Barry Norman: “Christmas adverts may be charming. But it’s a pity about the rest of them”

"Charming? Saccharine? You decide - but it's very cleverly done," says Norman


Never mind the nativity or even Santa Claus, the big talking point for millions this Christmas is obviously the John Lewis TV commercial – the Bear and the Hare all those other cute woodland animals swapping presents.


Charming? Saccharine? You decide, but either way it’s very cleverly done and a reminder of how striking telly commercials can be.

My all-time favourite dates back several years and I no longer remember (if indeed I ever knew) what it was advertising. In it a downtrodden, clearly henpecked middle-aged man is staring gloomily at the camera and saying: “My wife said to me, ‘Where were you the day Kennedy was shot?’ She blames me for everything.”

Brilliant, though not exactly effective in selling me the product.

Of the more recent lot there’s one that claims: “Tesco: every little helps”, which is very possibly true. But I fancy it would be equally true if you changed the wording to read: “Every little helps Tesco”.

But some of the others bother me rather. There were the two urging us to subscribe to Sky Broadband that end with either a dressing-gowned Bruce Willis or an equally dressing-gowned Jeff Stelling walking off with a sexually excited girl young enough to be their daughter or even their granddaughter.

What’s that all about? Whether it sells much in the way of Sky Broadband I have no idea; the strongest message I receive seems to be that old blokes can still pull young girls but, if you ask me, more fool them if they want to. I’ve long been aware that, among certain females, there is no such thing as an unattractive rich old man but what hopeful pensioners, watching the box in their carpet slippers, should be aware of is that the operative word there is rich.

Then there are the cosmetics ads, particularly those for miracle creams that instantly remove all wrinkles.

These end with the models, faces softer and smoother than babies’ bottoms, smiling happily at the camera. Mind you, in most cases they look to be about 19 and might reasonably be supposed not to have had wrinkles in the first place. Nevertheless, once the cream has done its stuff they are unquestionably wrinkle-free.

Some of the most worrisome ads are on daytime TV. There was the one in which a beautiful young woman in a purple dress gets her skirt caught in the closing doors of a lift and scrabbles desperately to retain her modesty while the man she has just met and fancied looks on with amusement. In a sequel the girl, still wearing the same dress and now accompanied by the fancied man, falls out of a taxi, this time revealing her knickers.

Golly, what humiliation but no, hang on, it’s okay – because in both instances beneath those knickers she’s wearing an incontinence pad. She may well have wet herself but, such is the efficacy of the pad, the boyfriend will never know. Later commercials for the same product feature various female movie extras unconcerned about having to wait around for hours because they’ve got a trusty incontinence pad in place.

What puzzles me about all this is the advertiser’s apparent conviction that young women today have absolutely no control over their bladders. If so this is surely a matter of grave concern. These women shouldn’t be buying grown-up nappies; they should be seeking urgent consulttions with their GPs.

Even more worrying, though, is the proliferation of commercials for personal injury lawyers, again mostly to be found on daytime telly. Oh dear, you fell over in the street while blind drunk and bumped your nose? Well, somebody’s got to pay for that because you’re not responsible, are you? Nobody can be expected to be responsible for their own actions these days.

So lose no time in contacting ambulancechasers’r’ and we’ll make sure somebody coughs up compensation. No win, no fee. And the fee if you do win? Ah, that’s not mentioned.

Charles Dickens would have had a load of fun with these guys.

But perhaps most disturbing of all are the gambling commercials, which make betting look glamorous and surely appeal most strongly to the poorest and most desperate among us. There’s one in which a good-looking young couple are so eager to watch the telly and see how to lose all their money that they vault over the back of their settee, the more quickly to study the many ways in which they can gamble their life savings away.

You can bet on anything online these days and the TV commercials are only too eager to show you how. Bingo, poker, football, horse racing, roulette, you name it. Two flies crawling up a windowpane? Yeah, you can probably bet on them as well.

You can have a flutter before the event or during the event. In football you can bet on who will win or who will score next. No doubt it won’t be long before you can bet on who will be the first to get a red card. And if all that isn’t enticing enough, the goodhearted bookies will offer you a 50-quid flutter for nothing. Absolutely free! If you’re not addicted already you soon will be. Goodbye bank balance, goodbye house.

Even the BBC gets in on the gambling fever by showing the results of the national lottery at a peak hour, just to remind you that here is yet another, ostensibly more respectable, way to get rid of your money.

I wonder what a visitor from Mars, settling down for a session in front of the telly, would make of all this and of us. I daresay he’d phone home saying: “Look, I don’t think we should bother invading Earth. It’s full of vain, greedy, irresponsible people constantly looking for a fast buck. Oh, and if we do invade, whatever you do keep away from the young women – trust me, you really don’t want to go near them.”