In the late 1980s, British Airways began trying to bust into the crowded American airline market. Initially, they tried to do this with a cutesy, more American approach, as in this ad where people come together to form a face that winks for some reason. Presumably, this was meant to demonstrate British Airways’ friendliness. However, something about the way it was assembled and filmed made it seem more foreign than welcoming, like a higher class version of a Mentos commercial.
So they went the other, more British route and made a commercial that showed how much better they were than everyone else. It featured a group of the stuffiest, stodgiest English actors ever giving performances that exuded the proper amount of staid attitude and catty bitchiness endemic to British businessmen.
The plot: There’s some hotshot in New York who “thinks he can tell us how to run things.” His rivals plot his downfall by forcing him to fly the red eye to London. “He’ll be hungry…and tired,” purrs one, sounding like John Heard as Caligula in I, Claudius. But their Machiavellian plot is thwarted by British Airways’ accommodating business class cabins. So when the young lion arrives in Ol’ Blighty, and one of his executioners queries, “Pleasant trip?”, his voice dripping with bile and sarcasm, Our Hero responds simply, “Yes, thank you.” The evil overlord’s face sags, realizing all at once that he’s been defeated.
This commercial–excuse me, advert–could only be more English if it was wearing a Man U jersey and chowing down on beans and toast. It made a very real, very deep impression on me as a young lad. Perhaps because I’d already been exposed to so much British TV via PBS. Between my dad’s love of Monty Python and my mom’s love of Masterpiece Theater, there was a lot of Anglophilia in my house growing up (despite my dad’s on-again, off-again Irish pride).
Watching it again as an adult, I’m impressed by the depth of performances by these wicked old hags who dream of luring their young rival to London “like a lamb to the slaughter.” It’s like a two minute version of House of Cards, with a triumvirate of Francis Urquharts.