Advertising before it got clever…..
Like poverty and death, advertising is always with us. If a blank space exists somewhere within the public eye (or ear), that space will be used for advertising. Since the late 70s it has become more and more sophisticated. Symbolism, aspiration, celebrity endorsement, emotive language, product placement, even guilt-tripping is used to prise hard-earned cash out of people’s hot little hands. Advertising companies collective slogan should be ‘Whatever it takes.’
But it would be wrong to tar all advertising with the same cynical brush. Much advertising over the years has been enjoyable, funny, bizarre and often artistic. But here I want to praise old advertising , not bury it, and a trawl of some 60s and 70s publications, not least football programmes, which has produced some heart-warming examples of advertising before it got too clever for its own good.
For an ad that is so brief and primitive, there is so much to unpack here. This particular ad appeared in the Heart of Midlothian FC match day programme for nearly 10 years. The Chameleon Bar is no more but if I have anything to do with it, it will not be forgotten! The ad is appealing to the young generation, not the dance troupe from The Rolf Harris Show, although I’m sure they would be welcomed (so long as the cold buffet held out), but to those young people who were probably the first generation since the war with some disposal cash in their pockets and didn’t feel the need to get married and have children at the first possible opportunity. These people were certainly ‘young and with it’! ‘With it” was such a great description of the late 60s and early 70s. It pretty much meant having one’s finger on the pulse of fashion and being aware that things were changing.
The good people at the Chameleon Bar did not stop there in their enticements to attract a fashionable crowd. ‘A swinging-inn-place‘ is a curious amalgamation of trendy terms which a ‘young and with-it‘ crowd would understand, although the inclusion of a double ‘n’ in ‘inn’ suggests a pun on ‘in-place’, the place to be while leaving the reader in no doubt this is a bar. ‘Swinging‘ is very much a sixties adjective to suggest something exciting, a little bit wild and definitely ‘groovy.’ Although the use of such a word nowadays would attract a very different crowd.
As this was 1972, however, I would surmise that this ad was written by a middle-aged manager who had a smattering of 60s buzz words, but failed to appreciate that these words had not been used in serious conversation since 1966.
The use of the word ‘rendezvous‘ is also significant, as being a French word, this suggests not only sophistication (sounds so much better than ‘meeting place’) but also a slightly sleazy invitation to a place where the opposite sex might gather? Now we’re talking, Grandad!
But the final part of this ad brings everything tumbling down around its ears. ‘Cold Buffet’? This is something your mum and dad might appreciate at a niece’s wedding at the Co-operative Hall. Although I’m hugely curious to know what this smorgasbord of 70s culinary delights might have consisted of, my guess is ‘crisps and pies’, it seems a long way from the ‘swinging-inn-place’ they purport to offer. And ‘moderate prices‘? ‘Moderate‘ discourages the great unwashed and it makes the place sound slightly upmarket but sounds cheap enough to entice the employed classes. Either way it’s hardly a glowing endorsement.
Sadly, The Chameleon Bar is long gone but what a happening place it must have been. Or not.
It’s fair to say, few women attended football matches in 1974. There were many reasons for this. Every facility, if they could be called that, was aimed at men (toilets, pies…and that was about it). And not very pleasant men to boot. Even the entrances were called the men’s and boys’ gates. The football was pretty rubbish and on top of this the advertising in the match programme was patronising and sexist as the above example testifies. Looking back in the rosy glow of comparative equality, it is quite funny though.
The ad, of course, addresses the man directly. It doesn’t, for a second, assume a woman, or even a ‘little lady’, might be reading it. And it also assumes, obviously, that the man rules the roost in any marital home. So to buy your wife a nice ‘little’ portable telly that she can move into the kitchen or even carry up to the bedroom (nudge, nudge), should she be ejected when Match of the Day comes on, is an act of love comparable only to doing the messages. And because it’s only 15lbs 7oz even a frail woman could manage that, (ask your husband how light that is, dearie). If it’s a problem, send her out into the garage to run it off the car battery, although the man of the house will have to show her where the battery is and connect it up for her. (Bless her!) By the end of Come Dancing though, she may have expired through exhaust fume inhalation or hypothermia. Which reminds me of an ad on telly around the same time.
Leslie Crowther, for it was he, is walking around a supermarket with a mic. He spots that strangest of animal in the 70s, a guy with a shopping trolley. ‘Doing the shopping for wife?’ asks Leslie (completely dismissing the idea he may be single, bereaved, a carer or maybe he just does the shopping), before going through the motions about why the guy has Stork SB in his trolley. Winding up the vox pop Leslie exclaims chummily, ‘I even do the shopping myself sometimes,’ to which man with shopping trolley giggles, ‘Well, you’ve got to chip in, haven’t you?’ And they both have a knowing guffaw. Freeze frame.
In another ad Leslie approaches a young woman doing the shopping this time. ‘Will you take Stork SB home and let your husband try it?’ ‘Yes’ says starstruck lady. ‘And if he likes it will you change to Stork SB?’ leers Crowther. ‘Of course’ says lady. ‘Good girl!’ giggles a sweaty Leslie. Result! In fact, Stork’s slogan throughout the 70s was ‘Can Your Husband Tell The Difference?’ Should really have been ‘Do You Give A Shit?’
It would be wrong to say that all advertising in the 60s and 70s was patronising, sexist and insulting to women….actually it wouldn’t be wrong. Come to think of it. But, in retrospect, some of it is funny…..
Anyone with even a passing interest in horse racing will know Derek ‘Thommo’ Thompson but not many may know about his legendary endorsement of The Crown Hotel, Bawtry near Doncaster. There are times when an advert so gloriously ticks all the wrong boxes and this is one of them. Like a record you know is pretty shit but you just can’t help listening to it as it gives you an odd feeling of clandestine personal pleasure, Thommo’s advert for this hostelry in deepest, darkest South Yorkshire gives that same frisson of, almost guilty, jouissance.
In rudimentary terms it’s a whistle-stop tour of a fairly nice but run-of-the-mill hotel for potential race-goers within easy travelling distance of Doncaster Racecourse by a well-known racing figure.
But on further analysis, it’s so much more.
It seems Thommo had half an hour to spare out of his busy schedule and the owners of The Crown Hotel, Bawtry have asked him to do a quick ad for them. Shouldn’t take long as their son fortunately possessed a video camera. No script required either as Thommo is a raconteur, supremely confident in front of the camera, any type of camera, and a master of the ad lib. Bish-bosh, money in the bank for Thommo. Jurassic Park!
The people (can there be a number of them?) behind the ad have had a quick pow-wow and narrowed down their target audience. Ah yes. Men. Right, get on to the local modelling agency, every town has got one, and ask if they can spare some young lovelies for a bit of filming with a media personality. Of course, the girls are only too happy to oblige as it’s something they can add to their slightly threadbare CVs. Let’s face it, Doncaster doesn’t quite measure up to the catwalks of Milan. ‘Now just congregate around the bar girls and let Thommo do the rest.’
‘Are you well?’ Thommo inquires of one of the deeply tanned ladies milling conveniently around the bar area. In fact, there are only young ladies standing around the bar area, as Thommo notices rather leeringly. His excitement is almost palpable. If he was a racehorse they’d be equipping him with blinkers and sheepskin nosebands. He’s almost winking conspiratorially to the predominantly male audience of this advertising puff.
We move quickly on to the hotel’s ‘fantastic‘ carvery and here’s Thommo squeezed into a banquette with four of the lovelies. ‘This is wonderful!’ gushes Thommo, and he’s not necessarily talking about the nosh.
And before we know it, Thommo’s your uncle, and we’re in a dimly lit hotel room. Thommo is gesticulating into the wall mirror at the request of the director who feels he wants to add something a little ‘nouvelle vague.’ ‘..and this, of course, is the wet bathroom‘ as he blunders in Benny Hill- style to find two of the beauties wrapped in towels. ‘Ooh!’ they exclaim rather unconvincingly. ‘Oh sorry, girls!’ replies Thommo, scarcely pausing for breath, before moving on to the emperor-sized bed to lie, rather too closely, next to two other girls in dressing gowns. Still sipping pink champagne, although my guess is it’s Tesco’s Rose Asti Spumante. Thommo doesn’t come cheap and real champagne is prohibitively expensive (at least for this video’s budget)!
But Thommo’s building up to his big photo-finish. ‘And there’s something you’ll find in this hotel bedroom that you won’t find in any other hotel room in Britain!’ Really Thommo? Four girls and a rather sweaty older guy sharing a room? Surely not. Well what? A night of unbridled post-racing passion? The only thing unbridled will be the non-runners, mate. But this enigmatic pay-off just adds to the utterly bizarre nature of the ad. They’ll be discussing this final Thommo comment on Media Studies courses for years to come in the same way they analysed ‘Rosebud‘ in Citizen Kane.
In short, the ad is designed to make sleazy, male, potential racegoers believe The Crown Hotel in Bawtry is a glorified knocking shop. Get away from the missus for a weekend and book into The Crown and be surrounded arse to tit by twenty-something female wannabes who will find you seductively alluring. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything. It’s a conceit used for many, many years by ad companies, remember Manikin cigars and St. Bruno pipe tobacco adverts, for example, that tried to make us believe young, attractive girls would find old, balding, portly men, stinking of tobacco fumes, irresistible? But the makers of this ad weirdly don’t seem to realise that antediluvian attitudes like these are a thing of the distant past. And would even desperate, sleazy guys be taken in by it?
Actually, some probably would.
I have to admit a personal interest here. I have been to The Crown Hotel in Bawtry a number of times in the 90s as I worked quite close to it for a couple of years during my years down south. My own experience of it is slightly different to Thommo’s. As a surreptitious den of exuberant and rhapsodic sensuality, they served a nice pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.
Alan Partridge has been parodying such advertising amateurism for years but just occasionally something comes along that even out-parodies Partridge.
Thommo, we salute you!