For me, nothing sums up Brexit Britain quite so perfectly as this comic gem from HHCL in 1996. In what first seems like a cringey corporate video, we are introduced to Tango spokesman Ray Gardner, a heady mix of David Brent and Nigel Farage.
Things quickly take an alarming turn when he launches a xenophobic rant against a foreign exchange student, “all hair gel and fancy loafers,” while stripping off to reveal his considerable gut. There’s a major pile-up of nationalistic tropes at the end, when we see this white middle-aged, middle manager strutting around a boxing ring perched on top of the white cliffs of Dover shouting: “Come on France, Europe, the world. I’ll take you all on,”, as Harrier Jump Jets fly overhead.
The script is a masterclass in comedy writing and the direction and execution are perfectly pitched. Crucially, this ad doesn’t take itself remotely seriously, unlike the vast majority of work we see today. Instead of obsessing over purpose and political correctness, it holds a mirror up to the absurdity of British hubris and makes us laugh at ourselves, which is a lot more fun and infinitely more powerful than being pompously preached at by a brand. Anyone wanting to know how to create an ad that can become part of the cultural fabric of the nation needs to watch this.
As an addition, I do remember Ray Gardner turning up at industry events at the time and after everyone had got over the “Oh wow its Ray,” stifle a yawn as he talked about his oeuvre. Bringing out the ‘stars’ of ads was a bit a trend at the time. Apparently Howard from the Halifax ad turned up to the BTAA’s (now The Arrows) and declared that fame hadn’t changed him. Before complaining that the champagne was warm.