Peter York on Ads: When old jokes fail to deliver the promised punchline

Smirnoff
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The Independent Online

I'm always wildly excited by famous people, irrespective of what they do and whether they're any good. My friends say I should at least know where to draw the line. They mean the line between the various alphabetical grades. Everyone - men, women, children and Labradors - acknowledges the global A list but I love those grey, rather below-stairs areas - around J and K, I suppose.

I'm always wildly excited by famous people, irrespective of what they do and whether they're any good. My friends say I should at least know where to draw the line. They mean the line between the various alphabetical grades. Everyone - men, women, children and Labradors - acknowledges the global A list but I love those grey, rather below-stairs areas - around J and K, I suppose.

But the new Smirnoff commercial tells me exactly where to draw the line: above the head of someone called Dean Gaffney. Dean was once in EastEnders, as part of the successor generation and now he isn't.

Many are called and few chosen. But judging from this it's given him a five year ticket to all of Essex's most important clubs. (Apparently there have been a lot of sex god stories about him in the red tops too.)

The story/joke here's so ancient and folkloric that even I know it, payoff line and all. It's all about celebrity - the versions I've heard have involved proper A-listers such as Tom Cruise or Robbie Williams - and its power to transform relationships.

It goes like this. Pushy nobody meets celebrity in club, restaurant or party (usually in the Gents) and asks whether he'd do him an enormous favour by dropping by his table and pretending to treat him like an old friend, to impress his girlfriend/the people from the office/his clients out of their skins. It assumes the first law of ancient fame, that almost all celebrities are benign and rather interested in the lives of modest people. So the great man walks over to the table in Siberia, hails the nerd as his oldest friend and spreads his gorgeous glow around and - in the original version - our Terry tells him to piss off. But here it's Dean Gaffney. Have you a completely consolidated, evolved view of DG, his talents and attributes? His appeal isn't universal, I can tell you.

Anyway Terry likes a laugh, so they tell us, and one night he spots a celebrity heading for the dancefloor. They've mobbed this scene up heavily with shiny-lipped girls with Atomic Kitten hair all over Mr Gaffney. Terry, incidentally, is Irish with a pale root-vegetable kind of face and he makes his bid irresistibly flattering. When Dean comes by with "Terry, how's it going?" the lads look deeply impressed - and even more when Terry says "Gaffney, I've told you, not in front of me mates" ("piss off Cruise" is miles more elegant). But what percentage of the audience will be wondering "who on earth was that"?

Peter @sru.co.uk

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