Someone, somewhere must have decided the mid-’80s economic boom wasn’t booming quite enough, because seemingly overnight, children who had previously limited their financial affairs to a Post Office savings book at the very most were encouraged to open proper, gown-up bank accounts and hand over their hard-earned car washing revenue. Perhaps the most insidious, beating the Anglia Top Savers’ Club and even the Midland Griffin Savers’ Scheme (free dictionary!) was this weird combination of the Banking Song from Mary Poppins and Franklin Mint promotion. All the hapless youngster was required to do – at least initially – was deposit a pound in Nat West’s vault. “For that,” explained the avuncular announcer, “your child gets Woody!” Quite. This was, of course, a porcelain piggy bank – wearing a nappy, oddly enough – the first of five increasingly aspirational porcine moneyholders (hang on, isn’t the money meant to be in the bank?) culminating in Sir Nathaniel Westminster (a joke shamelessly nicked off Lenny Henry). On top of that, you got stickers, some kind of half-arsed ‘activity pack’ and, best of all, a ‘wobberly wall chart’. If that wasn’t enough, said family of porkers cavorted round a pink-hued local branch in the TV ads, singing a cod-operatic paean to the Action Bank. “Pigaro!” Indeed.
The three-apples-high ambassadors of Smurfland had colonised mainland Europe and the columns of Look-In before they rolled up on your local forecourt. In a marketing masterstroke, National Garages lured in the kids and their harassed Talbot Horizon-driving dads by giving away collectable plastic Smurfs with every tankful of four-star, while Windsor Davies got in on the act by narrating the animated commercials in full-on It ain’t Half Hot Mum mode (‘now, car drill! Smurf yourselves, Smurf yourselves!’) before the indefatigable blue sprites reprised their hit single to proclaim in song: ‘National, the one place on earth, you get service with a Smurf!’ We’re not entirely sure where Father Abraham was in all of this, mind.
TV CREAM SAYS: ‘EXCELLENT, LOVELY SMURFS!’
1983, and the alcoholic British palate is evolving at a rate of knots. Wine has finally arrived! After a decade of swilling sickly bottom-end Eurobrands like Don Cortez, Mateus and Goldener Oktober, aspirational types from all walks of life are developing a taste for the sort of hard-to-pronounce south-facing plonk at which the continentals themselves wouldn’t turn up their noses. Cosmopolitan wine bar sophistication is triumphing over beerily parochial snug bar ignorance. A longstanding cultural barrier between the United Kingdom and her mainland neighbours looks set to be toppled for good. This simply won’t do at all.
To the rescue come G&J Greenalls, Warrington-based spirit manufacturers, who’ve acquired (ask not how) a job lot of questionable vin de table, and are looking to shift it in those lovely new three-litre wine boxes to the sort of honest British boozer who still thinks Bordeaux is a JRR Tolkein character. And who better to demystify the pretentious verbiage surrounding viniculture than good old Willie Rushton, avuncular humourist of benevolent media ubiquity, and the sort of good egg who’ll run off a few telly ads in return for a couple of crates of agreeable liquor, no questions asked.
So was born Naughty French Wine, the swillable paintstripper of choice for the red-nosed EEC-phobe in your life. The premise: well, those Frenchies are always, you know, “at it”, ain’t they? And you know what makes ‘em so randy, don’t you? Well, here’s a clue: it ain’t the cheese. So knock back a few pints of this with the missus and Jean-Paul’s yer Sartre, comprendez-vous, if you’ll pardon my French.
Thus, the sainted Willie finds himself in beret, cravat, and too-tight onion-seller shirt, making a reasonably convincing plea on the telly for ale-supping Brits to put aside their inverted snobbery and enjoy wine for what it is. Throw in Vicki Michelle as one “Fifi” to perch on the great man’s lap, and the weird double message of “Hey, wine is nice, don’t be scared!”/”Phwooooaaarrr, those continentals, eh?” is made manifest for all to see.
Rushton, in true gentleman-dilettante fashion, even mucked in to write and illustrate a free promotional book, detailing a fictional tour of France’s wine regions in the company of a pisshead sales rep: a sort of wine-and-cheese version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Sadly, the message didn’t take off quite as Greenall’s hoped, and the most daftly-named beverage ever seen on UK shelves was soon making its own small contribution to the Common Market wine lake. Rushton, meanwhile, simply chucked out the beret, dusted off his trusty Panama, and thumbed a carefree lift back to the Jackanory studios. All in a day’s work, madame.
TV CREAM SAYS: STEADY ON! YOU DON'T HAVE TO DRINK IT ALL AT ONCE!
While Mr Kipling ran its sedate, well-mannered commercials for decades, boringly recounting scenes not seen in normal households for centuries, Lyons decided that a more modern approach was required. The basic theme of the ‘Naughty… but Nice’ campaign was that, yeah, the cakes might have loads of sugar and cream in them that may be bad for your figure, but who cared when they tasted as good as this? This devilish assertion was backed up by a roster of celebs, from Les Dawson in drag to Barbara Windsor, via Kenneth Williams in, improbably enough, Dracula mode. (‘Ere! The trouble with these midnight snacks is you get crumbs all over the bed!’) The slogan is said to be the creation of Salman Rushdie, trying to raise a few bob to write novels by working as a copywriter. Perhaps if he’d stuck to writing about cream cakes then he wouldn’t have had so much hassle in later years. In fact Rushdie is not alone in taking the commercial shilling over the years – legendary sports commentator Murray Walker may have been well-known for his garbled English, but in a previous career he’d informed the nation that Opal Fruits were ‘made to make your mouth water’.
TV CREAM SAYS: EARLIER STILL, FAY WELDON GOT THE COUNTRY TO 'GO TO WORK ON AN EGG'
The campaign that begat a National Gesture, the mid-1980s Nescafé adverts were a prime example of how to succeed in advertising without really trying. The premise was so-so: middle-of-the-road showbiz faces (Gareth Hunt and Una Stubbs at the core, augmented by the likes of Peter Davison and Diane Keen) relaxed in suburban splendour, discussing the product’s ‘special blend and roast’ and ‘richer, smoother flavour,’ while bizarrely producing handfuls of coffee beans from nowhere by shaking a clenched fist next to the ear. Such unpretentious advertising can only be cherished with hindsight, but who nowadays wouldn’t swap a multi-million-pound boreathon with surfers and horses for compact classics such as ‘Gareth’s Garden’ or the award-bypassing ‘Gareth’s Cups’? As the 1980s really kicked in, Nescafé decided to up the ante, and the annoying Gold Blend couple was born. The sexual speculation foisted on Gareth and co by topical gag merchants up and down the land was spelt out in clunking innuendo, and a happy era of innocence and sweaters ground to a halt. However, in 1989, Richard Briers and Penelope Wilton performed an ‘ironic’ postscript, showing the sainted Dickie rehearsing for a Hunt-style commercial, only for Penny to leap in with ‘the gesture‘. ‘I wanted to do that bit!’ moaned Briers, childishly. So did we all, Mr B.
TV CREAM SAYS: SHOWBIZ AT ITS BEST
It was Derek Jameson who unleashed the forces of housey-housey on an unsuspecting Fleet Street in the early 1980s when, as editor of the Daily Star, he launched a bingo game as the latest salvo in the soaraway circulation war. Practically overnight, tabloid bingo became a national obsession, with both the Daily Mirror and the Sun piling in. New and evermore vast cards arrived through the letterbox and everyone found themselves breathlessly crossing off the numbers and declaring they only required one more ball to scoop that jackpot. Elaborate variations on a theme materialised, like the Sam Fox-endorsed Twingo Bingo. And the ailing TV-am received a boost when Greg Dyke decreed that the station should broadcast the numbers from that morning’s newspapers (‘Moving on to the Mirror, game 55 day three… ’) even if Nick Owen bristled at the suggestion he wear a boater and sound a bugle to call the digits. The stakes were raised in 1984 with the introduction of million pound bingo. The Daily Express launched their Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Game with a Fred and Ginger-style commercial, the Mirror inauspiciously anchored Robert Maxwell behind a desk and Leslie Crowther ran a live draw in full The Price is Right mode in a commercial for the Sun. Even the Thunderer entered the fray, although The Times wasn’t about to sully itself with something as common as bingo, instead presenting a game called Portfolio based on stocks and shares, plugged by a bowler-hatted Mel Smith. Which was, of course, not the same thing at all.
TV CREAM SAYS: NOW ENTIRELY ONLINE, WITH 'COMMUNITIES' AND WHAT-HAVE-YOU. PAH!
Although still going strong today, Nimble Bread is perhaps most strongly associated with the famous advertising campaign of the late 1960s and 1970s that featured Nimble girl Emily Jones precariously perched on a small chair secured to a red and white Nimble balloon. Accompanied by the memorable ‘I Can’t Let Maggie Go’ by Honeybus, something about the ad caught the public’s imagination in a way rival firm Slimcea’s own balloon based bread commercial singularly failed to do. The product itself harks back to an age when the amateur ethos still prevailed in the sport of dieting. Phrases such as ‘lean cuisine’ and ‘calorie controlled diet’ were about as technically complex as things got. Nimble boasted it was only 40 calories a slice (that’s apparently 27 calories less than normal bread), although it probably helped that each loaf was absolutely tiny.
TV CREAM SAYS: A LOVELY WAY TO SLIM
Of all the weird and wonderful speciality acts who peopled variety shows with their esoteric skills during the ’70s and ’80s, none were as mesmerizing as ‘bubble magician’ Tom Noddy. An unassuming American with a hippyish ponytail and a relaxed line of chummy patter, Noddy kept audiences enthralled by just standing there blowing bubbles. Not just any old bubbles, of course: bubble volcanoes, bubble caterpillars, bubble carousels and his piece de resistance, the bubble cube. He’s still going today, but unlikely to turn up on the telly due to his preferred method of highlighting his soapy creations for the cameras – filling them with lungfuls of smoke derived from a Marlboro constantly burning between the fingers of his left hand.
TV CREAM SAYS: BUBBLE MAGIC... IS REAL MAGIC!
Scene: a Stanley Baxter ITV Christmas special in the mid 1980s. The expensive film parody is The Jewel in the Crown. Posh Old Empire Duffer (Stanley Baxter) confronts an Indian mystic (Stanley Baxter, plus dubbin). “I say, what’s your name?” “Please sir, my name is Page!” “Page? Odd name for a soothsayer, what?” “Oh, yes. I am Page the Oracle!” That’s how far the advertising slogan of ITV’s Ceefax-beating text service had penetrated popular consciousness. Paging the Oracle (the name supposedly stood for Optional Reception of Announcements by Coded Line Electronics, but if that’s not a classic case of retro-fitting words into a nice-sounding acronym we don’t know what is) brought you the wonders of magazine show Live at Five, teen section Buzz (featuring Debbie’s Diary!) and the semi-legendary endless text soap opera Park Avenue. Oh, and endless flashing double-height captions urging you to book a Thomas Cook holiday while places last. Until, that is, it was canned at the end of 1992 to make way for the imaginatively titled ITV Teletext.
TV CREAM SAYS: PRESS REVEAL!
In an age of supposedly sophisticated ‘viral’ marketing that counts itself successful if it makes half a dozen people look at an elaborately-crafted hoax website for thirty seconds each, here’s an example of old school advertising achieving maximum bang for its buck. An unprepossessing TV and video sales and rental showroom in the Lea Bridge Road, Hackney, OTV achieved near national notoriety by spotting that, with the nascent Channel Four being crippled by an actor’s boycott of its advertising slots, the way was clear for its Tony Aitken-esque brown-suited manager to slip in front of the camera himself, and flog his humble electronic wares to the populace at a knock-down price. And so he did. On average, at least twice per commercial break. Every commercial break. Without fail. Soon he’d expanded to a second premises in Stockwell, but then the strike was resolved, ‘proper’ ads starring Rosalyn Landor and Nick Hancock returned to the Channel, and the rates shot up far beyond OTV’s grasp. But we remember. Wonder if he did Betamax?
TV CREAM SAYS: "AND WE GUARANTEE YOU'LL SAY, 'THAT'S A BARGAIN!'"
Watches specially designed for ‘her’, we can understand. But pens? Well, in those far off days when writing things out by hand was something people did on a regular basis, if you didn’t have a platinum-coated retractable roller-ball with a little golden clasp at the top nestling in the breast pocket of your lounge suit, you weren’t fit to take your place among the ranks of the go-ahead classes. But while a big, chunky, jewel-encrusted affair was fine for those deal-making men of affairs, what about the ladies? Parker to the rescue, with a range of pens slimmer and somehow more ‘genteel’, as demonstrated by Penelope Keith in a fictional ladies’ finishing school, recommending it as the ideal implement with which to sign massive cheques for jewellery, handbags, etc.
TV CREAM SAYS: GENDER STEREOTYPING? SURELY NOT!
Of all the primary school reading scheme books (Janet and John, Peter and Jane, Ant and Bee) the best loved (and therefore, presumably, most effective) were EJ Arnold and Sons’ Griffin and Dragon pirate stories. Written by Sheila K McCullagh and illustrated with Mary Geraut’s lush watercolours, the simple sentences detailed the maritime adventures of Benjamin the Blue (the blonde, dashing hero), Roderick the Red (hearty, slightly stout) and Gregory the Green (lanky, slightly devious), sailing away to sea in search of colour-coded gemstones, encountering merpeople and griffins along the way. The threesome’s uneasy co-existence often fell apart as Benjamin, initially, was the one with the ship, and the others, being pirates and all, kept trying to nick it. The later Dragon series took things a stage further, with black pirates, seahorses and The Princess Who Wanted the Moon. It was all a delightful way to escape the confines of a rain-battered classroom of a Wednesday afternoon. With your fingers under the words, of course.
TV CREAM SAYS: ACROO-ACREE!
It wasn’t gambling. They said there was an art to it, and rightly so. Deliberating the relative footballing merits of Alloa v Cowdenbeath before decorating that weird rocket gantry diagram with a little cross – or not, as the case may be – was s skill to be proud of every Saturday, whether you followed the results on the Grandstand teleprinter as they spewed out, waited a bit for the stentorian voice of James Alexander Grodon to run through them in ceremonial order, or (shame on you!) just looked them up in the Sunday papers. Most of the pools action was divided between Littlewoods (the big one), Vernon’s (smaller, but at least they had their own ‘singing sensations’ for a bit) and Zetters (very much the dark horses of the competition). Collection was each Wednesday via that bloke your dad vaguely knew from the pub coming round to the front door, entrusted with spiriting your hard-chosen crosses off to pools HQ, determining if your beaming severed head would end up displayed on the outside of a future coupon, alongside your initials and the relevant amount of money. (Or, if you’d ticked the ‘no publicity’ box, seemingly you’d be slapped on the coupon anyway, but with a black bar across your eyes, suggesting you’d stolen the cash instead.) The make-up and workings of the rain-beating pools panel was famed in legend and song, until someone on Nationwide revealed it was just some ex-players and referees sat round a table with a few sandwiches, and not a solemn cabal meeting in an underground lair with a giant computer at all. One by one the myths fell away, until the lottery arrived to take the skill out of it once and forever, and the art of perming 8 from 10 fell into irreversible decline.
TV CREAM SAYS: DIVIDEND FORECAST MODERATE - POSTAL CLAIMS ONLY PLEASE
Classically cased in white plastic with a black dial for tuning in the picture and a hooped aerial that was maddeningly prone to losing the signal if anyone so much as looked at a power tool within a mile radius, the portable television set nevertheless opened up a new world of freedom for teens keen on sampling TV’s forbidden fruits. As a result, numerous episodes of The Young Ones were originally viewed in crackly black and white with the sound barely audible lest mum cottoned on to the unauthorised TV anarchy unfurling after lights out. The portable’s other benefit was to provide most households with their first real choice in viewing. So, while the parents did the 5.40pm current affairs courtesy of Nick Ross, Desmond Wilcox and the rest of the Sixty Minutes gang, the kids decamped upstairs with their beans on toast for some Peter Purves-endorsed bunny-hopping in Kick Start.
TV CREAM SAYS: YOU COULD EVEN PICK UP SOUTHERN BY STANDING RIGID IN THE FAR CORNER OF THE ROOM. DON'T MOVE... AH, FRED'S VANISHED IN THE SNOW!
What better way to signpost your devotion to the latest short-lived elaborately-coiffured pop sensation than by forking out three times the cost of an issue of Smash Hits on a huge fold-out poster with some extremely basic biographical details on the reverse? Well that’s what pop fans did in their thousands in the eighties, with each successive gaggle of generally girl-orientated popsters inspiring an ozone layer-depleting amount of said items. The journalistic content, it has to be said, was never of a particularly high standard, but then again neither were the posters themselves, invariably involving some unexciting photo session cast-off that the publishers presumably had to pay less money for. Sometimes you’d get a bizarre short story or comic strip, usually involving John Taylor being kidnapped and held for ransom before an important gig or some ‘Bros In The Haunted Castle’-type comedy shenanigans, and there was always the inevitable ‘Battle Of The Bands’, wherein the posterrific subject would be scored against their nearest rivals and invariably win by a single point. Six months later, both would be replaced by entirely new names as if nothing had happened, and the Postermag juggernaut rolled on and on until [INSERT SOME NONSENSE ABOUT FACELESS DANCE ACTS DESTROYING THE PRECIOUS POP FIRMAMENT HERE]
TV CREAM SAYS: "MILLI VANILLI AND THE LONDON BOYS - THEY'RE BOTH AS 'TOPS' AS ANYTHING!", CONCLUDED SMASH HITS' BRILLIANT POSTERMAG PARODY
Yoghurts were dead exotic once upon a time. Though limited of flavour (strawberry, hazelnut, ‘fruits of the forest’ . . . er, that’s it) there was something daringly European about the likes of Ski that made on-the-turn milk extremely popular. For children the best yoghurts, undoubtedly, were Prize, and that was mainly down to the adverts, which were textbook ‘so, how on earth do we sell this?’ Anthropomorphic fun. Heroic animated tubs of the stuff – dubbed ‘the Prize guys’ – leapt into various melodramatic ‘damsel in distress’ situations to see off the thin and weedy villain yoghurts, before peeling off their lids to reveal temptingly chunky innards, and walking off with the rescued damsels, which were represented by, er, spoons.
TV CREAM SAYS: THERE’S SOMETHING WORRYINGLY FREUDIAN GOING ON THERE THAT WE CAN’T QUITE FIGURE OUT
The 1970s were a hotbed of audio technological advancement, despite enthusiasts having to carry on with the same old vinyl technology that had been around for decades. The increasing popularity of stereo had enabled Mike Oldfield to ring a bell in your left ear while slapping a fretless bass in your right. With quadraphonic, he could also stab a Moog in front of you and play a Swanee whistle behind your back. Such entertainment riches were worth any price, even the considerable time and trouble of fixing four little wooden ledges high in each corner of the room for the speakers, and putting up with the attendant forest of cabling. It wasn’t just Oldfield – everyone from Acker Bilk to Van McCoy got in on the four-channel act, releasing quad LPs in a dizzying variety of rival, incompatible formats. Would you CBS’s SQ system, or will you JVC’s Quadradisc? Amid all this confusion, mass interest waned, and soon even Mike Oldfield flogged off those two superfluous speakers. Those little ledges stayed up for ages afterwards, though – a testament to the folly of a society that sorely overestimated the amount of available ears.
TV CREAM SAYS: CLIFF DID A BBC QUAD CONCERT BROADCAST - HOPEFULLY FEATURING 'CUMBERSOMELY WIRED FOR SOUND'
It’s widely acknowledged that, before regulations were relaxed a few years back, British adverts were unable to rubbish rival brands by name, hence all that ‘brand x/another leading washing up liquid/certain chargecards I could mention’ malarkey. Things came close to outright Coke/Pepsi-style hostilities, however, with the notorious Hover bovver campaign.
During the ’70s, Flymo had made a nice little earner with their range of go-ahead rotary orange grass trimmers, demonstrated by a ‘bevy of beauties’ in spangly jumpsuits, effortlessly trimming their verdant greensward with idle, sweeping strokes of floaty Flymo, gliding over paving stones without a care in the world. Come the early ’80s, Qualcast, manufacturers of sturdy, racing green British lawnmowers with good, trustworthy names like Concorde and Suffolk Punch, and sporting a traditional grass bucket, big heavy roller and two-stroke petrol engine that needs a good half dozen hefty tugs to start on a good day, felt this space-age garden maintenance (and from a bally Swedish company at that!) had gone far enough. An extensive, mildly humorous campaign was launched painting the trad option as the best one – “a lot less bovver than a hover”, indeed. (The rhyming tagline cheekily ripped off, and eventually outclassed, the enemy’s own “It’s easy when you know – Flymo”.)
The peak came with a commercial depicting an actress making a standard Flymo ad, then getting the put-upon film crew to fix the damage the ghastly hover had wrought on her lawn by trundling the trusty Qualcast out of the shed and doing it properly, with nice regimental stripes and no clippings strewn everywhere. Scholars of consumer history identify this war of words as the first knockings of the ’80s reactionary tendency to distrust all the shiny, plasticky trappings of modern life and fall back on reliably cosy tradition. Scholars of consumer history are to be avoided in public houses at all costs for precisely this reason.
TV CREAM SAYS: THE PHRASE EVEN INSPIRED A COMPUTER GAME, HOVVER BOVVER, PROGRAMMED BY THAT ALAN MOORE OF THE COMMODORE, JEFF MINTER
A go-ahead company founded in Newbury in 1973, Quantel is, perhaps more than any other institution, responsible for the change in the appearance of British TV from the 16mm film and caption card biscuitty sludginess of the 1970s to the twiddly, neon and pastel-hued, pin-sharp ‘electronic wine bar’ look of the 1980s. It all kicked off in 1978 with the introduction of the DPE 5000, a little box with a few buttons and a joystick that enabled excitable producers to flip the picture about the screen with the same gay abandon with which Terry Wogan treated his Blankety Blank question cards. LE departments took to it like ducks to water, and since the damn thing was so expensive it would be made to pay for itself anyway, it colonised the screen like crazy within a couple of years. Then came Paintbox in 1981, which enable wacky colourisation effects (end result: even more lurid magenta and lime green on the screen than before). Finally 1982 saw Mirage, a supersized box of tricks that enabled Paul Jackson to fold the Waterboys into a saxophone-shaped blob and spin them around the Saturday Live studio as the whim took him. By that point, TV was irreversibly digitised, and sales of Telecine units and Letraset plummeted.
TV CREAM SAYS: WATERSHED MOMENT: WHEN A DPE 5000 REPLACED THE OLD PERSPEX ROTATING BOARD ON THE QUESTION OF SPORT IDENTITY ROUND
A ‘revolutionary’ cordless (note – never ‘mobile’) phone system introduced by Hutchison Telecommunications (geddit?) in the early ’90s, which relied on the user being in close proximity to a ‘Rabbit point’ (at home, or in a shop, station, etc.) for the phone to be useable. Died out quickly, but the stickers (upside-down capital ‘R’ made to look like a rabbit’s head) can still be spotted on the doors of shops who’ve forgotten to take them down.