Page last updated at 10:05 GMT, Monday, 23 June 2008 11:05 UK

Why Glasgow was 'miles better'

By Reevel Alderson
Home affairs correspondent, BBC Scotland

Mr Happy on the city chambers
Mr Happy has a special relationship with Glasgow

It is 25 years since Glasgow officially became "miles better", with the launch of the now famous advertising campaign.

Although it was a low-key launch in June, 1983, the campaign featuring the children's book character Mr Happy achieved world-wide recognition and gave an impetus to a declining city which is still being felt today.

Throughout the 1970s the heart had been torn out of what had been the second city of the Empire.

Traditional industries such as ship-building, steel-making and engineering had declined, the population had fallen by 20% throughout the decade, and there was an air of depression.

The unlikely saviour was Mr Happy and the punning title Glasgow's Miles Better - or was it Glasgow Smiles Better?

We turned the economy round, and that legacy is still being felt today
Dr Michael Kelly
Former lord provost

Professor Stephen Ward, of the department of planning at Oxford Brookes University, has written widely about the way in which cities can improve their images.

He said Glasgow's lord provost and the advertising executive John Struthers had been impressed by the 1977 "I Love New York" campaign with its heart symbol, and wanted to do something similar for the Scottish city.

"Struthers realised it was a good idea to get something like that - a very recognisable figure that people could smile at - into the slogan," he said.

"It was a case of ringing up Roger Hargreaves, the creator of the character, and Mr Happy became an honorary Glaswegian."

Despite a limited budget, the campaign was so successful that it was launched nationwide in 1984.

Dr Michael Kelly, Glasgow's lord provost at the time, provided much of the energy to revitalise his city - and its image.

"The legacy was a permanent change in attitude towards Glasgow, exposing the reality rather than the rather distorted image people had outside," he said.

"We changed the media's perception of the city. People began to look at it in a proper light and were able to make economic decisions based on that, so we got investment, we got employment.

"We turned the economy round, and that legacy is still being felt today."

'Friendliness and warmth'

Within five years of Mr Happy bursting onto the Scottish scene, Royal visitors had put their seals of approval on the progress being made by Glasgow.

The Queen had opened the Burrell Collection in Pollok Park, and the Prince of Wales inaugurated the 1988 International Garden Festival.

This took place on derelict former dockland, and was a great success with a mixture of cultural events and attractions such as the Coca Cola Roller Coaster.

As an intrepid reporter, I went some 80ft into the air to experience the ride.

Two years later, Glasgow became European City of Culture, marking a year of events which further helped cement its new image. Dr Kelly says it was all down to Mr Happy.

"It couldn't have happened without Glasgow's Miles Better, because the campaign allowed people to look at Glasgow in an accurate light - not in a particularly positive light - to assess the city.

"To look at our architecture, our Victorian heritage, the vibrant business spirit and the friendliness and warmth and determination of Glaswegians.

"That was all hidden under the image: we revealed that, and these things were able to happen after that."


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