Grainies hits the big time, anonymously

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The Independent Online
A LARGE stir has been created in the art world by the release, on video, of a TV commercial, the successful advertisement for Grainies, the morning cereal. The commercial shows a horseman galloping across the Russian steppes. He reaches a small house in the distance, dismounts and goes in - but there, seated at the table, is another rider, just about to help himself to a bowl of the newcomer's Grainies.

The two men fight. The rightful owner wins, and dispatches the intruder. He is just about to sit down and enjoy his morning cereal when we hear more hooves. Our man goes to the window to see who is approaching, and the ad ends with a freeze frame over the new arrival, and the slogan: 'Grainies - Well worth a fight to the death.'

Now, what made the commercial so popular was the ingenious idea of director Mel Springbok to give it a different ending each time. The new arrival, in the original version seen on TV, was another horseman, in Russian cavalry uniform, holding a spoon, bowl, and bottle of milk as if ready for his cereal. In the second version, it was a beautiful blonde on horse back. In the third, it was the Emperor Napoleon. (In the final frame he pulls his hand out of his waistcoat holding a napkin.)

In other versions, more surrealistically, the horseman was a jockey in modern racing colours who galloped straight past the house, or a medieval knight in Chelsea Football Club colours, or Lady Godiva, and so on. The point was that the public always stayed to the end to see what the twist would be this time, whether historical or romantic, slapstick or sexy. And then presumably later went out to buy some Grainies, while the commercial itself won numerous prizes.

So it was only a matter of time before the ad came out on video. And now it has. And caused a huge stir. There was speculation over whether Mel Springbok would come up with a new ending for the video. He has. He has added another whole 116 minutes to the commercial. No wonder there is a stir.

What happens now is that the rider gallops up to the house, leaps off and finds inside the house his wife apparently being manhandled by a stranger. He attacks the stranger. To his astonishment, the wife defends the stranger. He demands an explanation. The wife says she was previously married to this man and still loves him.

'I am married bigamously?' exclaims the hero incredulously.

Not exactly, explains the wife. She, in fact, is a time traveller who has come from the future and been trapped in Russia since 1834. Giving up hope of ever getting back to her own time, she has married the Russian hero, but now her real husband has also come back from the future on a time trip to find her.

'Hold on,' says the hero. 'If I married you in 1834, and he married you in the future, then I married you earlier and he is the bigamous husband, even though he married you first]'

After this explosive start, the story then spirals off into an inquiry into the nature of time, much chasing and fighting, a lot of interesting sex including the display of one technique not invented until AD2034, and some wonderful landscape. It's great stuff. But all this new material, in some people's eyes, makes it into a feature film, not the world's longest commercial. Especially as all mention of Grainies has now entirely vanished from the film.

'I'd go along with that,' says Mel Springbok. 'In fact, that was my original intention. You have to remember that many of us TV commercial-makers are just waiting for the chance to direct a feature film. But I thought - why wait? Why not make it as I go along? The budget you get for the average commercial is going to pay for at least five minutes of feature film, so I thought: why not shoot some footage of feature film every time I am paid to make another commercial?'

Is that why so many Grainies ads returned to the same locale, but used different characters?

'Absolutely. I kept reshooting the Grainies commercial so I could go back to the same location, and costumes, and get on with the film.'

And what did the makers of Grainies think?

'Well, they were a little chagrined, I think, to find that they had a two-hour commercial on their hands which didn't even mention the product. But we cam to a compromise with the choice of the title.'

Mel Springbok's film, entitled 'Well Worth a Fight to the Death' will soon be in your local video store.