Google Analytics

Saturday, 1 February 2020

New Month Old Post: The Vauxhall Griffin

(first posted 13th August, 2017)

Julian Orchard as the Vauxhall Griffin - TV ad 1973
Summer 1973 Vauxhall Griffin advert (click to play)

We were out of the office, auditing the books of a small Vauxhall dealership in Selby. The owner thought Vauxhalls nothing short of wonderful: the Viva, the Victor, the Ventora, the greatest value, the most reliable, the most beautiful cars you could buy. Why would anyone consider anything else? He told us to watch out for the new Vauxhall television advert to be shown for the first time that evening. It was going to be incredible.

The following morning he was seething.

“Did you see it last night? Bloody awful! I don’t know how they expect that to sell any cars. A great puffy bloke leaping around in tights! Who the hell’s going to buy a Vauxhall after that?” I wanted to ask whether he and his staff would be wearing the costume too.

Watching again now I can see what he meant. This dubious Jack-in-the-Green-type character, loitering behind bushes in what looks like the gardens of a crematorium, seems the kind of guy who might have difficulty passing a DBS check. What on earth was Vauxhall thinking?

Along with lots of other dealers, the owner was straight on the phone to Vauxhall and the ad was pulled within the week. I never thought I’d see it again. The company must surely have tried to erase it permanently from the history books. Yet like all things embarrassing, it has resurfaced on the internet.

Most commentators on YouTube dislike it too. They describe the character as creepy: “scares the kids...”, “... and the adults”, “if that thing appeared on my Vauxhall it would get shot”, “talk about a marketing mistake”.

Yet having now seen it a few times, I wonder whether Vauxhall should have persisted. Is the griffin any less disagreeable than the meerkats, dogs or opera singers of today’s ads? We might have warmed to him. We might have begun to find him likeable and amusing. The supercilious catchphrase “Like me!” might have caught on.

The actor was Julian Orchard in one of his typical roles: what Wikipedia describes as a gangling, effete and effeminate dandy. With his long horse-face he was one of the best and funniest comedy support actors in the country. He reminds me a little of the comedian Larry Grayson who before the nineteen-seventies was considered too outrageous for television. Perhaps we weren’t quite ready for this kind of campness in 1973.

Imagine a different outcome, the country taking the griffin to heart, a series of griffin ads: “You’re never alone with a griffin”, “Put a griffin in your tank”. Imagine a family of cuddly griffin toys, plastic griffin figurines free with every gallon of petrol, a griffin hit song on Top of the Pops, children in griffin outfits and Julian Orchard making his fortune. Sadly, he died in 1979 aged only 49.

The more I watch the ad the more I like it. It’s brilliant. Ahead of its time: “Like me!”

21 comments:

  1. Hmm, I must admit when I first watched the ad I thought it was a bit funny and I did think it might scare children. However when you brought up today's commercials I realized you are right. There are certainly some strange commercials on these days. Maybe if they improved on the costume a bit???

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They would probably do it with CGI graphics today.

      Delete
  2. Not sure I would have been scared by it as a kid; probably a mix of amused and annoyed. But then of course we did not have this on German TV and so we had our own set of characters on adverts that we loved or hated. Since there were only three channels, one of which was advert-free, everyone knew them all: Clementine, Meister Proper, Frau Sommer, Herr Kaiser... (washing powder, cleaning liquid, coffee, insurance) - to name but a few.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We had just the one channel (ITV) with adverts at that time. We used to play a game to see who could be first to say what was being advertised before the name came up - so yes, everyone knew them all. The griffin ad appeared very few times before it was pulled, maybe only once. I saw it because the garage owner had told me what time it would be on and I thought I'd better show interest by watching it.

      Delete
  3. I don't think I remember that ad, although I did have a second hand Vauxhall Victor back then. Bought for £20 and conked out by the time I got it home.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good job you weren't asked to play the griffin in the ad. I didn't like Vauxhalls - Morris Mini Vans for me - but I'd never have said that to one of the firm's clients.

      Delete
  4. It's done with such elan (of the 1970s variety).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Julian Orchard did everything with elan, but I thought the Elan was made by Lotus.

      Delete
  5. Your positive spin on this hopeless commercial is endearing but ultimately misplaced. I think of all the design and manufacturing processes involved in car production and how so many people were reliant upon the marketing team to boost sales. I imagine that team smoking spliffs at a brainstorming session and while exhaling Howard says, "How about a real live griffin man?"
    "Yo! That's so cool!" says Hermione. "Like a green man."
    "Pass that joint Howard," says Ron."And we'll have the cars snaking round the flower beds in a park and Griffinman would leap up into the tree and there'd be Ravi Shankar playing his friggin' sitar in the background..."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm surprised that after all these years you still feel so bitter that Julian Orchard got the part instead of you. It's not too late to ask Mrs P to make you a griffin costume to wear out on your walks.

      Delete
    2. Good idea! I'll just ask her...(pause). Charming! There's no way I'm telling the great Tasker Dunham to do that!

      Delete
  6. The image of loads of car-dealers with their heads in their hands has given me a good laugh. I didn't realise griffins had such fat arses.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's the only time I've seen a car dealer lose his cool. I really did want to make the quip about him having to wear the costume too but he would probably have reported me to the boss.

      Delete
  7. Everybody needs a champion and I'm glad you're this poor griffin's booster.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You haven't watched it enough yet. Trust me. Watch it 6 times and you'll see how brilliant it is.

      Delete
  8. I watched this far too many times to see if I could catch evidence of doubles for some of the scenes. I couldn't. These old American ears could not make out one bit of dialog near the end, when the griffin somersaults backwards onto the car and says "It's all going to happen at your Vauxhall dealer. Visit him to ? him up." That could be the most critical part of the ad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Did he do those acrobatic tricks himself? At the end he says "Visit him, you really must." I think the problem is partly the sound quality and partly the background music. The actor would probably be mortified by your comment - his articulation is quite precise.

      Delete
  9. I think someone was having a larf when they made that advert.
    still better than the car adverts today which swan over empty roads and switchback roads over the mountains.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's the silliness, as with compare the meerkat, the 'oh yes' dog and the go compare singer. With a bit of tweaking the griffin could be a winner these days.

      Delete
  10. It's pretty wild. The advert made me smile and I think the actor's portrayal wasn't as outlandish as it might be if the Vauxhall griffin were to come to TV sets today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Probably completely over the top. Hadn't thought of that.

      Delete

I welcome comments and usually respond the same day (unless it looks like you are trying to advertise something).