A commercial that made Shaftesbury famous will be featured on national and regional TV tonight. The Hovis ‘boy on the bike’ advert from 1973 has been digitally enhanced ready for its re-release, this evening.
Shaftesbury area residents who receive BBC ‘South Today’ will also see a live interview with Gold Hill Museum Chairman Elaine Barratt, discussing the impact of this iconic ad. “We have to acknowledge that the Hovis advert has brought people here,” said Elaine.
The British Film Institute has used the latest technology to create a cleaner, crisper video. The revamp has also involved re-recording The New World Symphony advert sountrack by a new generation of the original Ashington Colliery brass band, including the grandson of one of the original brass players.
Hovis say that they want to introduce the advert to a new generation, where the simplicity of the story, its core message of hard-work, family and the strength of community are expected to resonate today as much as they have ever done.
The advert is widely regarded as one of the best examples of UK advertising and helped launch the career of legendary director Sir Ridley Scott, who went on to direct blockbuster films Thelma and Louise, Alien and Blade Runner.
Shaftesbury Town Council contacted Sir Ridley Scott last year to offer him the freedom of Shaftesbury. The approach was made in recognition of the contribution that the advertisement has made to local life. Scott has not chosen to pursue the offer so far.
The classic commercial was so distinctive and popular it was later mimicked by light entertainment and comedy shows. “There have been all sorts of parodies, including by the Two Ronnies,” said Elaine, referring to their 1978 sketch on the hill.
Elaine recalls Irish flautist James Galway filming there, too. “It was when my daughter was about seven or eight. They wanted a lot of redhead children. She wasn’t included because she was a strawberry blonde. He strolled up the hill playing his flutes, I can’t remember what it was for.”
Elaine moved to Shaftesbury in 1972 and she doesn’t recall the Hovis ad creating a great deal of attention initially, when it aired one year later. “I was not aware of any immediate impact but then I wasn’t involved in tourism at all. I worked in a bank,” said Elaine.
46 years on, Gold Hill Museum visitors of a certain age frequently mention the commercial. “People in their twenties or younger, I think, are not aware of it. I think anyone over thirty would be,’ said Elaine.
Some people are surprised to discover the breath-taking view that they believe to be in the North. “So many of them are amazed to find it in Dorset. They think it was somewhere in Yorkshire and are convinced that they must have made a Yorkshire one as well,” said Elaine.
The Hovis ad has, again, been voted the UK’s most iconic and heart-warming commercial. Yellow Pages’ 1983 ‘JR Hartley’ advert was considered the second-most heart-warming ad, with Cadbury’s 2007 promotion featuring a gorilla drumming to Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’, the runner up in a most iconic advert poll.
The digitally improved Hovis advert will air at peak times today. Viewers of the commercial-free BBC South will get their glimpse of Gold Hill when Elaine is interviewed on the regional programme, which starts at 6.30pm. “I’m going to be live,” Elaine said.
Carl Barlow, who played the ‘boy on the bike’, decided not to pursue an acting career. He retired from the London Fire Brigade following 31 years of service in 2010 although he has returned to Gold Hill to reprise his role on a number of occasions. In the summer of 2017, he starred in an online video commercial for an electric bike company.
Photographs inside Gold Hill Museum document the making of the advert and Elaine says that her volunteers are planning a future display. “Someone has loaned us a lot of Hovis memorabilia. We’re intending to make a small temporary exhibition of that at some point, as it is only on loan. We’re thinking about doing it next season, so it will start in April. Maybe we should consider bringing it out before then. There’s going to be a lot of interest in Hovis,” Elaine said.
Elaine also serves on Shaftesbury Town Council’s Visitor Experience Advisory Committee and she says she can see how the town’s tourism businesses might benefit from the new screening. “Gold Hill itself is beautiful, and it’s a good tourist attraction, but when you make an advert like that and remaster it, it has to be good for tourism,” said Elaine.