» It Might As Well Be...
IT MIGHT AS WELL BE STRING
by Kay Dickinson
(from C&G #68 August 2001)
Following t’Lancastrian’s Guide To Ecky Thump (Issue #62), another episode that causes a lot of confusion amongst non-Brits and those under 30 is “String”. Although it is evident that most of the jokes in the programme are parodies of specific TV adverts, either directly or generically, many people have never seen the original advert to fully appreciate the joke. To this end, I have attempted to explain the adverts contained within the programme, and hopefully this will help people understand it a little better. However, this is by no means complete, as I’m sure I’ve missed out some references – so if anyone would like to add to this, please feel free to e-mail either myself or Brett with corrections.
The episode opens with Bill’s performance as a lab-coated scientist, trying to persuade the housewife to use “Low Suds Mold”. This type of advert is globally recognisable, but in this particular take, the product being parodied is “Bold”.
Captain Fish Face’s Cod Pieces – apart from the slightly rude connotations of codpieces (apparently, the manufacturers did once suggest “Cod Pieces” as a product name, until it was pointed out to them!), this is a parody of “Captain Birdseye’s Fish Fingers”. There was an actual advert which was very similar to this that I remember when I was young, with the Viking longship sailing off into the sunset and the Captain serving his “crew” with fish fingers. The “send 2000 wrappers” was a take on the ubiquitous offers that many companies ran, with prizes for collecting so many tokens from the sides of the boxes.
One advert that many find extremely confusing is “OL IP DD” – DD is Double Diamond, a beer, and their logo was written exactly as on the board that Tim brandishes. DD ran a series of ads in the 70s, using single letters and numbers to sell their beer – one example is “RU 4 DD?” (Are you for DD?), so therefore, The Goodies’ cheeky, “Oh hell, I pee DD” was a direct lampooning of this.
The board with the picture of Margaret Thatcher and the slogan, “Are You Getting Enough?” was originally issued by the Milk Marketing Board to encourage people to drink more milk – with the picture on the front being of a healthy bottle of milk, rather than a rancid old trout.
“Raz Washes Whitest” – another soap powder, Daz – and again, the design on the packet is very similar to the one that Daz employed. The send up of Daz/Raz originated in I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, and was also the butt of previous Goody jokes, when Tim as the dozy housewife in a spoof advert in the middle of “Cecily” refuses to swap her packet of Raz for, ultimately, the Crown Jewels (the ISIRTA version had Bill as the housewife, and the Fairy Puff Man and the Westminster sub-machine gun adverts were also previously aired on ISIRTA, although they work much better visually).
“Harvest Moon, the scent that lingers…. Buy some, or I’ll break your fingers!” – This is a general parody of perfume advertisements, rather than a take-off of a particular product.
“Kenny Cornflakes” – I’m sure the capital K in this advert is recognised the world over as being Kellogg’s Cornflakes, the sunshine cereal. The portrayal of their cereal as being a real part of family life and the insinuation to the housewife (bless ‘em!) that she was somehow failing as a wife and mother should she not give her family that perfect start to the day was typical of Kelloggs’ advertising slant at the time. There was also a pop group called 'Kenny' at the time, this group used the distinctive K from the 'Kelloggs' logo as part of their own logo.
“Sunbeam Sliced Bread” – is a distortion of “Sunblest Sliced Bread” – although I’m unsure as to whether they in particular claimed that 9 out of 10 people preferred their brand, the doctors claim was used for a variety of adverts at the time as a form of official endorsement, although how they could all legitimately claim it is still one of life’s mysteries!
The white star on the black background between adverts was an ever-present feature of advertising that does not occur now, although Channel 5 brought a similar thing back as a pause between their adverts. An earlier version was also used in the spoof Goodies ads, with a white “sun” with rays emanating from it. Something similar was used on certain ITV regions, appearing mainly on Associated-Redifusion, but not all areas of the country would be aware of this.
“Vibena” – so close to the original Ribena blackcurrant drink advert, that today, they’d probably be sued for defamation!
“Nosho Dog Food” – this was based on a particular brand of dog food, although I’m not aware of which one, but generally, many pet food adverts would involve the unfortunate animal invariably choosing whichever brand was being advertised over its closest rivals. The pet food ad was another prime candidate for the “9 out of 10 owners who expressed a preference said their dog/cat preferred it”
“Mr Rudyard’s Cakes” – my personal favourite of all the adverts in this episode. Up until fairly recently, Mr Kipling’s (Rudyard Kipling – geddit??) cakes ran an extremely similar advert, with whichever cake was being advertised revolving on a cake stand. The voiceover, if not actually the same man, is one hell of an impression. The original adverts always tried to paint a picture of stereotypical English country life, with the sounds of a game of cricket in the background, or a croquet match, or laughing children playing, with something like, maybe, a straw boater hat beside the cake stand – the Goodies version paints a somewhat different picture, with the reality of factory made goods and an industrial landscape. The adverts always opened with the voiceover saying “The other day, I asked Mr Kipling how he made his….” with Mr Kipling usually just smiling knowingly and never giving away his secret, and ended with, “because Mr Kipling makes exceedingly good cakes”.
“Look at those stains…. ink, oil, gravy – stains that are really hard to budge!” – again, a take on the soap powder adverts where a (generally white) garment was stained with the above - egg and blood being another favourite – to prove how wonderful the powder shifted these stains, and how the closest rival failed miserably. Why anyone ever bought the closest rival on those results always baffled me, as well as how all the washing seemed to come out of the machine completely dry and nicely ironed – with no-one’s underwear tangled up in it. Never did that for me!
“That close, close shave that gets you noticed” – part of the slogan used by one of the razor manufacturers – either Gillette or Wilkinson Sword.
“Problem hair? I bet you never thought there’d be a shampoo that was just right for you!” – the voiceover that accompanied a shot of a woman looking pained over the state of her hair – followed by the usual shot of her in the shower washing it with the brand being advertised.
“Soaking isn’t the only way to get those dentures sparkling white” – part of the slogan used to advertise Steradent denture cleaning tablets.
“There’s that other problem that even your best friend won’t mention….” The type of line found on general deodorant/mouthwash adverts of the time in which only the best friend would tell the bloke/girl who wasn't scoring on the dance floor that he/she had BO/bad breath.
“Join the QB’s and I’ll show you me little perforations!” – Tim is impersonating Roy Hudd who appeared in a series of adverts for 'Quick Brew' in the character of a sergeant major. In clipped military tones, he would refer to 'Quick Brew' as QB. The notion was that the tea bags had better perforations to brew more quickly.
“Jelly on a plate” – I seem to remember an advert for Devon clotted cream that involved a young maid carrying a rather suggestive looking pair of circular jellies on a plate, at chest height, to her employer’s party – each of the jellies had a swirl of cream on the top. This is all I can think that this reference appertains to, but the phrase “jelly on a plate” I don’t think occurred in it. This is probably just my perverted mind, as no-one else seems to be able to remember this!
“I’m only here for the string” - I think this slogan dates back to the 1940s – it was originally, "I'm only here for the beer".
Casanova on the beach – this is a parody of the Heineken adverts. Heineken is a Dutch lager (hence the foreign accent) whose slogan still claims today to “refresh the parts other beers cannot reach…”
Piece of string cigars – and Tim gets his nymphet in her wet shirt! Again, the voiceover for the Hamlet adverts is very similar to the one employed in the spoof, although I can’t remember if this is based on a real advert at the time, although I would assume so.
“Ah, that string moment” – again, the slogan for another real brand – this time, Condor (ah, that Condor moment) – although I only remember Condor doing cigars, but I think they also made pipe tobacco.
“A million housewives every day, pick up a (tin of beans) piece of string and say…. (Beanz Meanz Heinz!) God bless Tim Brooke-Taylor!”
“I can’t tell string from butter – can you tell string from butter? I can’t” – in a similar vein to those brands claiming 9 out of 10 preferred them, Stork Margarine ran a series of “experiments” where they asked people to taste a piece of bread with butter on, and a piece with Stork on to see if they could tell the difference. Unsurprisingly, the adverts showed that people generally “can’t tell Stork from butter”. I could.
Tomorrow’s World is a programme that still runs in Britain today that tests out new inventions that may revolutionise how we do things in the future. Usually, this is the last time these inventions are ever heard of, but we still live in hope! These are the real titles that ran for the show in the 70s (the real titles and presenter for Nationwide were used too, during the series) and the show was fronted by the presenter used in “String” – Raymond Baxter, although I doubt anyone had seen him dressed quite like that before!
Wonderful World of String – as far as I am aware, this is a purely Goodies concoction, and not based on any specific programme of the time, although current affairs programmes would put interviewees who did not want to be identified into silhouette to prevent them from being identified.
“Soft Margarine” - During the wonderful “String” song, Graeme’s falling over skills, reminiscent of those used in the vat of black pudding in Ecky Thump, and the earlier spoof ad from Winter Olympics for Soft Margarine are combined in this advert.
“Beanz Meanz String” Similarly, Tim’s earlier role as the youngster advertising Heanz Meanz Beanz is sent up wonderfully – the hapless child getting his lines right for once, but still getting smacked in the mush with a plate of baked beans by the adult Tim.
“Kung Poo” – a wonderful lampoon of the original “Hai Karate” aftershave adverts. Hai Karate was a revolting range of men’s toiletries that came out in the 1970s that usually ended up as unwanted and (thankfully) unused Christmas presents. Their only saving grace was the adverts that accompanied them – the extremely tall and invariably skimpily dressed Valerie Leon would smell the aftershave on a man – this would, unaccountably, arouse her passions and she would chase her hapless victim around (rather, he would run while she moved slowly and seductively), knocking over shop displays and market stalls etc on the way, until she had him cornered. Here he would quake and whimper while she bore down on him to kiss him. The joke here, therefore, is that once Tim is cornered, he resigns himself to his fate with a shrug and puckers up for his kiss – only to get karate chopped instead! Rather than her usual skimpy wear, Valerie is wearing a string dress for this ad!
“Deluxe Non-Drip Gloss” paint is simply a take on “Dulux Non-Drip Gloss”
Bill with exploding box of chocolates – Cadbury’s used to run a series of adverts for their Milk Tray range of chocolates that involved a black-clad mystery man abseiling down mountains, swimming shark-invested waters, jumping onto moving trains etc in order to deliver a box of chocolates… “and all because the lady loves Milk Tray”. How they never got wet or squashed was never explained. Bill is actually carrying a box of Terry’s All Gold, who were Milk Tray’s rivals, and the relatively small jump down that slope was a little tame – the mountain abseiling would have been much more fun, not to mention the sharks!
The adverts then end with another generic soap powder advert, with Bill as the irate housewife (bless their little cotton socks, what would we do without them?) and Graeme as the lab-coated scientist attempting the ultimate in stain removal – Tim removal!
All together now:
String, string, string, string
Everybody loves string!
String, string, string, string
Everybody needs string!
Pull on your pants
Slip on your vest
String is best!
String, string, string, string
Everybody loves string!
Many thanks to Andrew Pixley for his help with some of the adverts I was stuck with.