George Parker: concluding McVitie’s’ Caribbean quest

6a00d8341bfa1853ef01053626728a970c-800wiGeorge Parker concludes his tale of the world’s most expensive commercials shoot (parts one and two here and here). Our heroes find their plane at the bottom of a Caribbean bay while the agency producer frets in London and McVitie’s wonders if it’s ever going to see its increasingly expensive and elusive ad.

After my cathartic booze and ganja cleansing on the beaches of Tobago, I realized that thousands of dollars worth of film equipment was rusting away at the bottom of the ocean, and as the production company had not seen fit to take out light airplane insurance, we were looking at an expensive homecoming.

Immediately after the crash Robin Hardy, the director (best remembered for directing cult classic The Wicker Man, remade a couple of years ago as a Nicholas Cage mind-bending, fucking disaster) had hired Tobago’s number one scuba diving outfit, run by an ex-Navy Seal guy, to get the plane up from its watery grave. He said this would be easy because after having dived to check it out, it was only forty feet down and still in one piece; a couple of flotation bags under each wing would easily bring it up.

Unfortunately, the same heroes of the Scarborough Fire and Rescue team, who had rescued Harvey and I from a watery grave, decided to put a stop to this when they declared anything in the harbor fell under their jurisdiction, and they would attend to it.

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Robin, Harvey and I, along with the ex-Seal guy, spent the next afternoon sat on the harbor wall with ample supplies of Appleton and ganja watching Tobago’s version of the raising of the Titanic. This involved the positioning of a very large, rusty floating crane over the submerged plane, the lowering of razor sharp metal hawsers to the sea bed, the wrapping of these hawsers around the body and wings of the plane, and then slowly raising it while turning a perfectly good and salvageable airplane into a floating pile of matchwood and debris. It was like slicing boiled eggs.

Meantime, this adventure meant that we had lost a great deal of our equipment, necessitating flying new stuff from Miami. So, rather than waste time, we decided to explore the fleshpots of Port au Prince, the capital of Trinidad.

11c9e6f3641810ed67fb48aded5146dfThere’s something you have to understand about this island paradise. There are three main ethnic groups, African, Indian and Chinese, consequently, there’s been a fair amount mixing of the races. The result… Some of the most stunning women you’ll ever see. That might also be true of the men, but to tell you the truth, I didn’t notice.

This must be why the majority of the street vendors in Port au Prince seemed to be selling items guaranteed to “keep your jack up.” The majority of roadside billboards concentrate on the amazing aphrodisiacal properties of the products they are promoting. My favorite was for Guinness showing a large muscular black arm with a clenched fist. The headline read… “It give you plenty Jack, Man.”

Certain neighborhoods of Port of Spain have the highest concentration of bars to be found outside of Bangkok, all of which come with hot and cold running girls in every shape, color and variety you could imagine. You should also understand that a film crew let lose under these circumstances can blow an extraordinary amount of money on stuff you wouldn’t want your kids to know about, most of which got billed back to the agency, which proceeded to mark everything up twenty per cent and pass it on to the client.

One night we were in a place called “The Big Bamboo.” Funny how every exotic location seems to have at least one establishment with that particular moniker. Behind the bar was a great big trophy. Robin, the director, asked the bartender what it was. “That,” he replied, “was when I won the Caribbean Cocktail Championship with my Port of Spain Punch. Would you like one?” “Certainly” replied Robin.

The barman then proceeded to fill the world’s biggest blender with several quarts of assorted booze, a splash of various juices, some fruit, and then a magic ingredient he shielded from us, in case we should steal his recipe. Although, knowing Trinidad, it was probably a pound or two of primo class ganja. A spin in the blender, then a pour into a bucket sized glass, topped off with fruit garnish, a Trinidadian flag, a parasol and a green plastic monkey.

robin_hardyWe watched as Robin (left) polished it off. Placing it on the bar, he exclaimed “By God that was good. I’ll have another.” The procedure was repeated, as Robin glugged back another drink containing enough alcohol to gag a stoat. To our amazement, Robin ordered a third. You have to understand that Robin, a nice guy and excellent film director, was very much a product of the English upper classes, so obviously, he was trying to prove he was one of the lads. Unfortunately, half way through his third Port of Spain Punch, he passed out and fell off his bar stool. We immediately took him back to his room, where he slept like a baby for two days. The rest of us stayed in the Big Bamboo for those same two days. And a good time was had by one and all.

In the meantime, the producer was Telexing back (remember the Telex?) reports of our somewhat tardy progress, explaining the delays in the schedule, and the need for ever increasing amounts of money that had nothing to do with the prodigious bar bills, wrecked planes, cars, boats and camera equipment, and last but not least, cash-only hookers and ganja supplies.

Indeed no, it was because, as you would expect in the tropics, you can’t trust the bloody weather.

Finally, we made it back, spent a month editing, recording music and announcer tracks whilst getting massive, painful, penicillin shots in the arse, in case we had picked up something nasty at the Big Bamboo. But, at the end of the day we cut eighteen rather incredible spots. Yeah. We spent a shitload of money, but the campaign was a big success and ran for two years. McVitie’s, God bless ’em, sold a shit load of biscuits.

And the “Mums” of Britain could enjoy guilt free afternoons.

As for me… I can still feel those prophylactic needles in my arse!

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About George Parker

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George Parker has spent 40 years on Madison Avenue. He’s won Lions, CLIOs, EFFIES, and the David Ogilvy Award. His blog is adscam.typepad.com, which is required reading for those looking for a gnarly view of the world’s second oldest profession.” His latest book, Confessions of a Mad Man, makes the TV show Mad Men look like Sesame Street.