See Ridley Scott’s 1973 Bread Commercial—Voted England’s Favorite Advertisement of All Time

I have often thought that eat­ing some real­ly seri­ous brown bread is a bit like push­ing a bike up a very steep hill, a hill called “health.” So what a sur­prise to find that in 2006 a poll of 1,000 Britons vot­ed this 1973 ad for Hov­is bread as the Favorite British Com­mer­cial of All Time. And none oth­er than Rid­ley Scott direct­ed it. Indeed, this sto­ry of a young lad deliv­er­ing bread by bicy­cle up a steep cob­ble­stone min­ing-town street is laced through with nos­tal­gia and a sen­ti­men­tal use of Dvorak’s “New World” Sym­pho­ny. (So beloved is it that Brits often request the clas­si­cal work on radio as “the Hov­is music.”)

Before Rid­ley Scott became a block­buster film direc­tor, he cut his teeth by direct­ing episod­ic tele­vi­sion in the UK, and then form­ing an adver­tis­ing pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny with his broth­er Tony called RSA Films (Rid­ley Scott Asso­ciates). Accord­ing to Scott, he was involved in the pro­duc­tion of rough­ly 2,700 com­mer­cials over the company’s 10 years.

This icon­ic ad was one of sev­er­al he direct­ed that year for Hov­is, but this is the one that stuck. It might be the sim­plic­i­ty of the ad, the Sisyphean strug­gle of its young pro­tag­o­nist (who at least gets to eas­i­ly ride home), or any num­ber of fac­tors, but it would be a stretch to real­ly see the auteur in this film. If any­thing, it’s rem­i­nis­cent of his kitchen sink meets French New Wave short film from 1965, “Boy and Bicy­cle,” which is inter­est­ing more as an odd­i­ty and a star­ring vehi­cle for his broth­er than a great film.

The Inde­pen­dent tracked down the boy in the Hov­is ad, Carl Bar­low, who was 13 at the time, but is now 57 and a retired fire­fight­er.

“It was pure fate that I got the part as the Hov­is boy. I was down to the last three, and it turned out that one of the two boys could­n’t ride a bike, and the oth­er would­n’t cut his hair into the pud­ding bowl style — it was the Sev­en­ties after all. As the only boy who could ride a bike and would cut his hair, I got the part.”

This year, as part of an ad cam­paign for Evans Bicy­cles, Mr. Bar­low made his way to the top of the hill one more time, with the help of an elec­tric bike:

The orig­i­nal com­mer­cial is not Rid­ley Scott’s most famous one. That would go to his Apple Mac­in­tosh “1984” ad that screened dur­ing the Super Bowl. This list shows a few more that Scott direct­ed, into the 1990s.

Final­ly, an icon­ic com­mer­cial invites par­o­dy, and, in fact, cher­ished come­di­ans The Two Ron­nies made fun of the Hov­is ad in this brief skit from 1978.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rid­ley Scott Walks You Through His Favorite Scene from Blade Run­ner

Rid­ley Scott Talks About Mak­ing Apple’s Land­mark “1984” Com­mer­cial, Aired on Super Bowl Sun­day in 1984

How Rid­ley Scott Turned Footage From the Begin­ning of The Shin­ing Into the End of Blade Run­ner

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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  • Hovis Dvorak says:

    Is this Britain’s favourite TV ad or Eng­land’s favourite TV ad? The writer seems con­fused.

  • Roy Grubb says:

    Small cor­rec­tion — this is set on Gold Hill, Shafts­bury, Dorset, which is not a min­ing town (unless you count a cou­ple of quar­ries). The voiceover accent and the min­ers’ brass band sound­track paints a love­ly pic­ture of the warmth of peo­ple in the North of Eng­land, but this is filmed in the South West.

    Great work on Open Cul­ture, long may you con­tin­ue.

    PS my favourite add is John­nie Walk­er — The Man Who Walked Around The World — worth a watch

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