70s SELLERS CIGARETTE AD
Sticking a celebrity in your commercial is certainly no recent fad, and to supplement his income Peter Sellers appeared in a quite a few – in fact a handful can be found on this highly recommended DVD. With a character as eccentric as Sellers there must assuredly be interesting stories attached to most of them, but I deem it unlikely that many are as convoluted as this one.
Back in the 70s, before cigarette advertising was banned outright in the UK, Benson & Hedges generously provided a series of stylishly wry commercials featuring such noted comedians as Terry Thomas and Eric Sykes. This particular entry was produced one Sunday in ‘72, squeezed into the schedule of a doomed pirate comedy called the Ghost of the Noonday Sun, and helmed by the same director, Peter Medak.
Said film would be left unreleased until it snuck out onto VHS 15 years later, and was reportedly a nightmare to produce, with Sellers on particularly bad behaviour. A juicy example found him holding up shooting for five days because he decided a vase in his Swiss home (some 1600miles away) might be facing the in the wrong direction.
The production of the commercial was no walk in the park either. When Medak came to shoot the money-shot of a golden pack of B&H glistening in the Mediterranean sun, unexpected issues arose. "Daddy" exclaimed Sellers "didn’t anyone tell you I can’t touch a cigarette packet? I simply can’t".
The reason for this: the erstwhile star of I'm Alright Jack was claimed to be the chairman of the Anti-Smokers League, contractually obliged to avoid ciggies like the plague. Likewise fellow-Goon Spike Milligan, his co-star in the ad and the aforementioned motion picture, was supposedly deputy chairman of the selfsame group. This left Medak in somewhat of a pickle, until holidaying friendJames Villiers stepped into the fray to earn enough from his appearance to pay off his bar tab.
What the chairman of an anti-smoking league was doing accepting nearly £40,000 (about £180,000 today) to flog fags to the public at large, whilst also (allegedly) engaging in excessive amounts of marijuana off screen is quite another matter...
Note - the original vid for this post was housed at my old, late, lamented Poptique channel on Youtube - and after an earful from Philip Morris it was duly deleted, and my account with it! Booooo! Thankfully YanickTheJoker bunged a new version online this version, aswell as three commercials Sellers made just before he left us, for Barclays Bank.