says Jeremy, "Have a trip to the moon!" At this point Clarkson people will feel they're hearing the authentic voice. With BT the good stuff isn't just for "Johnnie-come-latelies" - richly Clarksonian - but for their most important customers, the ones they've already got.

When he pitches up at a newspaper stall you register that JC's wearing a nice shirt in Conran Blue - the deep cornflower colour that Sir Terence wears on all occasions. He's not, however, wearing his famous 1980s-cut stone-washed jeans, but grey flannels that look, mysteriously, as if they've been interfered with (it's central to the Clarkson myth that he's got absolutely no interest in clothes).

The sermon from the stall is more obviously scripted - it's about BT's new universal offer of cheap calls in the evenings and at weekends - 5p an hour. At the end he's looking out over London from somewhere very high. As the camera pulls away you see it's another wonderful bit of casting; Clarkson's been in the Post Office Tower, a miracle of 1970s corporate-state Britain, as beautiful and singular as Concorde. And it's all BT's.

None of those Johnny-come-lately telephone providers, nor the cable TV companies, nor the funny name companies, the mobile men gone domestic, has a tower bang in the middle of Fitzrovia. BT's been a bit shy about the tower. They closed it to the public - remember the revolving restaurant? - in 1980 and they haven't really been showing it off since. They should. Like Clarkson it's a national institution, deeply reassuring and aesthetically redeemed.

BT wants to stop subscribers leaving for a few glass beads (and to get them back). If you wanted to declare a BT universal benefit in a low-key, high-credibility, grumpy-funny, minor public-school sort of way wouldn't you just beg Clarkson to do it?

Peter@sru.co.uk

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