This is the first of my projected TVC critiques,and I thought I'd start on something that's so clear cut as to be unfair.
Telecom, with its budget of mega-gazillions, wanted to launch a new product. OK, not a new product. A product that all Vodaphone subscribers had been using for years - but a product / service that was new for Telecom's patient, long-suffering customers.
And they went at it with a hiss, a roar, and a flub, flub, flub, as the air went out of their tyres.
I can see the Agency's board room now. They were thinking power. They were thinking mass appeal. They were thinking that what their clients and prospective punters wanted was... Richard Hammond. The Hamster. And, to be fair, the pre-launch commercial looked good. American fighter planes, flash speedboats, race cars, Hammond, dressed as the first evil Stig, in a pair of fireproof overalls that are seven sizes too large. Didn't they know Hammond's tiny?
The they looked for a nest, found their own, and crapped in it by carrying the theme on. With Hammond theatrically wincing. With Hammond doing all those cute little Hamster things he's famous for. Oh - and I'd give a doubling of my Telecom bill to have heard the conversations around Telecom's water coolers as they discussed the stock footage of the "their" speedboat turning up in a Lexus commercial this week. Somehow, it's fitting.
They had Hammond wincing and cringing as he statically read some static lines off a Tel-E-Prompter, as a New Zealand fashion designer looked "cross" and "embarrassed" in various places around the world, as she showed that the new service worked in Australia, London, and, oh, there. They had the Hamster taking a photograph of a jet boat with an 800 horsepower that generates 8 gees but no whizz, and - get this - sending a photograph before the boat crossed a finish line. Wince.
It was embarrassing, poorly conceived, and so bloody foreign. It resonated with two or three of the throngs of Kiwis who watch "Top Gear", and the dozens who can afford a flash new designer-label frock.
Compare it to the new 2 degree commercials. A brand-spankin' new company that managed, in a nanosecond, to make themselves a million times more Kiwi than Telecom. Damned if I know who are backing 2 degrees financially. Don't care, either - their TV commercials scream New Zild. Why? Oh, yeah: home-grown talent, home-grown humour, and commercials that stay on message. Does anyone doubt that Rhys Darby had a big hand in writing the scripts? Loggo? I hang out, waiting to hear that line. New Zealand locations... out on a farm! Not in a high-tech studio that looks as though it might well have been TV1's newsroom two years ago.
Telecom 2 out of 10. 2 degrees? 9. Conservatively, that is.
TIME FOR MORE HENRY
Even the thickest fog dissolves under heat.
Q: Looking back on it, can you describe just how difficult it was? For you?
A: It was Mary who helped me. It has always been that way, and always will be. Always, of course, having a somewhat short-term sound to it now.
You know, I can’t figure out right now whether I’m a human-shaped pain, or a pain-shaped human. I didn’t think this sort of pain was possible.
Q: Why won’t you take some relief?
A: No. Perhaps later. The first week after I had been told that my days were numbered, and the total of numbered days was less or may be less than 180, was a blur. Of course, my little adventure outside the bank had helped crystallise a few things for me. The sudden, awful, realisation that life can indeed be measured not in years or months or indeed days but in nano-seconds brought me up short.
I think it can be fairly said that I have never given the appearance of being an imaginative man, but, in truth, I think that I am not unimaginative. It is entirely possible that I am not a demonstrative person, that I am guilty, if that’s the right word, of maintaining a certain decorum in my demeanour regardless of the circumstances.
Well, as Yogi Bera said: I yam what I yam. Or was it Mayer?
And for those first few days, what I was, was scared. But I was also exultant.
Joe Know told me that there are seven stages we go through when anticipating death: fear, anger, bargaining, rejection, begging, depression, and acceptance. They are similar to the seven stages of grief: one grieves and weeps for what will not be.
And the thing that was not to be was, of course, me.
Q: You had no doubt about that? About the lack of being?
A: Oh, absolutely not. I was convinced that death was final. All things considered, still am. You, of course, may beg to differ.
Q: Oh no. No. It’s entirely your own affair.
A: Well, then. At the very least you’re polite. Let’s move on.
After telling Mary, that first evening, I had the task of telling the rest of my family. Indeed: our family. This, it transpired, was uncommonly difficult. Charlie, of course, knew: she had been with us that first evening. Even now, after so much has happened, I remember that night with a startling clarity. I look back on it, and it is looking through a glass, lightly and clearly.
I had decided, perhaps uncharacteristically, that I was going to resign my position at McAlester, Brunton, and Whey, Barristers and Solicitors. Young Jimmy Fletcher did me an enormous favour. I had initially thought, after my discussion with Joe, that I would carry on as before, ensuring that all loose ends were tied, that I would leave Mary well established, with a nice income, and so on, and then just shuffle off this coil quietly and unobtrusively. Like an old cat going down the back of the garden to die among the nasturtiums and pumpkin vines.
Then Jimmy came along with his silly little gun, and I got shot.
It was a great day of firsts for me: it was the first time I had ever been told I was going to die. It’s not something we dwell on, really: intellectually, we know we’re mortal. In an abstract way, we suspect that death is our ultimate destination. However, we also suspect that it is going to happen to someone who is far older than we are: the death of Henry Talbot was going to happen to a Henry Talbot I didn’t know. At least, that’s the way it was, until Joe Know stuck his nose into my affairs and brought the date, and the reality, forward a bit. Six months, he had told me. It had rocked me somewhat, but by the time I was getting my money from the ATM I had come to a sort of understanding, a stoical and completely ridiculous acceptance, of the fact that I was going to be a 95 kilogram slab of dead Talbot in six months time. Possibly more, possibly less. Then there was the Jimmy incident, and my second first of the day: I got shot.
Now, you’ll notice that I said that I got shot. I did not say Jimmy shot me, because he didn’t. I had hit him very hard, three times, and his finger tightened on the trigger. I hit him because I was starting to feel the initial rage that all but consumed me in that first week or two.
Q: A little earlier you said it was fear.
A: Did I? Fear, rage, what’s the difference? Is there a difference? I don’t know that there is. I rage because I am scared, I am fearful because of my anger. Don’t you see? I had spent a lifetime of being in control. And, for Pete’s sake, please stop interrupting. Just let me tell the story in my own way. I’m sure any little contradictions will be straightened out.
After all, what are we but a mess of contradictions?
Q: I only meant –
A: Sod what you only meant. I don’t care what you “only meant”. If I must tell this story, then you butting in every five minutes isn’t going to be helpful. Frankly, I’d rather tell you to sod off completely, but I’m not sure that that’s an option.
A: Right. As I thought. Now, where was I? Ah, yes: Jimmy. I was invited to attend Jimmy’s trial, and condemn him there. Find me one who is without sin, I say. And, to be fair, I was preoccupied with other matters: more on that later.
Mary understood almost immediately that my getting shot was the best thing that could have ever happened to me, regardless of the illness. My Mother, who can be an appalling creature at times, has told me that she thought it was delightful.