Good old Yellow Pages
If it hadn’t been for the North West London Yellow Pages, I wouldn’t be writing this. About to leave school with little in the way of formal qualifications or tangible talent, I’d heard rumours about places called advertising agencies that sometimes admitted you regardless. The first name in that big yellow directory was Abbott Mead Vickers, which indeed had a vacancy for "lowliest person in the entire industry". Before the Internet, the Yellow Pages was where everyone looked for everything. "Good" and "old" are still the most apposite words to describe it. And when, on one occasion, Joss Ackland sat down behind the mic and said "Good old yellow pay cheques", I shared his sentiment.
Britain was saddened by the recent death of Chas Hodges, one half of Chas & Dave, who were launched to fame by this wonderful commercial. Not only was it lyrically adroit, it was visually groundbreaking because it set the trend for shooting in black and white – something that endures to this day. Until it appeared, I thought my granddad was the only person who growled "gertcha" to convey his displeasure. As a small child, my sister was with him on the 52 bus when he forgot to ring the bell. This time, he didn’t say "gertcha". The word he used repeatedly began not with G but with the letter immediately before it.
The embodiment of a "national treasure" long before the phrase existed, Frank Muir is best remembered for the charm and aplomb with which he sailed through these eccentric, frivolous and wonderfully British commercials. He was the perfect choice for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Fruit & Nut because he was distinctly fruity and nutty. A dandy wit in a pink bow tie, he made "Everyone’s a Fruit & Nut case" his own. However, that unique delivery and exuberant gift for language disguised his humble origins. Born above a pub, Muir attended Leyton County High School, which allowed him to say: "I was educated in E10, not Eton." And to describe Tchaikovsky’s Danse des Mirlitons as a "good tune".
Bob Mortimer: clever, funny, nice but not terribly original. He found fame with Vic Reeves doing, well, exactly what Vic did. They still remind me of those creative teams where one is very talented but flawed and the other one is neither. He simply hitches his career to that of his partner and does far better than he otherwise might have done. For many years, Mortimer was the voice of Churchill the dog. Yet even in this, he appropriated the delivery and catchphrase of Deryck Guyler, who popularised it in Please Sir!. So do we think this shrewd pinch of piracy worked out very nicely for Bob? Oh, yes.
"Surfer" is one of the most celebrated commercials of all time. People gasped at the horses rising forth from the waves but, for me, it was always about the sound. Fifteen seconds of silence, that pulsating Leftfield beat, then in comes Louis Mellis. This was an inspired piece of voice casting. Not really an actor, Mellis is a screenwriter who’d worked with the commercial’s director on Sexy Beast. But the way his unusual accent delivered the spare, Herman Melville-inspired script is perfection. In time, the wonder of the white horses may date, but Melville and Mellis will prove timeless.
Older heads in the industry think wistfully back to a time when TV production budgets were huge. So huge that one agency commissioned Paul McCartney to write a jingle. Which agency and for what now seem lost in the mists of time but, listening to its very obvious message, it could have worked for practically anything. The tune never made it to air, but it did make it to number four in the charts. McCartney gave it to Badfinger, a new band he’d just signed to Apple Records. Badfinger but good jingle.
What can you say about this blunt and brilliant slogan, first delivered bluntly and brilliantly by Glyn Grimstead? Not a lot. Except that it’s now firmly embedded in our vocabulary. And by sending Ronseal sales through the roof, it did exactly what the agency said it would.
The HB pencil
"Have a break. Have a Kit Kat" is one of the most famous and enduring slogans ever written. But you know that bit where the Kit Kat breaks? It’s not a Kit Kat, it’s a pencil. A chocolate wafer wouldn’t make that sound. And another thing I hate to break to you: that Wimbledon crowd and all those wild animals? They weren’t really in the studio.
The Milky Bars are on me
The fair-haired, bespectacled Milky Bar Kid was, for decades, a favourite on British TV screens. Then times began to change. When the production company was casting for a new kid, an Afro-Caribbean mother complained vociferously that her son wasn’t considered for the role. Although the hero’s colouring was only milky to reflect the colour of the product, perhaps the time had come for him to move on. This campaign would never get made now. Would it be because the Milky Bar Kid would be seen as an oppressive emblem of a patriarchal society? Or because of his irresponsible use of firearms?
The future’s bright…
You don’t even need me to complete this brilliant slogan. Few launch campaigns have been as successful as Orange. All the more so because, at the time, people were rather sceptical of newfangled mobile phone networks, especially ones named after citrus fruits. But what Orange did was offer something all humans crave – something to look forward to. Just a pity that its own future wasn’t so dazzling. In 2009, it was merged with a rival brand that meant the future’s bright, the future’s T-Mobile.
Paul Burke is an award-winning writer and producer