Susan Morrison: I’ll Tel all about gift of the drab

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When did Christmas adverts become a thing? I don’t remember advertisers making much of an effort before. Our screens are awash with festive fol-de-rol and faff.

There were Christmas adverts for kids, you betcha. Television went wall-to-wall with kiddy-centred consumer madness, with an underlying message that if, on Christmas morning, you didn’t unwrap that doll with those weird staring eyes, that said “mamma” in a creepy voice and then wet itself, mummy and daddy just didn’t love you enough.

My brother would start his Christmas list about now. He’s always been terribly well organised. He planned his personal gift selection by assiduous television viewing and careful noting of the various offerings.

Toys were pretty violent back then. He was particularly keen on a plastic rifle/grenade launcher arrangement, a sort of Swiss army knife of plastic armaments. It fired a plastic grenade, had a plastic bayonet and fired plastic bullets.

A weapon that could stop a riot, down a dinosaur or even take out a rioting dinosaur was not considered an inappropriate gift to celebrate the birth of a man who came to be known as the Prince of Peace.

Once his fairly lengthy list was complete he usually started his letter to Santa with the words “To Whom It May Concern”, and finished with “and other toys suitable for a boy of my age”. He lives in Switzerland now. I think he runs a cult or something.

My list, as you would expect, was just everything I’d seen that week on the telly, and usually featured something made by a company called K-Tel. I don’t know what became of K-Tel, which did sound rather like something that had escaped from the final destruction of Superman’s home world to fetch up here on Planet Earth, with the sole intention of causing the Caped Crusader a whole heap of bother.

The telly was awash with K-Tel adverts on the annual shopping binge run-up to Christmas, punting LP collections that you “just couldn’t buy in the shops”. There was a reason for this, of course. No self-respecting record shop would stock a four-album set of songs by two beardy jumper-wearing Irish folk singers warbling dirges about Kathleen in a fey and winsome manner.

Adults were generally overlooked in the brainwashing exercise, mainly because they didn’t get presents at all, beyond a pair of slippers or a scarf, neither of which would call for the big budget marketing spend for a telly advert, especially since my mum knitted the scarf which, as K-Tel would point out, you couldn’t buy in the shops.

Don’t put your beaks out of joint . . it’s only an advert!

The telly is awash with glitzy adverts actually aimed at people like me – ie, grumpy mums who are magically supposed to transform, Cinderella-like, into domestic goddesses during the festive season. And with it comes a new annual event, which is Complaining About The John Lewis Advert.

We used to do this about the Hogmanay show, but we’ve not got the patience or the attention span to watch and then write letters of complaint about Jackie Bird’s rib cage anymore, so we’ve moved on to John Lewis.

The advert is about a little boy who is worried about his stuffed penguin getting lonely and so he asks not for a toy for himself at Christmas, but a little girly penguin playmate for his little friend.

So far, so cute, so lovable. Nope.

The media hyena chorus is out in force to condemn the advert, on the grounds of, amongst other things, encouraging people smuggling, endorsing the use of mail order brides and rampant commercialisation.

It’s an advert, for heaven’s sake. It’s about a wee boy with an overactive imagination and an unhealthy attachment to a stuffed penguin, and two parents who go and buy him another penguin.

I see trouble ahead.

Back to basics with a simple plug

Before the festive juggernaut crushes you under its tinsel wheels, why not treat yourself to some seriously good events at Previously . . . Scotland’s History Festival?

It’s just kicked off and you can pick from talks, walks, tours, music, poetry, authors – why, it’s like a huge selection box of fascination.

Still no budget for marketing, of course, or I’d be running adverts on the telly involving cute penguins and endearing children. We’ve got a website – – and programmes have been released into the world, so you can find us out there.

Scotland’s history – you just cannot buy this in the shops, don’t you know . . .

Any space for an extra ticket?

Took the family to the movies last week to see the latest blockbuster, Interstellar. It’s about space travel and time shifting and Michael Caine is in it.

It is a rollicking good romp if you like rockets, exploding things and a plot you can drive a medium-sized family saloon through. I think it was good. I didn’t understand a word of it so if you have a physicist to hand, by all means, take them with you. It might help.