March 16th, 2008

Adverts And Memories And Uncle Mort

I was watching a programme about advertising last night. The BBC is running a slew of them- I think in connection with Mad Men- the must-see American import, the new Sopranos-  which I'm not watching because the thought of being locked in with advertising types week after week, year after year, is just too depressing. I choose my TV friends carefully. Time travellers- yes, please; Star ship captains- certainly; Cops- well, why not?  Admen- get real! Anyway, this programme (which I switched off halfway through) was talking about how London in the '70s outstripped New York in the creativity of its advertising culture and how a merry band of TV advertising directors went on to make proper movies- Puttnam, Hudson, Parker, Scott.  Yeah, quite so; and I've always thought that's the reason why British films of that era- Chariots of Fire, for instance- are so pretty to look at and manipulative and empty.

As an example of how clever and cinematic those 70s TV ads supposedly were, we were shown one featuring a group of characters adrift in a life raft who had nothing left to drink but a bottle of Cockburns port. A vulgar little man pronounced the brand name as if the "ck" were hard instead of silent and oh, how we laughed! I identified the actor playing the aristocratic captain (and why the hell hadn't he gone down with his ship?) as Robin Bailey- and suddenly had a flash of him playing a character called Uncle Mort- muffler, flat-cap, overcoat, droopy moustache- in a sit-com I'd otherwise completely forgotten. I asked Ailz if she remembered and she said no, but- since her computer was on in the back room- she very kindly got out of bed and googled it for me. The show was called I Didn't Know You Cared, the writer was Peter Tinniswood and Stephen Rea and Liz Smith were also in the cast. No, it didn't jog any other memories, but the image of Bailey as Mort was still so fresh and clear it might have featured on the cover of last week's Radio Times. Actually, the show ran from 1975-79.  It's a truism that memories fade with time, only they don't- or not necessarily so. Some fade, some disappear altogether, some remain untarnished- and there's really no logic to it. I don't remember much about my first marriage- which may be good, which may be sad-  but here's the image of Uncle Mort from the same era- a figure to whom I have no emotional attachment- a character from a sit-com I probably didn't even watch- and it's as crisp as a new fiver. Weird, eh?

By the time I switched the TV off in weary disgust, we'd moved on from Puttnam and co to Saatchi and Saatchi. *Shudder*. I've seen a lot of political advertising in my time but only two campaign images stick in my mind and they're both Saatchi jobs.  There's the image of the snaking dole queue with the slogan, "Labour isn't working" and the image of Tony Blair with red-rimmed, demonic eyes.  The first was for an election the Conservatives won and the second was for an election the Conservatives lost. The moral, I'd like to think, is that clever advertising is actually the Emperor's new clothes. Incidentally, since 2007 Saatchi and Saatchi has handled the Labour Party portfolio- which, in a nutshell, tells you all you need to know about British politics in the Noughties. 

New Labour, New Danger - Demon Eyes (Conservative, 1997)