It's quite hard to imagine Ridley Scott as an eager young director.
A map marked with possible sites for filming Hovis TV commercials demanding an atmosphere of nostalgia can be found tucked inside the Hovis Archive files held at the History of Advertising Trust (HAT). The map is a tiny but fascinating ‘documentary crumb’ reflecting how nostalgia became an evocative part of the brand’s advertising in the 1970s.
Think of the name Ridley Scott and sci-fi films like Alien, Blade Runner or Prometheus, maybe historic epics like Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven or his latest offering Exodus: Gods and Kings… the list goes on, immediately come to mind.
Scott is renowned for storytelling and the atmospheric visual impact of his work regardless of the genre. He directed the celebrated series of much-loved Hovis commercials, including Bike Ride featuring a bakery delivery boy pushing his bicycle up a cobbled Gold Hill in Shaftsbury, Dorset, first screened in 1973. It had a 10-day re-run in 2006 to mark the 120th anniversary of Hovis, set up as flour millers and distributors in 1886 but only later diversifying into bread making.
Scripts, stills, photographs and notes associated with the 1970s Hovis series of commercials help to recreate their back-story. A cine film taken on set during the shooting of the Homecoming commercial – the one about a soldier returning to his community after World War I and his welcome home – shows behind-the -scenes activities, including Scott sawing wood to help dress the set. This rare film has now been converted into digital format by HAT so it can be easily viewed by researchers on screen.
The notes for the 1977 Runaway commercial – the story of the young boy running away from home but being persuaded to return by the postman – provide the breakdown of the production company’s quoted costs. The director’s fee was £2,250, while the producer’s fee was £450 and £6,310 for the crew for three days. Other costs included £200 for walkie-talkies and smoke machine, £900 for catering and £1,350 for editing.
Scott came to directing via the BBC, which he joined in 1962 as a trainee set designer. While there he attended a directors’ training course and his first job was for an episode of the popular police series Z Cars.
Attracted by more lucrative opportunities offered in advertising, Scott, with his younger brother Tony Scott, formed the advertising production company RSA Films (Ridley Scott Associates) in 1968 and spent the next 10 years making some of the best-known and best-loved TV commercials, many for the innovative Collett Dickenson Pearce advertising agency. He has claimed to have been involved in the production of “roughly 2,700 commercials”.
“Biographers of Ridley Scott will find HAT to be a mine of information, not only by viewing the Hovis Archive but also by accessing other collections containing complementary documents, such as the J Walter Thompson (London) advertising agency archive” says Alistair Moir, HAT’s Archive Collections Manager. Amongst its rich seams can be found an internal memo from Jeremy Bullmore dated 1965 and addressed to ‘All Producers’. Headed “Ridley Scott”. It begins: “I have recently met and talked to this young Director and would very much like to bring him to your attention...”