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‘A Fresh Clean Smell That Could ONLY Be Masculine!’

Mark Simpson has a sniff around a classic men’s deodorant ad that reveals how far we’ve come – and also how some things never change

Back in the 1960s the mass-market ‘grooming’ of men by advertisers wanting to sell them vanity products was only just beginning its warm-up.

This rare and pristine copy of a 1968 UK cinema ad for men’s deodorant with the reassuringly martial name ‘Target’ (a brand that seems to have gone missing in the intervening half century) recently posted on the BFI website is a little gem of a gender time-capsule.

Starring working class hero and footballing legend Geoff Hurst, the ad points up how much has changed – post Beckham and Ronaldo. But also how some things haven’t very much. It contains some of the now tiresome tropes that can still be found in (bad) advertising aimed at men today, however the passage of time has rendered them so absurd here as to be rather endearing.

A couple of years earlier Hurst had scored a hat-trick for England in the 1966 World Cup Final – defeating West Germany. It was VE Day all over again, but without the rationing. Hurst became a national (war)hero overnight, passionately admired by millions of men.

Hence Hurst was the perfect patriotic package for pitching a hitherto sissy product like deodorant as heroic and masculine. (1960s heavyweight boxing champion and Cockney folk hero Henry Cooper would later be deployed in a similar fashion for Brut aftershave in the blokey bruiser’s famous “splash it on all ovah!” 1970s TV ads.)

Watch Target Geoff Hurst 1968 FIRST AID

Note how the “GOOD and STRONG” – the opposite of sissy – deodorant bottle is the same no-nonsense colours as the bandages in the locker-room first aid cabinet its kept in. Today, players’ changing rooms have had to be rebuilt to make their lockers big enough to accommodate their cosmetic-filled manbags.

Target is not sold as a cosmetic, heaven forfend, but as ‘protection’ – it’s the off-pitch version of the martial shin-pads Geoff wears before he heads onto the pitch and pretending, endearingly badly, to be hard-tackled on what seems to be a pitch made mostly of honest, manly mud.

In fact, the ‘protection’ angle is emphasised so much you wonder whether Target made prophylactics as well.

Note also the modesty-saving towel velcroed to Hurst’s chest – today the camera would be zooming in on his oiled, shaved, pumped pecs, and following him into the shower. And note the visit to the local boring boozer instead of a poncey bar selling them there dodgy foreign lagers.

And it would be impossible to miss the hysterical insistence by the fruity voiceover on the MANLINESS of this deodorant and the “MAN-SIZED protection” it offers: “With a fresh clean smell that could ONLY BE MASCULINE! … For men and MEN ONLY!”

Because of course most men in the UK in the 1960s didn’t use deodorant and were slightly suspicious of men who did.

Hurst is a man’s man from a man’s world of manly, smelly locker rooms, pitches, barracks, terraces and factories. But in case we still thought that there might be any ambiguity about his use of deodorant, despite the voiceover’s insistence, as the BFI website blurb points out, the ad is careful to show us that Hurst’s MANLY deodorant is definitely not for the benefit of MEN. Target is to be used ONLY after the match and locker-room towel-flicking is over – because it has a heterosexual aim.

Watch Target Geoff Hurst 1968 LADIES

Scrubbed-up, suited and booted and sprayed with the fresh clean MANLY smell of Target, Geoff has three ‘dolly-birds’ throwing themselves at him down the boozer (and maybe a fourth at the bar getting another round in). I hope he kept the shin-pads on.

Then again, for a previous generation of men such as some of the older ones we glimpse cheering on the MEN ONLY terraces in their cloth caps – who definitely aren’t the target market – young Geoff’s hanging out with all these women, with his hair all nice and his armpits ‘protected’ would likely have been seen as the height of effeminacy rather than a reassuring proof of heterosexuality.

He’ll be drinking from a stemmed glass next!

(Even worse, in just a couple of generations, he ended up swinging it around like this.)

Watch Target Geoff Hurst 1968 CAPS

h/t Brian Robinson

Army Dreamers: A Backwards Salute to Recruitment Films


by Mark Simpson, The Guardian

As a boy growing up in the 1960s and 70s I was raised to fight The Second World War all over again. Airfix models. Commando comics. Air tattoos in June. Watching The Battle of Britain and The Longest Day on telly with my dad, just so I’d know what to do if I ever found myself pinned down on a Normandy beach or with an Me 109E on my tail.

All of which made me easy prey to an RAF recruiting film about a buccaneer squadron training sortie from Gibraltar, set to a Vangelis soundtrack. I promptly signed up to the air cadets and spent Tuesday afternoons and a week or two in the summer hols wearing itchy shirts and a Frank Spencer-style beret, learning how to march without falling over. I loved it, and would probably have signed up for the real thing if it hadn’t been for a sixth-form flirtation with Quakerism.

Alas, that old recruiting film isn’t included in They Stand Ready, a new collection of Central Office of Information (COI) armed forces recruitment and propaganda shorts made between 1946 and 1985, released by the BFI. But several similar ones are, including Tornado (1985), about a simulated attack on a Warsaw Pact surface-to-air missile site, and HMS Sheffield (1975), about life onboard a Royal Navy frigate (that was later hit by an Exocet during the Falklands war with the loss of 30 lives).

With their promise of escape from humdrum life, opportunities for new mates, good times, foreign travel and playing with really expensive toys – though strangely silent on the possible physical cost – these films offer a glimpse into the listless, regimented world that was mid-to-late 20th-century civilian Britain, waiting impatiently for Xboxes, EasyJet, the internet and proper drugs to turn up.

Perhaps it’s because prime minister David Cameron is around the same age as me – or possibly because the armed forces, or at least the army, are still largely run by lah-de-dah Ruperts like him – that he seems so nostalgic for this vanished old world. Cameron recently vowed to make the forces “front and centre of national life” and “revered” again, in a speech to UK personnel in Afghanistan.

Not that increased prominence is a guarantee of increased reverence, however. A short celebrating national service, They Stand Ready (1955), which dates from a year before the Suez debacle punctured the UK’s global pretensions, recalls the last time that the armed forces really were front and centre of national life. Yet conscription proved to be highly unpopular – both with most of those who had to do it and those who had to find something to do with them.

Once the last national servicemen left the ranks in 1963, army life could then be sold as something glamorous and exciting instead of an onerous black-and-white duty. This is exactly what Ten Feet Tall (1963), a rock’n’roll-soundtracked recruiting film does in glorious Technicolor. It showcases a matinee-idol young Scottish squaddie’s ruddy complexion, perfect white teeth, and the (now ominously) nicotine-stained fingers of the army careers officer.

• The COI Collection Volume Three: They Stand Ready, a BFI DVD release, available from July 2010

 

Crims Ain’t Wot They Used To Be

Mark Simpson on the way public information films about policing and justice throw an arresting light on our recent past

The London Times

Some trace the demise of the British way of life to the day when RAC patrolmen stopped saluting. In fact, as Police and Thieves, a marvellous two-DVD collection of historical documentaries on policing and the justice system from the vaults of the Central Office of Information, shows, the rot set in when bobbies stopped wearing skin-tight white gloves.

The reassuring paraphernalia of policing that I remember dressing up in as a kid to play cops and robbers has pretty much disappeared from our streets today, along with kids playing cops and robbers (everyone wants to be a robber). But in The British Policeman, in 1959 to teach the Commonwealth about the Mother Country, is nothing less than porn for hardcore nostagalics. Pointy helmets and chunky handcuffs, shiny whistles, wooden truncheons, police boxes and those white gloves — perhaps intended as a reminder that, as the very received-pronunciation voiceover intones, “The British policeman is a friend to all except the criminal … he is taught that he is the servant not the master of the public.”

And not a high-visibility jacket or stab-vest to be seen. Back then bobbies were a comforting symbol of the order of British society and the invincibility of its class system. This is underlined by the way that no one shown in the film actually speaks: the clipped voiceover speaks serenely for everyone. Today, of course, police are seen only when there’s trouble — if you’re lucky.

Filmed in crisp black and white on a warm sunny day in a Leicester that looks more like Trumpton than a major Midlands industrial town, this was the high summer of Ealing Englishness, before the 1960s ruined everything. The clumsy propaganda of The British Policeman, like many COI films collected here, is easy to ridicule now — and probably was then too — but it also provides a priceless glimpse of a world that now seems at least as quaint and foreign to us as it did to its intended audience.

No one, except the avuncular bobby protagonist of the film, is overweight. Almost everyone in what may soon be Britain’s first majority non-white city is Caucasian, save for a Commonwealth gentleman at the beginning of the film who asks our helpful bobby for directions. Middle-aged women wear scarves like hijabs. Sullen bequiffed Teds hang around all-night coffee stands. Our bobby helps old ladies to cross the road, untangles schoolboys’ fishing lines caught in trees and attends to a pig-tailed girl’s grazed knee. Proving he’s no pushover, he also apprehends a burglar in a donkey jacket, his pocket full of chisels, who practically shrugs and says, “Fair cop, guv”. Only one female PC makes an appearance, turning up to babysit a runaway girl who has been hanging around with the Teds.

This world thought it was going to last for ever, but the end was waiting just around the corner, cosh in hand. In Unit Beat Policing, a 1968 recruiting film, the white heat of technology has replaced white gloves — and bobbies. Filmed in Chester, it’s a celebration of hardware: panda cars, walkie-talkies, central radio control, electric typewriters and “collecting information”, complete with a Z-Cars-style theme tune. A technocratic chief constable enthuses: “A squad car can do the job of five men on the beat. Which in turn allows us to spend more money on technology that saves manpower . . .”

No female PCs are to be seen in 1968 either, but we do see some women pushing prams and a gossipy lady reports a neighbour for being unmarried, living with a girl, not having a job and generally being shifty. By 1973 in another recruitment film, Anything Can Happen, excitement is now the selling point: big sideburns, action, mateyness, sexism: Life on Mars without the irony. While the young male bobby protagonist is now allowed a voice (albeit a slumming RADA one), female PCs are just dumb bait for recruiting male PCs — two years before the Sex Discrimination Act.

In the 1970s the COI started to move away from documentaries and towards the TV shorts that it is most famous for. Bicycle Thefts (1974) stars a suspiciously pretty, fey young man in a fedora and cravat who seems to have inspired much of David Walliams’s oeuvre: “I’d rather not say what was in my saddlebag. It’s personal.”

Police and Thieves also includes some COI documentaries showing the workings of the post-war justice system: Four Men in Prison (1950), Probation Officer (1950), and the remarkable Children on Trial (1946) (pictured). The public-school paternalism of the age is evident in all these films: “At work and at play we expect you to act like men — we run a civilised, high-class community,” says one governor in his welcoming speech to the new intake. But it is a surprisingly enlightened paternalism that has rather more faith in human nature and rehabilitation than we do today. The future turned out to be much more democratic, but also much less forgiving than class-bound Britain, white gloves and all.

Police and Thieves, the COI collection, Vol 1 is released by bfi

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