Peter York On Ads: I'm worrying about you Jennifer (in a caring way)

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I often find myself worrying about celebrities. It's an entirely caring thing; it's not like the people who commission those photographs with cruel arrows to go on the covers of the celebrity magazines. The photographs show botched plastic surgery, raging eczema, weight gain and horrible clothes for maximum schadenfreude. But I'm just thinking, "why's she so shouty?" or "why's he so prickly, so uncomfortable?". I can't actually read interviews with thesps now because they're almost always fantastically predictable, the men especially.

Actors are forever stressing their ordinariness, their beer and football-loving commitments. They seem to feel what they're doing is deeply inauthentic and unmanning, so they're protesting too much and God, is it ever boring. There don't seem to be many latter-day George Sanders types. Actresses - wrong word now - don't feel compromised in the same way and aren't obliged to go through the same routines. They can be wonderfully pretentious and irritating but they don't fret about not being real women.

The newsprint thesp celebrity interview as a middle-brow art form suffers from desperate overproduction. There'll be at least 10 in the broadsheets today and every Sunday hereafter. The human material just doesn't warrant all the Oxbridge 2.2 attention it gets, the desperate need to build a clever conceit around someone attractive, competent and mildly boring.

But the TV interviews are something else. They're almost always worth watching - once. You'll get the measure of the star just from hearing them construct a sentence. You'll get a feeling for how fast their responses are; who they admire and who their reference groups are. You get a fix on current clichés, the life of Young Hollywood (re-made Spanish Colonial houses, early to bed) and Young Primrose Hill. You could put a whole world view together from watching TV celebrity interviews.

But in my pastoral mission I'm fretful for them all, there's not a celebrity sparrow that falls I don't think about. What drives some of them on when they're making practically no money - a whole raftful of reasonably famous people exist on less than they give you in your second year after graduate entry at a decent law firm. Celebrity poverty, that's the hidden scandal in Blair's Britain. You can't help but worry for them. A girl I knew developed X-ray eyes for celebrity sorrows. She taught me to read the subtext of the down-market celebrity interview, she knew all the Hollywood codes, and followed the deep backgrounds.

I must say I'm beginning to worry about clever Jennifer Saunders. The current Barclaycard campaign she's doing is extraordinarily worrying. There she is, a nice-looking PLU-type in early maturity, a yummy mummy from a discreetly well-funded household - I'd say Richmond/Barnes, wouldn't you? - the classic 4x4 school-run driver and artistic shopper, encouraging local craftswomen in the "village". It's all set up like an early F&S sketch. She's in a sensible grey coat, with one of those nice multi-coloured chunky scarves so popular this winter.

She's in a wonderfully silly artistic glass shop stacked ceiling high with vases, buying something from a sour-faced assistant in a polo-neck (resting thesp reference?). It starts well, she says she'll take the occasional chair - no it's a vase.

It's monumentally hideous - more local craft - and very breakable. "Do you deliver?" asks JS, with all the charm wattage of a local celebrity. So a delivery boy comes and grabs the thing. And this is where I start to worry. The running theme of Barclaycard commercials since God was a boy and Rowan Atkinson did them in that full-on narrative comedy 1980s style, is that you're covered with Barclaycard and nothing can possibly go wrong. There's built-in insurance against, say, your new carpet bought in the Arab bazaar being set alight. But this campaign adds a new conceit - where Atkinson was goofy and over-confident, Saunders is a batty lady with rapid screechy mood swings. She shrieks about the delivery boy, off on his scooter - "Don't trust this youth". Then she's self-correcting at the thought of Barclaycard cover. You can stay Barclaycalm, they're saying to all those comfortable early fortysomethings out there, but the worrying point is, though Jennifer's out of the Edina costume and the funny drawl, back to her well-bred self, she sounds barmier than ever.

Peter@sru.co.uk

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