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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 October 2005, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Miller's sexing up tale
The Magazine's review of advertising

Windy Miller advert
Molly (l), Windy, and unnamed jogger (r)

THE PRODUCT: Quaker Oats

THE BRIEF: Capitalise on porridge's retro-chic status

WHAT'S GOING ON? To the rhythmic creaking sound of the sails going round - something nearly as familiar to a certain section of the audience as the sound of their own heartbeat - Windy Miller walks out. He still manages to avoid being knocked sideways by one of the sails, effortlessly timing his stroll to perfection, just as he did in the 1960s children's TV programme Camberwick Green.

In one version of the advert, the narrator asks Windy why he is eating porridge instead of his usual fry-up.

Windy nods that it is because he's just got back the results of his cholesterol test, and that "super grains" are recognised to reduce cholesterol. The narrator suggests that Windy will be taking up jogging next, and as a pretty woman jogs by, Windy enthusiastically nods again.

Windy winking
Windy winking - not something he would have done back in the day
In the second version, the narrator asks why it is that Windy isn't going to work today. Just then a woman in a sports car pulls up and toots her horn. The narrator says: "Molly from The Feathers? You old rascal Windy." Windy jumps in the car, winks and puts his arm around Molly as they drive away.

Yes, Windy Miller has been sexed up. The very clear subtext - and it's one acknowledged by the producers and not simply in Ad Breakdown's filthy mind - is that Windy Miller is "getting his oats".

Created by Gordon Murray
Just 39 episodes in total
Camberwick Green: 1966
Trumpton: 1967
Chigley: 1969
See internet links for more
Everything of course has to be a bit "knowing" nowadays - a straight children's programme advert would not have stood out enough. Whether this is a good thing is matter of opinion.

It's not hard to see the logic behind it though. Porridge is a traditional, wholesome, healthy food. And yet now supermarkets report sales increasing by up to 70% in a year, and trendy diets like the GI Index embrace it. So the challenge is to make the most of this breakfast staple becoming modern and cool. Hence Molly from the Feathers in a sports car.


What is admirable in these adverts is the care that has been taken to make Windy authentic. Even the Quaker branding has been inconspicuously added to the sacks leaning against the windmill.

Gordon Murray, the creator of Camberwick Green, Chigley and Trumpton, originally constructed his models with table tennis balls, foam and wire, and made the films by moving the models frame by frame.

Agency: Abbot Mead Vickers, London
Copy writer: Dave Buchanan
Production: Loose Moose
Director: Ken Lidster
Puppets, sets: Artem
The entire kit was destroyed by Murray in a bonfire in his backgarden after the shows' final broadcast, so the production team for the adverts had to start from scratch, working from photographs and Murray's memory.

So the team remade the sets and the models, and used traditional stop-frame animation to get the right effect. The only concession to computer graphics is some steam coming off a bowl.

Brian Cant with Humpty
Brian Cant: 'I was very disappointed'
There is, however, one element which is not authentic: the narrator is Charlie Higson from the Fast Show, not Brian Cant, the much-loved voice of the originals.

Why choose Higson - fine performer though he is - when Cant is alive and well and still working (he's currently in rehearsals for a show, Still Playing Away, with old sidekick, pianist Jonathan Cohen).

Cant told Ad Breakdown that, yes, he had auditioned to do the voiceovers for the Quaker adverts, but that the producers had chosen Higson instead.

"I did a version of it, but they didn't think it worked," he says.

"They told me it didn't sound like me. I suppose I don't sound just as I did 40 years ago, but I was very disappointed. I would have thought that the viewers would have recognised my voice."

Ad Breakdown Extra

Norwich Union advert
Norwich Union advert

The current series of Norwich Union poster and newspaper adverts show four photographs, seemingly of the same person, at four stages of their life. They are a rare case of an advert you will happily stare at, inspect closely, and with any luck - from the advertiser's point of view - have a think about.

It's not actually a bad way to sell pensions and life assurance. This person has aged, despite the youthful bright eyes in the first picture, there are wrinkles and grey hair by the end.

So how are the ads made? Are they from some 49 Up-style project which has faithfully documented people's appearances over their lifetimes? Could it be part of some mass observation exercise, perhaps conducted by a former Soviet republic?

No. It's a bit of computer trickery. A father and son, or mother and daughter, who have a strong resemblance, have been selected. The first image in the series is the son/daughter, the fourth is the father/mother. The second image is a computer-aged version of the first, and the third is a computerised facelift of the fourth. It's a bit disappointing to discover this, but it's good work nevertheless.

Ad Breakdown is compiled by Giles Wilson.

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