Radio: How To Write For Radio - Al Young, co-author of the Apple Tango ’lost property’ spot, recalls how a crazy idea was fashioned into a memorable radio commercial

The Apple Tango radio campaign was a long time ago, but I’ll do my best to remember what happened - except the boring bits, which I reserve the right to embellish.

The Apple Tango radio campaign was a long time ago, but I’ll do my

best to remember what happened - except the boring bits, which I reserve

the right to embellish.

Trevor (Robinson) and I had already done the Orange Tango TV stuff. We’d

also done the Apple Tango TV spot, where the can tells desperate people

what to do and generally takes control of their lives.

So the Tango brand already had a lot of cred and there was a kind of

expectancy when new advertising was due to break. We’d never done any

radio for Tango at that point, which made this Apple Tango brief a good

creative opportunity.

So Trev and I did some ads. They were okay, I guess - I remember

something about screwed-up people leaving messages on a psychiatrist’s


The scripts went to the client and they bought them. Trev and I knew

they weren’t brilliant, but we were pretty happy.

A couple of days before we were due to record them, Trev and I were

sitting in the office trying to write scripts for Ronseal wood varnish.

We were playing CDs and there was one CD by two New York comics called

the Jerky Boyz. It had us pissing ourselves. It was pretty edgy, quite


We had a good laugh, dried our eyes, and tried to think about wood

varnish again.

Instead, inspired by the CD, we came up with a new radio idea for Apple


We came into work the next morning buzzing. We got the planner and the

account director, Dave and Dom, together and I said: ’Y’know those Apple

Tango scripts that the client has signed off and we’re recording

tomorrow? We’d like to unsell them to the client and present a totally

different idea.’ They asked, not unreasonably, to see the scripts for

this other idea. ’There aren’t any,’ I said.

I then explained that the idea was to call people up live and have

demented weirdos ask for help with their scary Apple Tango obsessions.

But Trev and I insisted that if we did it, it had to be real and

unscripted. So the client would have to agree to buy a sketchy campaign,

then take a deep breath and put their complete trust in us. Scary


All credit to the planner, account director and the enlightened client,

because the client agreed.

We went into a sound studio armed with a phone book, a producer, a sound

engineer, a young comic called Darren and a head full of


We spent days calling people. Every time a call went well, Kathleen, the

producer, called the ’victim’ back and asked if we had their permission

to use them in a possible radio commercial. Some people were angry and

said no, but most people were pretty cool about it.

The comic made most of the calls. Trev and I made some and various

people we knew, like Ronnie West at RSA, had a go. (One of the

commercials, ’black and white and colour’, was me, although my mum still

doesn’t believe me.)

We called undertakers and Croatian priests, estate agents and


Only around one out of every 20 calls we made was used for a


Like anything live, it was hard making them work. But when luck,

spontaneity and comedy combined in the right way, they were awesomely


I learned a good general lesson and one specifically about radio from

the job. The general lesson was that if you don’t have a brilliant idea,

don’t delude yourself. If it’s ordinary, work harder on solving the

problem in a surprising way.

The radio lesson was to enjoy it. When you have a laugh putting radio

together, people have a laugh listening to it. The same holds for all

media, but radio is a more experimental medium, so make that work to

your advantage. Let people hear something they haven’t heard in a radio

commercial before.

Alan Young is the creative director at HHCL & Partners


The Radio Advertising Bureau asked 400 UK creative and advertising

experts to select their three favourite radio comercials. Here are the

top 20 of all-time top 40.

Philips ’Firips’ 60 secs

Agency: Leagas Delaney

Creative team: Tim Delaney, Griff Rhys-Jones & Mel Smith

Apple Tango ’lost property’ 90 secs

Agency: Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury

Creative team: Trevor Robinson & Al Young

Imperial War Museum ’letter’ 90 secs

Agency: Ogilvy & Mather

Creative team: Alun Howell & Ian Sizer

Director: Mandy Wheeler at Mandy Wheeler Sound Productions

Life of Brian ’Mrs Cleese’ 30 secs

Agency: Lonsdale Advertising

Creative team: John Cleese, Terry Gilliam & Michael Palin

Director: John Goldstone at Handmade Films

Heineken ’canbusters’ 80 secs

Agency: Lowe Howard-Spink

Creative team: Derek Apps & Mike Stephenson

VW Polo ’Dahl’ 30 secs

Agency: BMP DDB

Creative team: Clive Pickering & Neil Dawson

Dime Bar ’Purley Way’ 50 secs

Agency: Young & Rubicam

Creative team : Paul Catmur & Harry Enfield

COI Rear Seat Belts ’Peter Pan’ 60 secs

Agency: DMB&B

Creative director: Roger Holdsworth

Hamlet ’therapy’ 30 secs

Agency: CDP

Creative team: Tad Safran, Tim Brookes & Phil Forster

Marie Curie Cancer Care ’angel’ 60 secs

Agency: Impact FCA!

Creative team: Saun McIlrath & Ian Harding

Sega Saturn ’virtual cop’ 90 secs

Agency McCann Erickson

Creative team: Dick Dunford & Andy Mc Guinness

Directors: Martin Sims & Ralph Van Dijk at Eardrum

Bergasol ’change’ 30 secs

Agency: Wight Collins Rutherford Scott

Creative team: Ron Collins & Andrew Rutherford

Club 18-30 ’Colin’ 50 secs

Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi

Creative team: Ed Robinson & Dave Hillyard

Heineken ’mime artist’ 70 secs

Agency: Lowe Howard-Spink

Creative director: Charles Inge

RSPCA ’injection’ 60 secs

Agency: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

Creative team: Peter Souter & Paul Brazier

Kodakcolour Gold ’colours’ 90 secs

Agency: Young & Rubicam

Creative team: Paul Burke & Dave Bell

COI ’twig’ 60 secs

Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi

Creative team: Jason Fretwell, Nik Studzinski, Martin Gillan & Dave


Director: Simon Blaxland at COI UK Radio

CRE ’black or white’ 60 secs

Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi

Creative team: Ajab Samrai Singh & Jason Fretwell

Swinton Insurance ’women drivers’ 50 secs

Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Creative team: Simon Robinson & Jo Moore

VW ’grand launch’ 60 secs

Agency: BMP DDB

Creative team: Paul Burke & Stuart Buckley

To request a copy of the CD version of the top 40, telephone the RAB on

020 7306 2500. There are also a small number of the books remaining.

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