May 25

GEN!US Moment #1: Berny Stringle

Name: Berny Stringle (Profession: Commercials Director)

Back in the 1960s and 1970s Berny Stringle was one of the Top Names in advertising. As a Commercials Director, he was responsible for multiple ads involving everything from the ‘Honey Monster’ (who loved munching Sugar Puffs) to the famous PG Tips chimps (who loved sipping tea). He even worked closely with John Webster – the director of the iconic ‘SMASH’ commercial – which involved aliens from outer space laughing at earthlings peeling potatoes, when they’d progressed to using ‘instant mashed potato’ instead.

Anyway, when I spoke with Berny yesterday about his award-winning PG Tips commercials, he shared this Genius Moment with me:

“It all started when I met someone called Alan Copp at a Vienna film festival, after he accidentally spilled red wine down my wife’s white dress. Alan worked in Advertising, and when we were back in the UK he told me that the PG Tips commercial he’d been orchestrating simply wasn’t working. His client – Brooke Bond – wasn’t happy !

Alan went on to explain that they’d been using a variety of top comedians to try to make the ads funny – like Bruce Forsyth and Bob Monkhouse – but for some reason nothing was hitting the mark. He also said they’d even searched for ‘funny gags about tea’, but to no avail. That’s when I suggested they took a very different approach.

The night before, I’d been watching an old black and white Laurel and Hardy movie where they’d shifted a heavy piano down some stairs. What if, Alan created an advert which was ‘funny’ to begin with (and then added the ‘tea’ bit in later) rather than trying to come up with a ‘funny’ ad about tea ? Better still, what if the spoken words looked like they were coming out of the chimps’ mouths rather than  actors’ mouths, with the chimps only in the background ?” As a result of this genius ‘twist of thought’ Bernie went on to direct the PG Tips ‘Piano down the stairs’ ad in 1971, and it entered the Guinness Book of Records as one of the most widely viewed ads of all time…