Gerry Farrell: ‘Tiny Dancer’ ad fine work of city man

The ad makes you smile and feel moved at the same time
The ad makes you smile and feel moved at the same time
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There’s an ad on the telly just now for John Lewis house contents insurance. Sounds dull but the ad isn’t. It stars a dumpy wee specky girl whose real life name is Bunny May.

She is ballet dancing round the house from room to room but what’s funny is that she’s not very good. She keeps bumping into things. Expensive lamps. Paintings on the wall. Just as well it’s all insured by John Lewis. It’s edited to Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. The serious expression on the girl’s face and the emotion of the song work together to make you smile and feel moved at the same time. This is a brilliant trick to pull off in an ad and not many people can do it.

The man who can is a 6ft 6 Edinburgh boy called Dougal Wilson and I just met him for a pint and a blether in the Pleasance Courtyard. Dougal and I go back a long way. When I first met him I was the Creative Director of The Leith Agency, working on Irn-Bru and Tennents Lager ads. Dougal and his Welsh art director Gareth were a junior creative team working at a rival agency called Faulds. They didn’t even have a proper office. Their boss made them work in the darkroom (which is a place where people used to develop photographs in ye olden dayes before digital ).

I thought that was a terrible way to treat a student team so I gave them a job. It wasn’t long before they were the best team in the Leith Agency. The thing they did that I love best was a campaign called “Pintlings” in which walking, talking pints of Tennents are being “murdered” by Scottish beer-drinkers. Aardman Animation, who do all the Wallace & Gromit films, made these ads for us and we got people like Ken Stott, Amanda Burton and Billy Boyd to do the voices.

Soon enough, Dougal started directing some of his own ideas – pop promos for friends’ bands, filmed on a shoestring. He got pretty good and before long we lost him to a big production company in London. He’s now officially one of the top ten commercial directors in the world.

He’d directed promos for Coldplay, Jarvis Cocker and Goldfrapp. And it’s his John Lewis ads that make middle-class mums reach for the Kleenex. He told me he’s had phone calls from the Rolling Stones asking him to work for them. Once, he played me a voice message on his phone – from Sir Paul McCartney.

Dougal’s quite fussy, though. He only does four jobs a year because he throws himself into every project whole-heartedly and gets tired out easily.

I don’t know when it’s going to happen or what the movie’s going to be but one day he’s going to make a Hollywood blockbuster. You read it here first.

Whatever would Orwell make of today’s ‘Nice Cups Of Tea’?

It used to be you could only get A Cup Of Tea. When I was a child there weren’t even any teabags. There was a teapot and your aunt or your gran knitted woolly tea cosies to keep it warm. You warmed the pot first, then emptied it and put the tea in, a spoonful for each person and “one for the pot”. After that you had to wait. When your brew had infused you added milk and sometimes sugar.

None of the houses we live in would have been built or plumbed or wired or plastered if it wasn’t for cups of tea. Workmen lived for their tea-breaks.

Tea is our great solace in life. Whatever calamity has just befallen you, however tragic, you will be sat down and given a cuppa. If you are in shock it will restore you. If you are in low spirits, it will cheer you up. It is my policy in life never to refuse a cup of tea if I am offered one. Tea tastes much better when someone makes it for you.

It was a shock to go abroad and ask for tea only to be given a little bag on a string which was left in the cup. “French tea’s crap,” we all said when we got back to Blighty.

But soon Tetley’s were putting their tea into little bags with thousands of “little perforations to make the flavour flood out”. Women began putting cold wet leftover ones on their eyes to get rid of hangover bags. Now when you look along the supermarket shelves the choice of tea is bewildering. Earl Grey, Earl Grey decaffeinated, Lady Grey, Lady Grey Decaffeinated. There’s tea to pep you up, with mint and ginseng. There’s tea to make you sleepy, called ‘Snore & Peace’.

For a while, in the Seventies, there was even a special alarm clock called a Teasmade. It woke you up AND it made you a cup of tea. Amazing. The advertising slogan was “Make Love, Not Tea”.

The world’s greatest authority on tea-making was George Orwell and if you want to enjoy the perfect cuppa you would do well to read his essay on the subject entitled A Nice Cup Of Tea and published in 1946. Just take it easy though. Britain’s most prodigious tea-drinker was the late, great Tony Benn. He drank so much every day that he managed to poison himself and had to be taken to hospital. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Stall right now

Tina Moffat, who runs the Leith Market at Dock place every Saturday, has offered us a stall for our Leithers Don’t Litter campaign. We’ll definitely be taking her up on this. We need to collect e-mail addresses so we can spread the word when we’re ready to do our Big Leith Clean Up. Having a stall will make that job so much easier. If you haven’t already Liked our Facebook page, please do it now. We’re sitting at 400 already.

We’d like to get to 500 before the weekend. Cheers!

Fiend in need is a friend indeed

What’s the best slogan? Beanz Meanz Heinz? Have A Break, Have A Kit-Kat? My wife would vote for There Are Some Things Money Can’t Buy, For Everything Else There’s Mastercard. I think the test of a good one is whether or not it passes into the language, like Ronseal’s: It Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin. Another of my favourites is for the disgusting Pot Noodle, which simply crowns itself The Slag Of All Snacks.

There’s a real art to summing up your business or your brand in a handful of simple words. I saw one for an American bank which made me laugh: If You’re Not 100% Satisfied, We’ll Give You Your Money Back. How clever is that?

The danger with a slogan is that if you’re not careful, people will find ways to subvert it. Bank Of Scotland used to hand out rear window stickers with their slogan: Bank Of Scotland, A Friend For Life. Within a fortnight, punters were scissoring out the letter “r” so their car stickers said A Fiend For Life.