Peter York On Ads: With one bound... it's Trinny and Susannah spring
Sunday 13 May 2007
From the 1960s onwards children were fed the same stuff. Across the country and up and down the class scale they were watching adventure TV. Different doses of course - and there will have been annoying highbrow parents in Hampstead or North Oxford who held out against the telly, or at least forbad ITV (there were only two channels until BBC2 appeared in 1964) until practically the end of the decade. Those deprived children, poor things, grew up vulnerable to Mockneyism. They had to pretend they'd watched Hawaii Five-O when they were 10.
But for the rest, everywhere, there was a marvellous stew of film, telly and advertising which shaped British ideas of what was exotic and exciting.
It practically all came from Bond, because of the budgets, the beauties (how many boys were left feeling that lardy-thighed white-bread local girls would never measure up to those glorious multi-culti creatures - French/Russian/Italian) and the locations. Bond was the basis for a mass of 1960s' and 1970s' TV series, many of them made by Lew Grade's International Television Corporation on very tight budgets, with locations suggested by stock footage and back projection. They had mostly English actors, with the odd leavening of Hollywood types on the way down, but were designed for universal distribution to the new TV audiences in igloos and mud huts.
And then there were the ads, the exotic and adventurous ones, made on giant budgets for showing practically everywhere too. While Martini kept on those yachts and balloons, ski slopes and seascapes designed for the first Eurovision, generation Cinzano started doing humorous ads just for the Brits in the late 1970s. We love the tensions between Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins ("here, get your head down, sweetie") in the Cinzano campaign, but Martini ads are part of our collective unconscious.
All that stuff set up the Newly Rich for long-haul holidays and sex tourism in the 1980s. However lairy/borderline ludicrous those films look now, most knew what they wanted because they'd seen it on the telly.
But after practically everyone had been to Florida and Monte, Barbados and Thailand, the films looked especially dated and silly. So during the 1980s they started to reappear as spoof, as kitsch, as social history. Routines for new comedians. Trivial Pursuits. And in the 1990s pub-quiz questions. What was Jack Lord's back story? Did Roger Moore get the Bond role through The Persuaders? The private life of Joe 90.
Commercials directors are forever going back to that material, the national memory bank. Everyone will know where they're coming from and it's an excuse for a good location, the odd helicopter and all the factors that add up to a 20-day shoot at £10,000-a-day director's fees.
The new Littlewoods Direct dot.com campaign presses so many familiar buttons you can spend a happy half-hour identifying them all. There's Littlewoods HQ "somewhere in the ocean". It's on a Smershy rock in bright blue sea flanked with deep Riviera green. It's a fortress, of course; guards with red berets and patrolling helicopters.
And your starter for 10, two frog people all in back with latex balaclavas emerging from the sea. Where did you see that first? They're enterprising - on the ramparts before you can say Britt Ekland, and creeping along past cartons with famous brand names on. Like so many Bond films it's the big-cave effect inside. Great tunnels hewn from stone. Great alarmed barred gates. They're slipping through the bars but one gets stuck, the alarm goes off then - and this could be the beginning of a Jason King episode - the masks are off, tumbling blonde hair all round, and we see it's Trinny and Susannah. They'll be in a Royal Variety Show next.
There's no stopping T & S. They're an unlikely pair for housewife TV when the great pressures of life are urging you to be Lorraine Kelly. The demotic urge. The regional urge. If, for instance, Trinny was a man she'd be banned because she's got the officer-class command tone and the manner to match. And we know Susannah's been in high places.
But there's still a tiny slot left for recognisably smart girls who'll turn their hand to absolutely anything that makes a few bob. Littlewoods, like Nescafé Original, is a basic knockabout brand. A bit old-fashioned, distinctly working class and Northern. If the girls can add a bit of style, authority and interest to a random collection from Nike to Whirlpool Washers, they'll more than earn the fees to keep them in Chelsea and Notting Hill for ever.
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