Stephen Fry picks up good vibrations

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The Independent Online

In the 1950s, white goods – fridges, stoves and washing machines – were advertised as magic. Again and again, ads featured women in evening clothes with long gloves doing a magician's-assistant gesture of amazement at a dumpy steel box. This was seriously aspirational New Age kit. This was change-your-life time. Women newly freed could go on to make the kind of fancies Nigella Lawson explains so compellingly. Important stuff.

But in the 1980s, white goods were seen as absolute givens – the most boring sector possible, with minimal media advertising.

Then James Dyson revived the washing machine market, as he'd revived the vacuum cleaner one, with a dose of innovation, a lot of bright colour and a completely jaw-dropping price-point. Here was an absolute Lamborghini of washing machines, unmistakable at a hundred yards, being advertised on television. This meant the white box makers had to pipe up with new messages, more than just price or Germanness (Brits are absolutely suckers for anything mechanical from Germany).

The Dyson brand is about radical innovation and design. The competitors can't really say that yet (they will, of course). But he's clearly raised the ante – so thoughtful, evolved, clever is clearly one response.

And what's shorthand for clever-dick? What sonorous, fruity, Oxbridge-thespy sound provokes a generation of Primrose Hill household-formers to think of Celebrity University Challenge in a nanosecond? Stephen Fry, of course. So you get a washing machine commercial consisting of two shots of an unremarkable-looking machine, made by LG, a brand I've never heard of, set against a Prada mint ice-cream green background and a Stephen Fry voice-over. That's it.

It's the Intellowasher, which sounds like something dreamed up for one of those mildly satirical Radio 4 comedy things Fry does. We see the machine, the camera goes in, it starts to spin and Fry asks whether it vibrates less than your old machine, "We'd put money on it." The camera pulls out and there's a 20p piece standing safely on its side, just shimmying. "It's built with a rather clever direct drive system, you see."

Admirable economy of effect – designed, I think, for the middle-class man so he's got a little something to say when he's in the John Lewis basement.

But there are two problems. We don't know where it comes from, and country of origin is hugely important in defining expectations and price-points if you're not Dyson. And Fry says so much more than clever-dick that I find myself completely diverted towards those moist yet sunlit uplands of reflection. He gets you like that, Stephen.