George Parker: how I shared a Dubonnet experience in Nice with Yves Montand

One of my first tasks as Dorland’s “Agency Fireman” was to save the Dubonnet account which, even though it was a popular woman’s drink, was despised by beer guzzling, British men who regarded anything that didn’t come in a pint pot, particularly something like Dubonnet, as a French “poofta” drink that did not go well with pork pies, cheese-and-onion crisps and cheap fags.

The client was unhappy, and the brief to the agency was to somehow or other get the Lager Louts of Britain turned on to the pleasures of drinking this sweet, pinkish, low-alcohol concoction. No easy task, but one the “Agency Fireman” could rise to, particularly as it would require weeks of preparation, casting and filming in the South of France.

It would also demand numerous trips to the Cote D’Azur’s finest restaurants, casinos and clubs. I would be forced to suffer the indignities of twenty-four-hour room service in the best suite that Nice’s, five star, Hotel Negresco could provide. Best of all, everything was at the client’s expense!

The concept I sold to agency and client was simple, it would illustrate the Frenchness of the product in masculine, non-poofta situations. It would be unbelievable to show British football hooligans glugging foaming pints of Dubonnet. Only an MBA planner would fall for that shit. No, the way to crack it was to show macho Frog situations, with believable macho Frog guys.

Meaning, it should take place in France. Which is where the French Riviera came in. The script I sold them was based on a French movie of the early fifties The Wages of Fear. A classic film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, starring Yves Montand. The story is about a bunch of dead-beats marooned in Las Piedras, a fleapit of a town in South America. All are broke and have no hope of escaping the desperate situation they find themselves in.

Then one day, an American oil company comes to town looking for truck drivers. It seems there’s an out-of-control oil well fire raging on the other side of the mountain range that separates Las Piedras from the coast. Drivers are needed to transport extremely volatile nitroglycerine across the mountains to the burning well, where it will be used to put out the fire. The regular drivers have refused to do it, because the road is in such terrible condition the chances of a truck carrying highly unstable nitro making it are almost zero. But, for the promise of enough money to get them out of Las Piedras, Yves and three others volunteer.

As you would expect, only the truck driven by Yves Montand and his partner makes the journey successfully, but are killed on the return journey when they go off the road and plunge down a ravine. Anyway, enough about the movie; for more, go rent the fucker.

My brilliant idea was to recreate the movie in a TV spot glorifying the masculine qualities of Dubonnet! Here’s the script:

Video: Open on a high mountain road. A heat haze shimmers off the road.

SFX: The chirping of cicadas with the faint noise of a heavy diesel engine approaching from a distance.

Video: Around the bend comes a giant truck. On the front is a large sign that spells “Explosif.” On each side are red warning flags. On the bed of the truck is a cradle suspension device holding a canister. As the truck gets nearer, we see the driver. He is a rugged Yves Montand look-alike. He is sweaty and wears a dirty shirt and red bandana knotted around his neck. The obligatory smouldering Gauloise is hanging from his lips.

SFX: The engine grinds as it makes its way around the bends. Rocks tumble from the edge and clatter down the mountain.

Video: Cut to a scruffy roadside bar as the truck pulls in. Cut to bar interior. Two unshaven, even sweatier ruffians are drinking. Behind the bar is a stunning Bardot look-alike wearing an extremely low cut blouse. In walks our hero. He sits at the bar as the girl gives him an admiring look. He lights another Gauloise.

Yves: Dubonnet . . . S’il vous plait.

Video: Cut to close-up of the bottle as the girl fills his glass. (No ice – no cherries – no plastic umbrellas)

SFX: Sniggers and snorts from the two villains.

Video: Cut to villains as they laugh (revealing blackened, rotting, stumps of teeth)

Villains: Dubonnet . . . Phew . . . Zut alors . . . Mon Dieu…
(And other Monty Python-like French expressions).

Video: Cut to our hero as he sips his Dubonnet, smiles at the girl (his teeth are perfect) then stands up. We pull into a tight shot of the bottle on the bar as we hear sounds of a scuffle.

SFX: Splat, thud, groans, as the hero makes mincemeat of the two villains!

Video: Pull back from bottle shot as our hero sits down, smiles at the girl, then proceeds to enjoy the rest of his drink. She looks as if she is about to rip his clothes off!

Anncr. V.O: Dubonnet . . .

Video: Cut to pack shot.

Anncr. V.O: It’s what French Truck Drivers drink before massively errotic sex!!!

Actually, that wasn’t the line. But, it was something like that. To be honest, I can’t remember. It’s over thirty years since I wrote the fucking thing, and in the ensuing time my brain’s capacities have been severely damaged by drink, (not Dubonnet) drugs and sitting in far too many meetings listening to twenty-five-year-old account executives talking shit.

So, away we flew to the Riviera, to cast the spot. Finding the woman and the thugs was easy. The Riviera is loaded with luscious Bardot look-alikes, plus lots of Sardinian toughs with rotted, black teeth. The problem was finding the hero. We needed someone who could drive a monster truck over narrow, crapy mountain roads.

As it turned out we got lucky, finding a rugged Yves Montand look-alike who had once been a truck driver!

So, we shot the spot, and it turned out pretty good, but the best bit happened when the shoot was over. At Nice airport, as I was standing in line with the film crew at the first class check-in (film unions insist on first class, probably ‘cos the drinks are free,) I noticed that in front of me was a tall man in a beautifully tailored cream suit. He was obviously of some importance, as he was accompanied by a couple of minders taking care of him.

Then he turned round, and I saw it was actually Yves Montand! I got so excited, I almost wet myself. Without thinking, I blurted out: “Oh, Oh, Mr. Montand! Excuse me, I don’t want to be rude, but you’re never going to believe it. We’re here shooting a TV spot for Dubonnet.”

He raised an eyebrow quizzically and looked at me as if to say, “So?”

“And it’s based on The Wages of Fear. So we had to find someone to play your role.”

He was looking at me as if I was an imbecile. The film crew was watching intently.

“And now, I can’t believe I’m actually standing next to Yves Montand.”

Smiling, he looked me straight in the eye, and replied in faultless English: “Fuck off.”

For months after that I was the butt of countless crude jokes in The Ship, the Soho pub where London’s film people used to hang out. Every time I came through the door I would invariably be greeted by: “Here comes Yves’s mate. Bonjour Matelot. Fuck off!’”

Oh, and Britain’s swastika tattooed Lager Louts continued to think that Dubonnet was strictly for poofta’s!

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