News / Film

The BFI provides viewers with a comprehensive, and free, history of British advertising

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Son of Plain – Advertising Man’s Guide to Tyne Tees Television (Via BFI)

If there’s a better way to pass a few idle hours on a midweek evening than trying to guess what exactly it is you’re trying to be sold in the Dinner Date break within the first five seconds of each advert, we’re yet to have stumbled across it.

We’re not the only ones it seems. The ad-mad archivists at the British Film Institute (BFI) must share our passion for bellowing “UM…LIFE INSURANCE?” and “DAIRY MILK! DEFINITELY DAIRY MILK!” at the telly if the news emerging from London’s Southbank today is anything to go by.

Following on from the runaway success that was its remastering of the classic Ridley Scott directed “Boy on a Bike” advert for wholesome wholemeal loaf specialists Hovis, the BFI has decided to digitise 300 archive film and television adverts before making them free to watch via the BFI Player streaming service.

Tracing a century of advertising history, Commercial Break: British Advertising on Screen explores how cinema-goers and home audiences alike have been engaged, enthused, and enthralled by ads over the past 100 years, with each of the adverts in question being culled from the BFI’s gigantic collection of over 100,000 examples of crowd-pleasing commercials.

“There’s an art to selling, as any man or woman will tell you,” says BFI National Archive curator Steve Foxon. “Britain’s screen advertising has been a central part of the British film story since its earliest days. It found its feet in the cinema, transformed television and its ripples have even influenced Hollywood.”

As anyone who’s ever enjoyed the sight of jug-eared former England striker Gary Linekar shilling for Walkers will tell you, half the point of watching adverts is to see which celebrities have been paid handsomely to get the general public to add a frozen prawn ring to their shopping basket, and accordingly, the BFI’s celebration features everyone from Peter Cook and Dudley Moore through to Michael Caine and George Best.

The archive is ready to be tucked into right this second.

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Target – Geoff Hurst (Via BFI)

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Coca-Cola – Hey Coke Masquerade Ball (Via BFI)

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Guinness – Plinths (Via BFI)