What inspires the Director behind so many classic commercials?
Everyone knows Graham Rose’s commercials. Having started his career as a Creative at in what many would consider the glory days of advertising, he moved on to direct some of the most legendary ads this country has ever seen, from Hamlet Photo Booth to Heineken Extreme Prejudice. And for many years he was one of the names above the door of legendary production company Rose Hackney Barber.
Decades on he’s still in the ad directing game, represented by Believe Media and still making people chuckle. We wanted to know what inspires him in his work to this day, so we asked him to name five of his biggest inspirations.
“I’ve had plenty of heroes over the years and I’m not sure to what degree they’ve influenced my work,” says Graham, “but here’s a few memories of exceptional people that stand above the rest. It’s hard to define why but I think they all shed a highly individual perspective on the human condition and uncover truths from our dark side. I like that stuff.”
“I grew up in the sixties and along with millions of other TV viewers I fell instantly under the spell of the greatest TV comedy duo Morecombe and Wise. The brilliant Eddie Braben had written a sketch that became the defining moment of their career and British comedy – a ‘special’ arrangement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto conducted by André Previn featuring Eric Morecombe on the piano.
The entire 12-minute sketch is one single ‘live’ take and is a virtuoso performance by Eric, Ernie and a superbly straight-faced Mr. André Preview. Eric, in serious concert pianist mode, presents Previn, in front of his orchestra, with the sheet music...
Eric: ‘Now I do hope sir that you understand all these squiggly lines’
Previn: ‘Yes, I think so, yes’
Eric: ‘Oh good, because the reason I ask is, the second movement is very important to me. You see in the second movement...not too heavy on the banjos.’
Ernie’s in bed knocking out another play ‘what he wrote’ and Eric is next to him reading a comic.
Ernie: ‘Look if you’re sitting in a draft why don’t you close the curtains?’
Eric gets out of bed, and walks over to the curtains just as an ambulance races by with the sirens wailing.
Eric: (Looking out) ‘He’s not going to sell much ice cream going at that speed, is he?’
That’s genius. For years after I used to try and get Ronnie Holbrook, my producer, to get me a special hotel room number on location shoots so that I could come back at the end of the day, waggle my imaginary glasses up and down at the receptionist and say ‘234 please, little Ern’. Oh how we laughed in Almeria. Well I did.”
“Stanley Kubrick: a remarkable director and his black comedy on the sixties ‘Cold War’ is still a masterpiece for many reasons. It was made soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis, a confrontation between Russia and the US over Soviet missile sites, blatantly satirizing the very real fear of nuclear war that existed then. Its impact lies in the way Kubrick handles crisis with comedy.
It stayed with me for a long time and I suppose was part inspiration behind the way I approached my own nightmare-comedy ‘mRs mEiTLemIeHr’. We built and shot a lot of my film at Shepperton Studios – it felt inspiring to know that Kubrick had created Dr. Srangelove along with his sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey on those same stages.
Kubrick had great vision. The design, lighting and mood of Dr. Strangelove runs contrary to it being a comedy. It looks and feels like a suspense drama and the characters are cleverly played on a fine line between dark reality and sharp satire. Its razor-sharp humour intensifies the madness of the situation. Kubrick’s casting in this film is superlative.
The jewel in the crown of this movie is Kubrick’s casting of the brilliant Peter Sellers, playing multiple roles as President Merkin Muffley, Group Captain Mandrake and the ex-Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove. Five stars for the Pentagon War Room set design by Bond movie production designer Ken Adam and the atmospheric black-and-white cinematography design by Gilbert Taylor, although I suspect Kubrick had more than a hand in it.”
“This guy was in a league of his own. The performance by Peter Sellers in the final scenes of Dr. Strangelove as President Muffley’s scientific advisor, fighting to control his Nazi arm is a rare and unforgettable cinematic gem. For me, his comedic brilliance never diminishes no matter how many times I watch him. Sellers apparently improvised his uncontrollable Nazi arm. The final moments of the film are Seller’s legacy.
Dr. Strangelove tries to deliver a solution to the aftermath of nuclear war whilst struggling his arm as it throws random Nazi salutes and tries to strangle him. His sense of physical comedy combined with his ability to transform himself into unique character creations was unmatched.
Collaborating with Blake Edwards, the creation of Inspector Clouseau is another Sellers masterpiece of character and comedic accident-prone mistiming. The Pink Panther movies still hold nuggets of pure Sellers gold, each demonstrating how a simple idea can build comedy tension and take us to an unexpected, hilarious punch line. One of my favourite Clouseau scenes is from The Return Of The Pink Panther.
The scene starts with Clouseau having been demoted to walking the beat in Paris. He turns a corner outside a bank and interrogates a blind accordion player about the legalities of playing in a public place without a ‘leesance’ while the bank is being robbed behind his back. The bank manager runs out, pulls a gun to take aim at the escaping thieves when Clouseau clobbers him across the back of his head with his stick.
Watch the video above right through to the dialogue pay-off with Herbert Lom, Clouseau’s Chief of Police.”
“Revolutionaries are few and far between in the advertising industry and no matter how ‘creative’ and ‘original’ the industry likes to think of itself it still finds it hard to buck trends, throw out the rule book and start again. However, when Joe Sedelmaier came along comedy ads changed forever.
If you’ve not heard of JS check out his stuff. He was the master practitioner of his own unique ad revolution. You wont find cool, young aspirational trendies, lovely mums or ‘real but nice’ slice-of-life casting in Joe’s ads.
‘WHERE’S THE BEEF??’ bellows a tiny, grisly eighty-year-old lady at burger joint servers in search of the beef. This old girl kicks the crap out of McDonalds in the hilarious Wendy’s burger campaign of 1984.
In a Southern Airlines spot for ‘one class’ travel, an unsuspecting businessman is delighted to find himself in the middle of a Roman Emperor-style champagne orgy as he boards an internal US flight until the snotty stewardess reads his ticket and tells him; ‘Second cabin please’. He walks through a curtain and is confronted by a cattle truck-style cabin filled with shivering Russian peasants and chickens. Sedelmaier’s immaculately positioned wide-angle lens and off-the-scale casting became the house style for the US award winning FedEx campaign.
If I had to award the greatest campaign of all time it would be tough choice between FedEx and Hamlet Cigars. Watching John Moschitta’s breathtaking performance in the fast talking man spot it’s hard to believe the film’s not speeded up. My favorite lines from the spot:
Secretary: ‘There’s a Mr Schnalliver to see you’
Boss: ‘Tell him to wait fifteen seconds’
Secretary: ‘Can you wait fifteen seconds?’
Businessman: ‘I’ll wait fifteen seconds’
My favourite spot from this campaign shows a day in a lifetime of disappointments of a depressed, downtrodden boss. My description will not do it justice, you’ll have to watch it.”
Life of Brian
“The funniest film of all time. British comedy reached its zenith when the Pythons created this ball-bustingly brilliant religious satire about Brian Cohen, who was unfortunate enough to be born on the same day and next door to Jesus Christ and is subsequently mistaken for the Messiah!
Unsurpassed since 1979, there’s not an unfunny moment in the whole film. God bless George Harrison for putting up the money to make it.
Brian is at his wits’ end, chased by a mob convinced he is the Messiah.
Mob Leader: ‘HAIL MESSIAH’
Brian: ‘I’m not the Messiah’
Mob Leader: ‘I say you are Lord, I should know I’ve followed a few’
Mob: ‘HAIL MESSIAH’
Brian: ‘Please listen I’m NOT the Messiah...Honestly’
Woman: ‘Only the true Messiah denies his divinity’
Brian: ‘WHAT! Oh Alright I am the messiah’
Mob: HE IS THE MESSIAH’
Brian: ‘Now FUCK OFF’
Mob Leader: ‘How shall we fuck off O Lord?’
This genius comedy stands the ‘laugh-out-loud’ test of time. Who can’t laugh at the mention of the Bigus Dickus scene, the ‘Welease Wodger’ scene, ‘He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy’ scene, the ‘We’re the fucking Judean People’s Front’ scene, the ‘Blessed are the Cheese makers’ scene, ‘What have the Romans ever done for us’ scene and finally the most cheerfully upbeat crucifixion ever filmed.
Altogether now... ‘Always look on the bright side of life...whistle, whistle, whistle...’"