Conversations With Spirits

By E O Higgins

The story of a dissipated genius in a borrowed hat and coat

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

He came, he saw, he conga'd...

I'm clearly something of a philistine.

I realised this this morning, when I listened to a piece of classical music on the radio - and, whilst I didn’t know its name, I did recognise it as the music from the Hamlet television commercials from the 1980s.

You don’t see a lot of cigar advertising on television anymore. This may be because people smoke less - or perhaps it says more about Gregor Fisher’s ability to dazzle an audience - but the main reason is that, in 1991, the advertising rules changed… 

Alcohol was brought under much stricter control (basically, you could no longer attempt to persuade people to drink in TV ads), whilst tobacco advertising on television was banned outright. 

Though at no point in my youth did I feel inclined to smoke a cheroot in a photo booth, it did occur to me this morning that – when I was in primary school, at least - the television advert most revered by myself and school friends was for a brand of lager. 

George, the Hofmeister bear, was our hero. 

If you don’t remember him, he was a woolly-faced brown bear with a pork-pie hat and a shiny yellow bomber jacket. 

Always a bear of the people, George looked equally happy turning out some fancy flicks on the football pitch (with  slip-on shoes and six inches of white towelling sock showing), as he did holed up in some boozer with the lads, tipping his hat to the fuzzy-permed ladies. 

I liked George’s style – to the point where I actually bought the hat (though not the lager). I suppose, because my peer-group grew up after Happy Days first aired, George was our Fonzy. He was the very pinnacle of what we thought was cool. 

Sure, we liked the Honey Monster too (a fellow woolly-faced advert personality), but he was primarily concerned with eating honeyed oats – whereas,  gorgeous George  was all about pub sports, chasing ladies and performing deft Michael Jackson-inspired dance moves on the bar counter in front of an adoring fan-base of spiky-haired men. 

Then, of course, he’d knock back three pints of weak, faux-German lager and saunter off – causing the rabble of slack-jawed onlookers to gather behind him in a conga-line. 

They were ‘following the bear’ of course. This being the tag-line of the advertising campaign… 

But, in fact, in those heady pre-1991 days, it was the not-quite-adolescent men of Britain that really followed George. 

At no time, before or since, would a school disco be plagued by swathes of unruly nine-year-old boys hell-bent on taking things to the next level – through the medium of conga! 

But that was George’s gift. And, perhaps, that is truly the power of advertising.

(Watch George is action here.)

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Karen Baines
 Karen Baines says:

You philistine! Everyone knows the John Smiths big bad John adverts were the best beer adverts. Tut

posted 26th September 2012

E O Higgins
 E O Higgins says:

Did those adverts incite people into displays of sporadic conga-ing?

I think not.

posted 27th September 2012

Karen Baines
 Karen Baines says: I rest my case. Sadly though, I cannot find the big bad John adverts. Even more sadly I looked for some time. However they were only ever shown in the North apparently, which explains your homage to a slightly inferior dancing bear :)

posted 27th September 2012

E O Higgins
 E O Higgins says:

Wasn't it 'Big Bad Dom'? And wasn't it about a gun-slinging bottle of bleach? Or am I thinking of something else...?

posted 29th September 2012

Karen Baines
 Karen Baines says:

No, no, no!
Big bad Dom was something else entirely, although both were parodies of Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean.
Ok, they did not inspire displays of sporadic conga-ing, but they did inspire a generation of underage drinkers in the north of England :p

posted 6th October 2012

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