Peter York on Ads: John Smith's Bitter

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The Independent Online

We're all a bit shy of cultural imperialism now. Not just with foreigners but with provincial folk too. There was a comedian at the Royal Variety Performance last week whose entire act seemed to be built around being the last RP-speaking upper-middle left alive and qualifying for persecuted minority status.

Tristans - Adrian Gill's clever word for Balliol and Primrose Hill media types - love fat on-screen Northerners. They think they're more real than themselves; it's a philosophical conundrum. They've always rather fancied Bernard Manning, they definitely went a bundle on three-chins Johnny Vegas (even the otherwise marvellous Paul Whitehouse, hardly a Tristan, seems to think Vegas is deeply talented, so nobody's perfect) and they're dead keen on Peter Kay. They claim to have watched whole episodes of Phoenix Nights. That wonderful world of residual 1982 in 2004: horrible food, gash clothes that no real working-class Northerner wears now and the Radio 2 playlist.

Tristans are very hot on retrospective cool and rediscovered demotic tastes, but you just know that in the Eighties they'd really have been reading Derrida and listening to Eno's ambient music. All this by way of saying I've never got Peter Kay but I know lots of people who say they do.

The marvel of having a successful TV comedy series now, the cream- and-jam millefeuille of it all, is that you get DVD/video sales and ads. Kay has a new John Smith's commercial - it's that John Smith's Bitter, home of flat caps and the jumping dog. He's in his Phoenix Nights role of entertainer/DJ doing the closing half-hour of a Northern wedding when there's hardly anyone left on the dance floor. "There's 'Living in a Box' for Brian, whose wife kicked him out last night," says Kay. Next up is the bride, dancing with her father, so it has to be Kid Creole and his Coconuts doing "Annie, I'm not Your Daddy". "Sorry, I thought everyone knew," says Kay, in an orange shirt and a purple jacket (Tristans think they all wear that up there, being gloriously authentic and tasteless). Then off on honeymoon they go, John Smith's cans trailing behind the car. Hey, slice of life.