Peter York on Ads: Bred in Hampstead, friendly bacteria attack Hartlepool

Actimel
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The Independent Online

I think I've missed out on a major technological breakthrough with a Zeitgeist attached. An outbreak of self-medication that could change the way we see the world. A sort of acceptance of symbiosis, consciously welcoming other, different, little creatures inside you.

It's not as if it's that new. There've been commercials with comic nerds at dinner parties discussing friendly bacteria for a couple of years now. There was that ad with the suburban mum who wanted her money back because, so she said, the stuff hadn't worked, but all the time she was vaulting over shopping trolleys and running after dogs. There's even a mother and daughter commercial - two female units in a kitchen and a graphic of a redeemed stomach.

I think I ignored it because I thought it was a new way of saying yoghurt. In a time gone by, before yoghurt became pink glop with starchy fillers and gelatine in it, yoghurt was alive. In that time when yoghurt was white, 100 per cent dairy, and sour, it was eaten by the more progressive, experimental members of our community. People who liked yoghurt just as it was, with a pool of fetid liquid in the middle and masses of bacteria. That was the point. The bacteria were good for you in the way that ultra-wholemeal bread and nut rissoles were good. I'm talking north London in its Radio 3 short-recital-on-gramophone Stockhausen and Shostakovich days. Peaceniks who believed in co-existence with bugs.

So it took an "embarrassing parents" commercial to make me realise that Actimel was probably rather important. Father and son - about 10 - on a park bench. Northern. "What's wrong son?" "Don't you think mum's been acting a bit weird?" (she's screaming around in the background, sliding down the kiddie slide.) Then the dad darts off like a dog and leapfrogs an innocent by-standing jogger. So the ginger-cropped, face-hiding potential copper or fireman has to watch his parents in an orgy of I'm-mad-me embarrassments, glugging down the little phials in the kitchen (obviously a metaphor for middle-aged dope smoking). There's stuff about the good bacteria and even those intestinal flora - which I would say is going a bit far in mixed company.

And the people bringing the continental-style values of 1950s Hampstead to the plain folk of Hartlepool? They're Danone - the Hmm company - the £10bn French makers of trailer-loads of strawberry glop for Carrefour and Tesco, Aldi and Asda - Eurovision for tums.

Peter@sru.co.uk

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