There’s no denying that the classic 1973 Hovis ‘boy on the bike’ advert has encouraged visitors to come to Shaftesbury. But there might now be additional interest in Gold Hill and our town. The TV commercial has been remastered and will be played on national television for a month.
ThisIsAlfred talks with Hovis Director, Jeremy Gibson and Robin Baker, Head Curator of the British Film Institute.
The Director of Hovis believes that his company’s Gold Hill commercial is part of our national heritage. “It has just gone beyond the role of what an advert does. It has become a real cultural piece. This is the most iconic and heart-warming ad ever made,” said Jeremy. “Because of that and the work which the British Film Institute has done in remastering the original ad, it has become the right time to re-launch it and put it back on our screens.”
Jeremy says that Hovis’ top team understands that Shaftesbury has played a major part in their brand’s success. “We do have regular team meetings and a lot of our team will go down there to have a look at that site. It’s become so memorable for us. It’s a key part of the fabric of our brand.”
Robin Baker is the Head Curator at the British Film Institute. His team has digitally remastered the advert. It has got no CGI, no stunts, no jingle and no gimmick. So why does it work?
“I think because it’s so brilliantly simple. It’s like watching a mini-movie,” said Robin. “There are just five shots in it and one of those is a close-up of a loaf of bread. But even in that handful of shots, Ridley Scott, the great director, manages to create something that evokes nostalgia and makes it feel like it’s all of our childhoods in this vaguely mythical past. It creates real feelings of warmth. Lots of people over many generations have really connected with it as a piece of filmmaking,” said Robin.
Last year, Shaftesbury Town Council offered Ridley Scott the freedom of Shaftesbury. The approach was made in recognition of the contribution that the advertisement has made to local life. Ridley Scott hasn’t chosen to pursue the offer so far, but Robin says the BFI team has been in touch with the director.
“We’ve been working with Ridley extensively on this. The restoration from the team at the BFI National Archive used three original prints of the film. Sadly, the negative is long gone. Two of those came directly from Ridley but unfortunately they were very colour-faded, so they all turned magenta,” said Robin.
When the remastered commercial appears on TV this evening, how different will it look? “If you go to YouTube or if you’ve seen the ad recently on TV documentaries about adverts, you’ll just see how video-like and ‘VHS-ish’ it looked. The actual film prints are all badly scratched. They are full of mould damage and oil marks. We’ve removed all that damage. You can’t reach total perfection because you’re not using the negative, but the quality of the image has been truly transformative,” said Robin.
Most of us can improve bad photographs taken with our smartphones by applying a filter or pressing a button or two. Robin says remastering this film footage has been more complicated. “In fact, it took us longer to restore the ad than it took to shoot the ad in the first place, which gives you a sense of quite how painstaking that work is, frame by frame,” said Robin.
His team hasn’t altered the soundtrack for the BFI archive, but it will sound different when the advert airs again on TV. “We’ve simply restored the soundtrack as it was because we don’t aim to change any kind of film or adverts in any way. So we were doing sound restoration on the original,” said Robin.
Hovis Director Jeremy says the music has been re-recorded. “It is clearly such an important part of the ad itself. We went back to the original band, The Ashington Colliery Brass Band, who recorded it back in the 1970s for the original ad. They re-recorded the music.”
So what about the voice over used? If you go on YouTube, the 1973 advert seems to feature a Westcountry accent, talking about Ma Peggotty. Some people swear there was a Northern voiceover used. Did they use two versions?
“No, there wasn’t. Ma Peggotty was the original,” said Jeremy. “What we have done for this remastering is re-record the voiceover. There is ever such a slight difference. Technology is a little bit different these days and we got a much sharper voiceover record, which we laid over the ad.”
So why does Jeremy think that people believe the ad was shot in Yorkshire? Is it the use of the band? “I think that’s probably one of the biggest reasons for that, because the style of music is synonymous with Yorkshire,” said Jeremy.
Jeremy says that Hovis will point out where the film was shot on their social media. “We’re very proud of what we shot here. And as you know, there are a number of people who will travel to the area and see the hill itself. We get a lot of people on social media talking about the ‘Hovis Hill’. Anything we can do to tell people that it’s Shaftesbury in Dorset, we will do that,” said Jeremy.
People will be able to view the commercial over the next few weeks. “This will run for the month of June. It ‘breaks’ this evening in the ad break within Emmerdale. That’s our first play-out. Clearly, there’s a lot of background to it, whether it’s re-recording the music or interviews with Ridley, or the work the BFI has done. We have a lot of social media that we’ve created which we will get on our website.”
Jeremy says there will be multiple plays of the commercial on various channels. “It will go on ITV, Channel 4 and all the digital channels with twenty separate ad breaks throughout the week.”
Jeremy says there are no plans to remake the ad for the 50th anniversary in 2023. “I think the challenge with a piece of work like this, which is so culturally relevant, is that it’s almost an impossible task to create something as amazing as that, given that there are so few scenes in the ad versus what TV advertising is today. It will be a tough challenge,” said Jeremy.
So, it seems the Shaftesbury’s Gold Hill Hovis commercial will forever remain an all-time classic.