Mark Andrews: Nobody shuffled the beans like Gareth Hunt
Throughout the centuries, this has been a momentous week in British history.
For example, it is 446 years this week since Sir Francis Drake began his voyage around the world. And 711 years since the birth of King Edward III, who reigned for 50 years, transforming England into one of the most formidable military powers in Europe. It is also 208 years since Johann Georg Lehner invented the hot dog, and 172 years since the launch of the telegraphic service between London and Paris.
But, most significantly of all, it is 54 years since Birds Eye screened the first colour advertisement on British television.
Contrary to popular belief, this advertisement for garden peas didn't feature a young Patsy Kensit. The one-time Mrs Gallagher was actually just 18 months old in November 1969, and it would be another four years before she began her pea-popping exploits. Which, as you probably know, provided the launchpad for a very happy and untroubled career, and brought countless joy to generations through Miss Kensit's sublime acting in a number of high-quality dramas. But enough about Patsy's peas.
Call me odd – well you probably do anyway – but I've long found it fascinating how television adverts have become ingrained in the fabric of our social history. While there still seem to be plenty who remember that the first colour advert was screened this week in 1969, I can find no record anywhere of what programme it actually interrupted. In other words, the advert has left far more of a mark on the world than whatever programme was on television at the time.
Similarly, I couldn't name a single movie Nanette Newman appeared in, but everybody knows her preferred brand of washing-up liquid. Mention the actor Gareth Hunt, and I suspect the first thing the majority of you will think of was not his ability deflect bullets with his fingertips in The New Avengers, but how he could shuffle a handful of coffee beans in the Nescafe ads. You will also recall how his co-star, Joanna Lumley, overcame her initial scepticism about the merits of Mellow Birds – mellow roasted for more flavour – and ended up drawing smiley faces in the jar. The only question is why Maxwell House never signed up Patrick Macnee or Diana Rigg. Then again, 'if you're au fait with coffee, you're ok with Kenco'.
Don't forget the animated aliens who somehow managed to convince us that Cadbury's Smash – a bag of powdered potato otherwise best reserved for army rations and prison meals – was a cool, futuristic way to eat. And while I've never really felt the desire to buy a caravan, I known that if I ever did I would probably be heading up the A38 to seek out Don Amott, who we all remember as King of Caravans in the mid-1980s.
Indeed we remember many commercials long after the brands they promoted have disappeared. It is 36 years since British Caledonian airways disappeared from our skies, but thanks to the joys of YouTube it is still possible to watch the company's hilarious ads where a bunch of mildly lecherous business travellers perform a Beach Boys tribute, singing how 'beautiful far eastern girls do splendid things with rice'. And 15 years since Woolworths disappeared from the high street, we still remember 'Everybody's everyday store' for its colourful Christmas adverts featuring stars such as Henry Cooper and Tony Blackburn.
What is interesting is that Birds Eye paid just £23 to air the advert back in 1969, which if you adjust for inflation, is the equivalent of about £400 in today's money. Not bad compared to the £6 million John Lewis reportedly spent on its skateboarding dad advert last year. I wonder if people will still be talking about that in 54 years time.
But if you want real proof about the power of advertising, look at the story of marketing experts Spencer Chambers and Richard Longhurst bought the long-defunct Hofmeister brand in 2016, many years after its ghastly, watery lager had disappeared from our pubs.
I doubt if anybody has fond memories of the product itself, which was thankfully rather shortlived. But everybody loved George the Bear, the cheeky chappie in a pork-pie hat who could perform amazing feats after a few pints of Hof. So when Chambers and Longhurst wanted to raise awareness of their new beer – which this time is actually brewed in Germany – they decided to tug on the nostalgia of the memorable old adverts.
What's next in the pipeline I shudder to think. Watney's Red Barrel? Nah, Smile! You're in Greenall Whitley land.