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.
N is for…
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.