Peter York On Ads: Smart, clever, grown-up and ideal for a cheapskate


I'm a multi-channel home. That's what they call them in those media analysts' reports, as in "viewing of ITV drama falls precipitously in multi-channel homes". We multi-channel homes are the essence of the modern demotic lifestyle. We're in Kelvin MacKenzie territory with a Jade Goody mindset. We watch what we like unfettered. Richard Hoggart can't stop us.

The Sky Plus EPG (we multi-channel homes like the occasional tech-sounding term), easy recording and pausing of about a million channels, is clever and it does give you more choice. In practice, I've ended up with a repertoire of about 20 channels additional to the five terrestrial ones, including, in my case, the digital sidekicks of the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV.

But even that's quintupling the free-to-air (more media wonk language) offer. And there's always the thought that you might cut loose and spend an evening watching the Nigerian answer to Home and Away on BEN African TV, or another day on film star profiles on the Biography channel. I don't know the half of it yet.

As it is, I like Living TV; the old British funnies on UKT; Discovery Home & Health and its marvellous freak-show stuff ("I had a 12-stone tumour", "The man with two heads"); the various newses (those wonderful US news presenter two-ups with their terrific clothes, dentistry and diction, and the whole "I'm Ed Winchester" tradition, constantly parodied here, but never properly captured).

There's notionally a fair bit of dedicated arts stranding but I'd prefer to get that from the BBC and Melvyn. I don't want the food and the housey-housey stuff (print does it miles better). Above all, I don't actually want the Big films or the Big sport, which is why most people have multi-channel and where the revenue comes from. I'm not interested in sport, I don't want the airline movie selection and I'm a cheapskate.

With one exception: I've often thought about FilmFour. More my sort of film. More cult and kinky and kitschy. More Brit. More old stuff. More of a London package. But I didn't want to pay. But now it's free, according to C4's new commercial. It's a great 65-second affair, looking just like a smart spoof of one of those epic 1980s privatisation ads (British Gas's "Tell Sid" especially). There are stars and locations and insistent music, there's a big theme colour - red - and all the one-nation tie and tropes of the form.

It starts in Trafalgar Square in the rain, the National Gallery's weedy pepper-pots behind. Little shards of red in long-shot and some muffled shouting about Free FilmFour. Then we go into star-spotting. There's Rhys Ifans - he's filled out nicely since Notting Hill, all those dinners at The Ivy and Nobu - peddling Free FilmFour on an estate of little 1970s houses with B&Q front doors. Not a hope, not a tickle - they're all slamming on him, implying, that FilmFour is altogether more a Camden Town taste.

There are blokes up ladders with hard hats putting up a poster, asking what it means and should they have it.

There's Hollywood-Chinese actress Lucy Lui in a propeller plane above, dragging an upside-down banner, shouting at the crowds through a megaphone (it's probably a filmic reference but I don't get it).

Back in Trafalgar Square the red shards resolve themselves as Judi Dench and Ewan McGregor on the steps, dressed up as a crab and a tomato, busking for Free FilmFour.

Ewan's asking why he has to be a tomato - "Am I a fruit or a vegetable?... I don't know." It's the question for leading men everywhere.

Dame Judi says: "That's the mystery of you." And in those two lines we go to the very heart of thespdom and its torments.

There's someone else - probably someone famous - setting off alarms in a suburban office car park; there's a botched poster and a poignant interchange between Denis Leary and Mackenzie Crook - both FilmFour types - to take us up to the driving, insistent, blood-red final three frames FILM / FOUR / FREE, set to those big 1970s guitar riffs.

Apparently Free FilmFour's coming next Sunday - 23 July. It's smart, it's clever, it's tremendously grown-up and it's just what I've always wanted.

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