30 Dec 2011

Church Hill - Ford Fiesta advertisement (1979)


...and now a commercial break! The actor Jeff Rawle had been known for playing the title role in the television version of Billy Liar a few years earlier and has had a long career with shows such as Drop The Dead Donkey and Hollyoaks. Playing opposite him (quite literally) in this ad is David Janson, himself well known at that time for his part in the RAF based sitcom Get Some In.

I witnessed this being filmed (and if memory serves it really was celluloid) on a day in 1979. What was extraordinary was the sheer scale of the production.  Church Hill and Red Lion Street were closed off for the day. Church Hill was made to appear bi-directional with two rows of cars positioned between Sheep Lane and the market square. All the usual paraphernalia of a film crew was there, giant lights, huge camera, vans and lorries, scores of technicians and extras all headed by a director in a sheepskin coat hollering orders through a megaphone. At his command "two-thousand eight hundred and forty-nine pounds" the cars would move off and carry on until the shout of "cut". Then the cars would be reversed back into position and the whole process started again.

Everything you see on screen was part of the production, every car and driver and the passers by. There are two girls who spent the day walking a few steps down the hill then back up again to their start position, they are barely visible for the few seconds they appear. I don't know how many takes were done but I saw several in the course of about an hour and the crew were there all day.

That they were filming a car advertisement  was quite obvious so I knew what to look out for. Even so, when it did finally appear a few months later I'd seen it a couple of times before I realised it was the one I had seen being shot ... the Midhurst part forms only 15 seconds of the final commercial.

The car itself was the Ford Fiesta Popular, a new version of Ford's smallest car cut down to a minimum specification and at a price that (allegedly) would make a mini owner jealous.  I couldn't help feeling though that they could have cut another hundred or so off if they hadn't spent so much on the ad.

Why Midhurst was chosen I have no idea, it would not be well known to viewers (unlike, for instance, the Albert Hall or Piccadilly Circus seen later in the commercial). The same part of Midhurst was used some thirty years later in episodes of Foyle's War.  I wonder if perhaps anyone involved with Foyle had earlier worked on this Fiesta advertisement?

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