Sure, with modern technology even the most technophobic teacher can knock up a perfectly attractive handout in moments, and print out hundreds of copies at the click of a mouse – but they don’t have the special charm of the hand-cranked copiers that allowed for a smelly, feely, felt-tipped copy to be distributed around the class. The most obvious use of the duplicator was creating worksheets to ensure the latest school trip wasn’t just going to be an opportunity to mess about, but instead a spirit-crushing dreary traipse in search of boring facts about each exhibit. Back when graduating from a pencil to a pen was a major watershed, the excitement of the duplicator from a pupil’s point of view was possibly the first experience for many of the ‘forbidden’ adult stationary product Tipp-Ex covering up a slip of the pen. Truly the duplicator inspired a generation of temps.
B is for…
Credit cards used to evoke an exotically luxuriant lifestyle. What orgies of epicurean excess, for example, carried on behind the doubtlessly imposing doors of the mysterious Diner’s Club? Cardholders were a breed apart, living a non-stop, well-groomed life of club class jet-setting in open-necked shirts, or storming into lush hotel lobbies and demanding ‘I’ve GOT to get back to Bahrain!’ During the 1980s, Barclaycard – after some relatively down-to-Earth ads featuring a punked-up Dudley Moore buying records – stepped up a social gear by drafting in the jet-setter’s jet-setter, Alan Whicker. He personified the trans-Atlantic lifestyle, his swooping tones firmly associated in the public mind with the moneyed world of film stars, monarchs, shahs and sheikhs. If a safari suit could talk, it’d talk like Whicker. The premise was simple: in a variety of exotic locations, Whicker extolled the globetrotting virtues of what he called ‘Bu-harclaycard’ by interrogating hapless fellow travellers over the worth of their inferior plastic in a series of awkward prose poems: ‘Will it let you sample the vintage vino?/will it help you look like Al Pacino?’ Local tradesmen answered with a curt, ‘non!’ leaving the Whickster to swoop languidly in and purloin the goods with ease using his superior door-jemmying rectangle, which he claimed, with gentlemanly discretion, was ‘accepted in more places than . . . CERTAIN charge cards I could mention.’ Despite Whicker’s best efforts, most future credit card ads took their cue from Access’s classless, chummy ‘flexible friend,’ heralding the modern era of APR rates and debt consolidation, where anyone with a fixed address and a clean shirt can acquire a brace of wallet stiffeners with ease.
TV CREAM SAYS: A TRIUMPH FOR FINANCIAL DEMOCRACY MAYBE, BUT WITH THOSE LOUNGE SUITS GONE, THE WORLD’S THAT BIT LESS GLAMOROUS
Building firms don’t tend to make memorable adverts, but Barratt’s long-lived 1970s campaign, in which a helicopter zoomed over the majestic expanses of link detached residences on Orchard Mews and Fairview Drive struck a chord. This was down to the none-more-actorly voice of the chopper’s passenger, Patrick Allen. His rich tones (even his voice seemed to wear a cravat) somehow imbued the mundane talk of double garages and double glazing with the stamp of fruity authority. Point of confusion: Allen also voiced the infamous Protect and Survive nuclear fallout films – did that mean a Barratt home could survive a ten megaton attack?
TV CREAM SAYS: MAGEE MAKES DEALS - BARRATT MAKE MOVES!
Of course, the picture’s better on Betamax – so claimed home hi-fi nutters in the mid-1980s unwilling to admit the entertainment system they’d spent hundreds on was minutes away from becoming obsolete. Sony’s also-ran of the video age launched in the UK in 1978, but had been plugging away in the US since 1975. A year later JVC had joined the fray with its VHS format and while Sony was slow to bring other manufacturers on board, the newcomer quickly jumped into bed with various Japanese electronic firms. Soon VHS was everywhere. Even though Beta led the way in innovations (it’s the system that brought us fast-forward and rewind!), VHS’s ubiquity and the tapes’ greater recording capacity swayed the public. By 1988, Sony threw in the towel, and got ready to launch their own VHS recorders.
TV CREAM SAYS: THE BRIDESMAID OF HOME ENTERTAINMENT
The British public house used to be an establishment of two halves. Turn right as you went in (or was it left?), and you hit the Saloon Bar: a suave, sophisticated, not to mention carpeted, area wherein soft music and plastic pineapples full of ice provided the perfect environment for giggly reps to be bought glasses of Babycham and Calviere by hopeful unemployed-yet-Datsun-owning lads in their best Burlington shirts. On the other side, however, you hit the resolutely all-male, fruit machines-’n'-Capstan-fog of the Public Bar, the chief signifier of which was an A3 card decorated with a topless Page Three Stunner, her ample charms obscured by twenty-odd packets of Big D (the nation’s number two nut, at least). In the days before Sky Sports, it was considered a prime source of entertainment for prannyish young shavers to ask the barman for two packets of nuts and giggle like idiots at the anticipated location of the subsequent comestible removal. Disappointment often came their way along with the bags of ready-salted, but then the Big D card was little more than a high-salt, high-testosterone advent calendar. Albeit one probably not endorsed by the General Synod.
TV CREAM SAYS: PORK SCRATCHINGS, FOR A MERCY, USUALLY WENT FOR A CARTOON BUTCHER ON THE CARD
In the race to engulf greensward at irresponsible speeds which was the 1970s New Town scheme, it was hard for a fledgling metropolis to stand out amid the clamour. If you were neither notorious like Milton Keynes, nor hideous like Cumbernauld, how to get people looking – however disgustedly – in your direction? For plucky little Lancashire conurbation Runcorn, the answer was twofold: piggyback on the more well-known nearby town of Warrington, and encourage anyone interested in moving to the exciting new hyphenated location of ‘Warrington-Runcorn’ to ‘Ring Eileen Bilton now’ for more details. To let daylight in on magic for a second, Eileen Bilton was no more a solitary secretary in a box-room with a Trimphone and a pile of brochures than Ken Morse was just one bloke with one very busy rostrum camera, but the name of a rapidly expanding real estate partnership. Still, that’s the new town all over – promises exotic intrigue, delivers the same old splother as usual.
TV CREAM SAYS: BUT WITH SLIGHTLY FLASHIER BUSES
Funny how advertising can alter the associations of a song forever. The Stylistics’ You Make Me Feel Brand New, a keening tract of close harmony disco schmaltz from 1974, should by rights conjure up images of the last couple dancing on a rapidly-clearing disco floor at the end of the evening, glitter balls going slowly out of focus, lonely men in polo shirts dejectedly draining the last of their lukewarm pint, and other provincial night out cliches of a certain vintage. Instead it stands for a blonde housewife flapping a white cotton sheet around an overlit bedroom, and a baby drooling mashed banana onto its bib. This misattribution is all the fault of Bio-Tex, ‘the only specialist soaker and pre-washer’, and its long-running ad campaign which famously identified, in the forthright manner of the ancient Greek philosophers, the four basic elements of dirt as blood, sweat, gravy and egg. Precisely what reasoning led to the isolation of this seemigly random quartet we’d have loved to know, but no working was ever shown.
TV CREAM SAYS: YOU HAD TO TAKE AN AWFUL LOT ON TRUST IN THOSE DAYS
You remember the one. It featured a load of hungry builders in the back of a van, singing the immortal lines, to the tune of ‘Que Sera Sera’, ‘will it be chips or jacket spuds/will it be salad or frozen peas/will it be mushrooms/fried onion rings/you’ll have to wait and see/hope it’s chips it’s chips/we hope it’s chips.’ Yes, what a great advert for McCain Oven Chips that was. except, in a baffling case of mass delusion, everyone’s now forgotten that the commercial was, in fact, for Steakhouse Grills, presumably on the basis that seeing as they were singing about chips, they must have been advertising chips.
TV CREAM SAYS: CONTENTIOUS 'CHIPS' LINE LATER CHANGED TO 'NOTHING ELSE WILL DO!' M0RE LOGICAL, BUT WHO SANG ALONG TO THAT?
The 1980s “sophisticated” advertising revolution didn’t happen overnight. Far from it. So entrenched, for example, was the good, honest, no-nonsense tradition of earthy advertising for the Emerald Isle’s bestselling meal in a glass that, even while square-spectacled tastemakers were upping the cultural ante to flog everything from unit trusts to liquid Gumption to the newly-moneyed chuntering classes, the harp-embossed stumbling syrup was still being aimed four square at your old school jobbing masses.
Our hero was Bernard Wrigley, comedian, folk singer, bit part telly mainstay and physical missing link between Bernard Hill and Bobby Ball, as a building site foreman telling his crew of a moment of stout-based epiphany via a quasi-rap reworking of When I Was a Lad from Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, backed by a parping brass band. The content was classic ‘alcohol as fuel for the workers’ fare:
“I’ll tell you blokes, nothing tastes so good,
Real full-bodied like a man’s drink should.
From that day on, we worked at such a rate,
By six each night we’d built a housing estate!”
A series of variations on the theme followed, along with badges, tie-pins and eventually, in a sure indication the zeitgeist was being surfed, a Tiswas parody in the shape of The Bucket of Water Supporter’s Club.
This was, however, the last oompah-led hurrah for traditional Guinness advertising. Demographics were in amongst marketing men, which meant builders were out, as campaign after campaign sought to get more upwardly mobile lips clamped to pints of the black stuff. After a few misfires such as the unfathomably feeble Friends of the Guinless campaign, someone got Blade Runner out on video, noticed Rutger Hauer’s rough physical resemblance to a glass of stout, cooked up some Superdrug surrealism about dolphins while en route to Quaglino’s, and two decades of prestige twaddle were thrust at a thirsty but bewildered public.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALSO RIPPING OFF G&S WAS CAPTAIN BIRDSEYE, IN HIS "REAL COD FILLET, NEVER FULL OF GREY BITS" POMP
A well-drilled team of young men and women performing an intricately choreographed burlesque version of Tropical Heatwave while three middle aged couples ponder what exactly Bertice Reading meant by leaving them a scale model of a Routemaster bus? It can only be 321, and the capable hoofers under the aegis of a former member of The Young Generation, Brian Rogers. Note for pedants: they’re only the Brian Rogers Connection when they’re doing a full-on cabaret routine – when they’re just prancing about to the latest waxing (eg. on Live at Her Majesty’s) they’re simply The Brian Rogers Dancers. Very important, that. Rogers, incidentally, now runs his own performing arts college in Essex, along with his wife Jan, herself former member of the Connection, as well as ‘vocal group Champagne’.
TV CREAM SAYS: WE'RE HAVIN' A HEATWAAAAVE...
Brainchild of boss Peter ‘Mitsubishi’ Parker, British Rail’s first proper TV ad campaign was a whistles-and-bells extravaganza of cut-price offers and posh cinematic entreaties. Dozens of Inter-City fleets, bodywork glistening in a perpetual rainstorm, plied forever-rolling countryside. Their cargo: the honourable Sir Jim’ll Savile. His armoury: a dark suit, a Maxpax coffee, shockingly sensible hair and an endless amount of paperwork that had to be done before that pressing engagement with the man who makes the machines for the hospitals. Wine-bar funk played while the kid who sang ‘Walking in the Air’ (Not Aled Jones, The Other One) belted out, ‘this is the age of the train.’ From a time when audiences were impressed by extended sequences of carriage exteriors, the ads did their job in leaving the slogan – somewhat meaningless out of context – in everyone’s heads.
TV CREAM SAYS: "1982 WAS THE AGE OF THE TRAIN. AND SOME OF THEM WERE EVEN OLDER." (TRAD. ARR. CARROTT)
Nowadays even the Daily Star has a resident wineologist , but until relatively recently the majority of British folk existed in a wine-free world, weddings and Christmases excepted. The holy trinity of Blue Nun, Black Tower and table-lamp-in-waiting favourite Mateus were as posh as it got, but slightly further downmarket were the British wines, or ‘wine-style drinks’ as they were often known, brewed in the UK from – shock horror – imported grape concentrate. Perhaps feeling slightly guilty over this deception, marketing departments poured on the terribly English heritage. Rougemont Castle advertised itself with that old standby, a suit of armour. Country Manor cooked up possibly the worst slogan ever written: ‘So light. So subtle. So buy some’. Playing to a slightly more continentally aware crowd, Concorde promised a bottleful of fun for under a pound. At rock bottom, however, was the grape-free plastic-corked sparkling concoction known as Pomagne, the nine percent proof prize in many a ‘spin the arrow’ local fete tombola which inspired countless teenagers to re-examine their breakfast.
TV CREAM SAYS: LONG LIFE LAGER (‘SPECIALLY BREWED FOR THE CAN!’) WAS THE SOPHISTICATED CHOICE BY COMPARISON
Satellite telly in Britain has been around since 1978, however Sky Channel broadcasting Australian Rules football and looped episodes of The Untouchables to a few enthusiasts with giant dishes in their back garden doesn’t really count. The satellite age didn’t really kick-off here until 1989 when a Rupert Murdoch-injected Sky Television went head-to-head against BSB. The stark difference between the two services was perhaps best symbolised by their radically different satellite dish designs: Sky’s was an ugly, wire-meshy, nobbly affair made by the bloke who ran Amstrad, whereas the BSB squarial was of a majestic white, adhering to that aesthetic so beloved of home make-over programmes – clean, sleek lines. Undoubtedly the squarial was the more elegant of the two but whose carried the most popular service? Well BSB offered state-of-the art D-MAC satellite technology and an eclectic mix of arts, sport and entertainment programming, but for those who chose Sky there was unlimited ALF, 21 Jump Street and The Price is Right .
TV CREAM SAYS: WAS IT REALLY A SURPRISE WHEN MURDOCH’S GANG WON OUT IN THE END?
By the end of the ’80s, the old ‘ask the nice scientist man in the white coat about what low-fat toilet washing-up liquid powder is kind to your skin without static cling’ rigmarole was as old as the hills. If that wasn’t stifling enough, in the world of thick, gloopy bleaches, Domestos reigned supreme with its iconic bog pan cross-section ‘all known germs (thump) dead’ campaign. So when saucy green-jacketed lavatorial upstart Vortex crashed the under-rim scene, re-inventing the wheel was clearly not an option, and back to the lab went the ad men. But wait! There’s more!
It looks like a textbook seventies throwback. Kindly yet authoritative-looking independent microbiologist Neil Butler MSc, FI Biol, is approached by an off-the-peg investigative non-reporter, very much The Poor Man’s Sue Cook. She quizzes our learned prof about the results of his painstaking surveys of the germ-killing power of various bleaches ‘after a number of flushes’. Neil calmly reveals that, yes, one bleach did outperform those other well-known leading brands.
So far, so happy-with-your-wash. but then TPMSC throws a curveball. Instead of demanding Butler relinquish the victor’s name in terse, urgent tones, she cocks her head, raises a quizzical eyebrow, and idly inquires, ‘Care to name it for us?’ Now, this may not seem like a seismic shift in the grand cultural scheme of things, but in the heavily regimented world of scientifically-verified bleach advertising, this casual, almost coquettish request is something of a horse-frightener. ‘Care to name it for us?’ She might as well have grabbed Neil by the lapels of his lab-coat, removed his glasses, mussed his hair up, said ‘oh, sod the fucking bleach’ and demanded he take her out to the theatre, a little dinner, maybe afterwards to The Poor Man’s Stringfellow’s for a heavily disinfected floor show. This is racy stuff indeed.
But what does our man of science do? Less than a second after this leading question to end all leading questions is out of her mouth, he slams down the lid with a terse, ‘it’s Vortex’. There’s your answer. Sorry, TPMSC, very flattered and all that, but I’m a man of science, irrevocably wedded to the petri-dish (and Doris, 49, keen Rotarian, likes Battenburg and David Jacobs). You’ve got what you came for lady, now leave me be.
And that was it. Neil Butler remained very much an independent microbiologist, Vortex went down the pan in the sense the manufacturers hadn’t intended, and Lord knows what happened to TPMSC. And to cap it all, the tagline ‘Vortex kills germs longer – that’s scientific fact’ had to be amended later on to ‘that’s a scientist’s verdict’ in a rather cruel depreciation of Neil’s microbiological clout. Soon after that, even Domestos lost it, ditching the solemn u-bend cutaways for some ‘let’s get silly’ folderol to the tune of Big Bad Dom. The world, it’s tempting to muse, went singularly mad thereafter.
TV CREAM SAYS: SERIOUSLY, WHAT DID HAPPEN TO THAT 'REPORTER'?
What to press in event of an unanswered call in those phoneboxes that you now only see in very exclusive neighbourhoods, or the back gardens of very rich Americans. Look closely and you may also spot the dots-and-dashes ‘telephone wire’ British Telecom logo, a loose telephone directory on a little shelf, a smiling police constable, and a whole street of people with keys to each other’s houses.
TV CREAM SAYS: THAT NUMBER AGAIN: WALMINGTON-ON-SEA 333
When Bernard Cribbins, the voice of Buzby – a straggly, phone pole-dwelling cartoon canary in personalised vest – phoned his mum to tell her she was on telly, a nationalised industry dipped its toe into the heady world of merchandise. plush toys, stickers, combs, necklaces and badges sprang up. Buses and Commer vans carried his image everywhere. Buzby’s adventures appeared in TV Comic and picture books detailing his laddish antics (‘Buzby’s Rock Group‘, ‘Buzby’s Girlfriend’). There was even an abortive attempt to privatise the company with the issue of ‘Buzby Bonds’. It all got a bit much, and he was eventually replaced with the less omnipresent (though more annoying) ‘It’s for you-hoo!’ campaign.