Belinda Archer hears how eight layers of film made W. H. Smith’s ad
When Nicholas Lyndhurst was cast as the main character in Abbott Mead
Vickers BBDO’s ads for W. H. Smith, he set about doing a bit of
research. He began scrutinising all 12-year-old girls who came near him
and watching old episodes of Grange Hill.
‘It was the challenge of playing all the characters on the same screen
at the same time that attracted me,’ he says.
Filming of the first five ads in the campaign, directed by Sid Roberson
at Roberson Films, took nine days. The process was relatively
straightforward. It involved shooting Lyndhurst separately as the
mother, father, 12-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son in each
situation, using four stand-ins to get the eye levels right. A blank
plate with Lyndhurst on his own would also be shot against a blue
screen, and straight footage of the set would be made. In total there
were eight layers of film that were cut together using Flame at the
However, the real complications arose from the fact that Lyndhurst is
six foot two inches tall. Every time he played the seven-year-old boy,
therefore, he had to be filmed against a specially built set that was 30
per cent bigger than the main set. Props such as pencils and books were
made 30 per cent bigger too, while his T-shirts and baggy trousers and
baseball caps were tested first on the stand-in and then made up in man-
size dimensions especially for him.
‘A real kid’s head is actually out of proportion to the rest of his
body, but we didn’t make Nicholas’s head look bigger because we thought
part of the humour was that this was Nicholas Lyndhurst very obviously
shrunk down and out of proportion,’ explains Paul Briginshaw, who art
directed the ads while his partner, Malcolm Duffy, wrote them.
The height problem arose again when the actor played the teenage girl.
Once again, special sets and props had to be made that were 15 per cent
bigger than normal.
‘It would take Lyndhurst around an hour to change into full make-up and
costume between characters, then he would film the next character almost
in the first take,’ Briginshaw says.
A state-of-the-art mobile editing suite on set made almost instant
playback possible so Lyndhurst could hear and see what he had just
filmed and thus interact with it in his next incarnation. The machine
could also do rough multi-image mock-ups so he would have an idea of the
The plan is, if the ads are successful, to introduce new characters
later on, such as a twin brother or long-lost relatives from Australia,
according to Lyndhurst.
‘That’ll mean more work, more time in make-up and more leg-shaving,’ he
says with a grin.