Thursday, November 29, 2007


Conventional wisdom states that TV advertising is there so you can pop out to make a cup of tea, without missing any of the important bits of the programme. In spite of this, the Company Marketing Wallahs shell out amazing amounts of money to get their 30 seconds on the screen, when, by the logic of the first sentence, you are actually rummaging around in the larder for a new packet of Choccy Digestives, when they are being shown.

The whole world of TV advertising started in this country in 1958, and given the amount of intellect, thought, creative genius and Money that has been expended in this area, it is not surprising that, in the intervening 5 decades, some of the snippets which have been interleaved with the programmes have actually been something approaching mini-Works of Art. You don’t realise just how good some of these creations are until you see them without the inconvenience of the programmes we have to sit through interrupting them, and diluting their genius.

So, it was, with considerable interest that, the other night, I watched one of the highly addictive “100 Greatest …” Programmes which Channel 4 have been producing over the last few years, this one covering the 100 Best TV Ads Ever.

The reality, of course, is that the list is only what a few Channel 4 viewers, “industry experts” and “critical opinion”, whatever that lot means. The real reason I suspect these programmes are made is to get you arguing with the TV set about a particular Ad being in there at all, or its position in a totally subjective Top 100. The truth of course, is that most of the Adverts are not even aimed at you, and you could probably get a good psychological profile of yourself by getting a shrink to review the ones which strike a chord with you individually.

You’ve no real idea if the Ads which you think are good, actually worked. The only way I can judge them, as an interested bystander, is if the company running them kept them going on TV for a decent length of time. In spite of Lord Leverhulme’s obligatory dictum that "Half of my advertising is wasted, but the trouble is, I don't know which half.", I bet that someone in these companies, especially those like Coca Cola knew precisely that the half that was on TV actually worked. The money being sprayed around was so huge that if it didn't work, they'd have canned the airtime and done something else pretty damned quick, or the Adman would have been finding another job.

So the conclusion you come to is that most of the ones which drill their insidious ways into our brains actually made people get off their backsides and go into the showroom, or buy a bar of chocolate, or shake some adulterated talcum powder on their carpet and then immediately Hoover it up. Or even try a can of Coke, and realise immediately that Pepsi still tasted better.

The ones I never understood were the ones like the BT Ads, which always seemed to me to be advertising a monopoly, and apart from a few additional calls between Maureen Lipman's friends congratulating her on a terrific performance playing herself, seemed to be heading nowhere.

Some of the 100 “Best” ones, you'd actually very much like to forget, but they are, by their very horribleness and the high degree of Cringe inducing feelings they generate, actually very memorable. My personal selection of these includes -

· Henry Cooper, splashing Brut around in a shower room full of semi naked men (one of whom was Kevin Keegan – I always worried about him) in a vaguely disturbing way, which today would have the Police round demanding to look at his Laptop.
· Charlie Girl perfume, with that girl in a gold Boiler suit, built like a Racing Snake, grinning like an idiot and twirling around in a Bar. I always felt as if a good slap would have been the order of the day there.
· Leslie Crowther getting supermarket buyers to taste bits of anaemic looking margarine on little bits of biscuit, without you thinking how much money they’d been paid to pick the one with Stork on. Can you imagine what the one they rejected must have tasted like, or even what it was?
· Victor Kiam selling Remington shavers – proving for ever that CEOs are no good whatsoever fronting a TV Ad
· Fairy Liquid with Nanette Newman and that ghastly, fawning child
· The Sugar Puffs Honey Monster
· The Milky Bar Kid
· The PG Tips Monkeys - where were Health and Safety, and the RSPCA when we really needed them? And finally
· The Shake n Vac Woman – the truly appalling thing was that every time they showed the Ad, their sales went into the Stratosphere, which says something about something – I just don’t know what it is.

But what about the good ones? The one thing you can guarantee is that the winner in the Channel 4 selection will not be your favourite, and your “Best One by a Mile” will come in somewhere like Number 37 – which indicates the real point of the programme. It’s four hours of inexpensive television designed to get you shouting at the set, calling them morons but talking about it all in the pub/at work the next day.

So yours won’t be mine, but seeing as I write this thing, I get to choose my eight favourites, perhaps not for a Desert Island, although I wouldn’t mind taking a couple of them with me! So, in no particular order -

Boddingtons - Well yes. It works on so many levels. The first one absolutely stopped you (or at least it did me!) in your tracks. The girl, in black stockings, and a very fitting Little Black dress walking very purposefully across the polished floor of a very expensive penthouse, sitting down at a dressing table, then cutting to her rubbing her moisturising cream seductively into her face a couple of times to finish her makeup. Then “The Sting” as she dips her hand a third time in the creamy head (!) of a pint of beer before applying it again.

Then we have the Swan (What was that all about?), the girl’s knowingly cocked eye, the posh guy appearing, and the genius bit (and it was genius) – his “Out of the Blue” Northern accent - “By 'ekk, yer smell gorgeous tonight Petal”.

And the simple strapline - The Cream of Manchester. The Cream of Manchester indeed. If that wasn't a perfect Ad, I don't know what was.

By the way, it was a young Anna Chancellor, aka Duckface in “Four Weddings” for those who want to join the lust-fest.

R Whites - It's a little company standing up and fighting the big boys. And didn't they do it well. An utterly infectious riff, I bet you’re starting to sing it now – “I'm a secret-a lemonade drinker, R Whites, R Whites......”. Brilliant.

Everyone in their time has been infected by it, and you get so irritated with yourself because you can’t stop singing it, and you feel such an idiot. Sung (for the anoraks) by Elvis Costello's dad. And who on earth was R White anyway, and what did the R stand for?

Cadburys Flake - Yes well, we've all got our favourite, and I suspect that you can tell a man's age by asking him which his was. Mine’s the languorous girl sitting on the open chateau window seat, if anyone’s interested. It's the way she licks it to start with. There's a slightly louche feeling running through them all - Botoxy lips before Botox had been invented, soft focus lenswork, somewhat surreal locations (no Luton Airport here), an obligatory lizard (don't even ask), the flake must crumble, and the girl eating it has to lick the crumbly bits. It’s probably my age but I swear the Flakes have got longer over the years.

I've no idea how these ads are seen through female eyes, but I can't imagine they'd have the same effect on them - which is odd because I can’t recall ever seeing a man eating one, so I assume they’re aimed at the females among us. Curious.

VW - in my view the best "Series" of Ads ever. They've had a wholly unique house style for something like 30 years now, and continue to be fresh, funny and effective. Even today, when you first see a new one being shown, you have to stop and watch it. I suspect they've been a very major factor in positioning VW's brand in this country - probably not that cheap to make, but they've earned their keep a hundred fold. We’ve got three in the family, so they must work!

Maxell Tapes - a very witty take on Bob Dylan, singing Subterranean Homesick Blues but given an exquisite twist (actually My Ears are Alight!) to make the point that Maxell tapes were the bees knees for clarity and hi-fi reproduction. Excellent.

The “Guardian” - actually quite a serious Ad, brilliantly made. It told the whole issue of putting a slant on a piece of news, the “It all depends on how you see something” approach quite amazingly brought to life in 20 seconds - the most intelligent Ad I've ever seen. I even bought the “Guardian” for a few days as a result, but I couldn’t get used to the unshaven armpits.

Lego Mouse - Just so clever, it showed exactly what the product could do in a way that appealed to kids, and grown ups - the Tommy Cooper impression was an absolute flash of genius.

Smash - for a product which has no sex appeal (well, at least not to me!), it was very silly and hugely watchable for umpteen years, and got the whole idea of instant mashed pototoes, a subject that didn't even show on my Million most interesting things list, onto that list. We even tried it once, but not as I recall, twice!

Yes, I do have a favourite, and if I had enough Techno-Nous, I'd put a copy of it in this piece. But I haven’t yet, so I can’t. It's not even on YouTube (as far as I can tell) so I can’t even point you there. So, to plagiarise Kenneth Williams, I've set myself a bijou project, to work out how to do it, because it’s 50 seconds of pretty flawless genius - almost a work of televisual Art, and it needs to be available to the World.

I will be back.

** A quote by Michael Maynard.



Saturday, November 24, 2007


A small item from today’s “Times” newspaper, found lurking in the “This Week on the Web” column put together by Rhys Blakely.

Pause for a slight smile, but then the whole sorry episode is a perfect definition of “Schadenfreude”, and that in itself always leaves you with a slight smile, even though it may be tinged with a touch of guilt. The unalloyed pleasure at watching that nice Mr Darling squirming as he tries to explain what’s gone on, is only surpassed by the joy at watching the excruciating contortions formed by Gordon Brown’s mouth as he vainly attempts the word “Sorry” for the first time in his life. Do we all realise who had the responsibility for HMRC for 10 years before he became Prime Minister? Just checking.

If, however, you want to put a real grin on your face, you should read a comment on a blog by a friend of mine, who for security reasons and avoidance of harassment from the Provisional Wing of the Government Audit Office, can only be identified by the codename X. If you look at his blog, which can be found on (Don’t tell him, Pike), trawl back to 21st November – “Seen on e-bay, and a Government Warning”, and Enjoy.

He gets it in one.



Friday, November 23, 2007


I like to think of myself as a reasonable human being. I love my family and my dogs. I have a (very) few friends whom I also love. If I had to create a list of people who actively hated me, I don’t think it would be very long. So, reasonable it is.

One thing has occurred to me today, though. I am, in no way, a great fan of Capital Punishment, but I have concluded that there is a good case for its reinstatement in one certain, specific case – for those individuals who knowingly, intentionally and consistently leave the wrappers of “After Eight” Mints in the box having devoured their contents.

The utter rage following the opening of a box, apparently filled with a raft of the slim, little envelopes, when the only thing you want at that moment, above almost everything else in life, is a simple, flat, square, almost two dimensional dark chocolate Mint, only to find that some “person” has pigged the lot, leaving hundreds of empty black packets in the box, mocking you as you rummage through them, hoping against hope that they have missed just one. But they never have.

It seems perfectly reasonable to me that someone who commits such an action deserves no mercy, and the ultimate price for someone found guilty, is the only appropriate solution.

Just in case I might be over-reacting here, I have discussed this with a couple of like minded people, who unsurprisingly, are in total agreement with me. One actually felt that the proposed punishment was not adequate, and that, in addition, a £10 fine was also needed to balance completely the enormity of the offence.

I have no idea how to get such a proposal onto the Statute Books, so am now going to ring my local Parish Councillor to start the process.
It’s about time we felt the smack of Firm Government again.



Thursday, November 08, 2007


The last in this sporadic Pick of the Pics series, a few days ago, showed a picture of Ironbridge Power Station, seen from my house, pushing Goodness knows how many tons of Carbon Emissions into the atmosphere - but doing it very beautifully. Hence the picture.

Like buses coming in twos, today's picture is another one taken this afternoon from the same place, but in very different conditions. Having seen Man's puny attempt last week, this is the Almighty's version of the scene.


Cue Rain, Cue Wind, Cue Yellow Brick Road, Cue a very different colour pallette.



One of the headlines in “The Times” Business Section today claims that “Wealthier pensioners ‘may subsidise the poor’”. The drift of their argument is that because people in the North die sooner than their Southern counterparts, they should receive a higher annual annuity payment from life insurance companies to compensate. Legal and General are proposing to add up to 3% to annuities paid to customers living in deprived areas of the UK – hence the “subsidy” headline.

Unless my brain has faded earlier and further than I had imagined, this suggestion of subsidy is grabbing totally the wrong end of a very large stick. The scary facts are that the average man in Glasgow City dies at 69.9 years, and his equivalent in Kensington and Chelsea lives until he’s 82.2, 12.3 years longer. If both of them had taken out an annuity when they reached 65, the Scotsman would have benefited for 4.9 years, and the Londoner for 17.2 years – some 250% longer. If their annual payment was £10,000, the Scotsman would be paid £49,000, and the Londoner £172,000.

Yet, until now, it would seem that their annuity payments, presumably for the same level of capital input, would be the same. Now I know, being a long-lapsed member of the Accounting Underclass, that the sums you see above have not been done with the same intellectual rigour as used by our actuarial friends, but if you look at them through the eyes of a man on, at least, the lower deck of a Clapham Omnibus, it is difficult to prevent the word “scandalous” from coming into your head.

This 3% is not the case of wealthier pensioners subsidising the poor, but the start of a recognition that the poorer members of our nation, by dying early are, and have been for many years, subsidising the wealthier members of the land, and to an enormous extent. It would be interesting, to get somebody with a more comforting grasp than mine of the “smoke and mirrors” of Actuarial maths to work out what the real annuity rates for our Scottish friend, and his SW3 equivalent should be. I think we’d get a real shock!

Perhaps it goes some way to explain why the Scottish Insurance companies, with their preponderance of home based customers, seem to produce consistently better financial results than their English counterparts on their Life insurance business.

The name “Scottish Widows” is starting to seem more appropriate to me now.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007


I wonder how many people of my generation, and probably the next one along as well, on reading the title of this piece, don’t immediately see, in their mind’s eye, a glass prism on a square, black background, refracting a light beam into the colours of the rainbow. Not that many I’d guess.


I’ve lost track of the number of copies of “Dark Side of the Moon” that I’ve owned. I bought my first Vinyl 12” LP version early in the Seventies, and then because it kept getting scratched, that was replaced a few times. Then the CD version, which somehow disappeared (main suspects, although to this day unproven, still remain daughters). That was replaced, and a few months ago, that replacement “disappeared”. For most of 2007, I have been without a copy – until last night. For reasons I can’t explain even so soon after the event, I found myself in the CD Section of Tescos at approaching Midnight, and there facing me was a securitised copy of the famous prism at the princely price of £8. So, I have now rejoined as a fully paid up member of the Human race, with a copy of the CD in my car.

I’ve played it twice again in the last day, and am absolutely riveted by it. A few months off from hearing it has sharpened up my feelings about it, and I sat in the car, outside the gate of my house tonight, listening to the last couple of tracks and waiting for the closing heartbeat to fade into silence before rejoining the world.

Having pondered about it over my home made Pizza and obligatory glass of Sauvignon this evening, I’ve concluded that it’s simply the best Popular Album I’ve ever heard. No caveats. No Ifs and Buts.

Released in 1973, this was a record which, at a stroke, changed the face of modern pop music. This record was not about the specific story of an Eleanor Rigby, a Lady Jane or a Jumpin’ Jack Flash. It wasn’t about fancying the girl next door, Dreaming about California, being overconcerned about a Hound Dog, or being stuck Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa.

It was about the machinery of living today, the madness of everyday life and the pressures, worries and forces which mould it. It was about money, corporatism, greed, materialism and homelessness and the post juvenile disenchantment of facing these issues in the Seventies. It chewed over the place of the individual, both standing up for itself, standing out from other individuals, and also facing up to “them” – governments, and the myriad forces of the State. Over-riding the whole thing however, and stitching it all together is the idea of Lunacy and Madness.

In a nutshell, it was about the things which worry and concern all of us – when we look in a mirror, really look in a mirror, it’s about what we are. Not, you’d have thought, the most obvious and inviting subject matter for a Pop Music Album. This one however, has sold continuously for the last 35 years. After its release, it stayed, without a break, in the US Top 100 Album charts for a slightly insane 741 weeks (almost 15 years) and, since 1972, has featured there in total for more than 1500 weeks. I don’t think I actually know anyone who hasn’t had a copy at some time.

So why is that?

It’s both very complex, and exceedingly simple. The whole thing was the brainchild of one man, Roger Waters, who realised that, approaching 30, life was passing him by, and he needed to set down his thoughts about the facets of life which increasingly kept him awake at night.



The words he came up with to do this are in no way fanciful – they are almost snippets, simple soundbites even. But the imagery the words conjure up are hugely potent, sharp and straight to the point. Try this for size – reflecting on madness, and the slide of one of the Floyd’s original members, Syd Barrett into its dark world, Waters writes –

... You raise the blade,
You make the change,
You re-arrange me till I’m sane

You lock the door
And throw away the key
There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.

Each set of four words tells a bit of the story, moving the idea on. But, in my humble opinion, at the same time, very chilling and very effective.

I am not an anorak about these things, but I don’t recall any album before “Dark Side of the Moon” having anything like a similar structure. Prior to its release, albums were a collection of songs – (Yes, even Sergeant Pepper). The whole thing here is created as an almost seamless, homogenous whole.


It starts with a simple heartbeat slowly increasing in volume – on first hearing you thought “What the hell is this about?” - and ends with the total reverse, the heartbeat fading away into nothing. Between these endpieces, there are nine sections, segued together quite brilliantly. Only in the middle of the work, where the original Vinyl LP ended Side 1, is there a hiccup. But, apart from that, one section slides effortlessly into the next – you can’t see the join, except when you realise that the ideas have moved on to another subject!

A new idea Roger Waters had was to use recordings of people around him reacting to a disarmingly simple but very leading set of questions he asked. He wanted to tease out their inner thoughts and prejudices, their opinions on things like violence and madness. He then overlayed these comments throughout the record. This gives a really dark and edgy side to the whole production, as the snippets do not always appear when you might expect them to - rather like the way our minds work, when we are suddenly hit by changes of subject in a random way we can’t control or understand.

All of that sounds a bit bleak, and, to be fair, it is a record which does not contain much optimism. You certainly don’t get DJs putting it on when they want to fill the dance floor at the wedding reception. It’s a very intimate and introspective thing actually, best listened to on one’s own, in a darkened room, with the sound up very high.

I suspect I’ve played this record more than any other I’ve ever owned. And, apart from all I’ve said above, the thing which keeps me coming back to it time and again, is that it’s an absolutely first rate collection of brilliant, memorable songs with great tunes. With David Gilmour’s soaring, and sometimes searing guitar, through the extraordinary wordless solo by Clare Torry on “The Great Gig in the Sky”, through Rick Wright’s hauntingly beautiful and introspective piano playing, there isn’t a weak link anywhere. In spite of Roger Water’s trying to “rubbish” it a bit now, calling it ”a bit Lower Sixth”, I think his overall vision was quite remarkable.





This bit will sound as if Melvyn Bragg has suddenly leant over my shoulder and started whispering in my ear, but I’ve been trying to think of a piece of art, created in my lifetime, which is more important, more significant and has had more effect on people in the Western World than “Dark Side of the Moon”, and actually I’m struggling.

I think it is an absolute masterpiece.




An extract from our local Village magazine, and the first for this site – a Quiz.

Not for us the soft underbelly of the Million Dollar question on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”. Neither do we steep so abjectly low as the demeaning obviousness of “Round Britain Quiz”. And the straightforward, child-like simplicity of the Times “Ximenes” crossword has no place here.

This one’s really fiendish – but, at the same time, very simple. All you have to do is guess the 5 letter word which has been blanked out with asterisks in the excerpt which follows.

“A very successful ***** night was held last Saturday. We were entertained by our friends from the (place name withheld for security reasons) area: pictured from the left (Tecwyn Jones, Glyn Jones, Dilys Hughes (nee Jones), newcomer and rising talent, Rhys Jones and lastly, Evan Jones, who hosted the evening.” ……..

If, as I can easily imagine, this devilish problem completely defeats you, please e-mail the author, and, depending upon the amount of obsequious grovelling you indulge in, I may, repeat, may, offer a small clue.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


Grandparent, arriving at school, to pick up 6 year old Grandson: “Did you have a good day at school today?”

Grandson to Grandparent: “Yes thanks, Grandma.”

Grandparent to Grandson:
“What did you do in class today?”

Grandson to Grandparent: “I don’t know – I’ve just deleted those files.”