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British Gas in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s

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  • British Gas in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s

    "Cook, cook, cook, cookability - that's the beauty of gas" so went the television advertisement of the 1980s, with white letters on a black background, surrounded by a tasteful blue flame alight. We looked at electricity board companies a couple of months ago, and so prior to British Gas also doing electricity (a bit like Radio Times taking ITV and Channel 4 schedules for the first time), let's have a look at what I would think as the halcyon days of what I would regard as being the BBC of utility companies (in other words, the default of that business). OK, British Gas is still going strong (I am one of their millions of customers, coming from an era where I almost had a different supplier for each day of the week, thanks to harassment from doorstep has-beens), but the "old school" version of them is what I would like to explore here. Instead of the word "cook", I used to sing along using a word that rhymed with "cook" and isn't very family friendly.

    Memories of half-term breaks out shopping with the family, often on our way getting a copy of the latest 300 page Argos catalogue, passing the local gas showroom in the City Centre (I am certain that it was still there until a couple of years ago, albeit empty for a while), when even that was regionalised on bills as EMGAS (the North East was NEGAS, South East was SEGAS, I believe, and so on), and seeing models of gas cookers on display, not with blue flame or Health and Safety reasons - my family had electric cookers, but we had a gas fire instead. I was surprised to see that the "cookability" (is that even a word?) slogan was used on adverts as early as 1974 if YouTube's off-airs have anything to go by. In 1978 Noel Edmonds had recently quit his Radio 1 Breakfast Show and let DLT become his successor, appeared "getting down" with the Travolta-esque disco dancers in one advert, advertising a kebab being cooked on a gas cooker, a few years before his late, late Breakfast Show.

    The advertising for gas cookers in around 1986 with the new cooker avoiding a "square peg, round hole" situation and slotting it perfectly into the corner of the kitchen where the pervious one stood - did that really happen in real life, especially when it was a case of "we'll leave it here and go" and not bother to wire the thing up? And that lovely advert where youngsters sung nursery rhymes and traditional songs while food was cooking in the oven "shortening bread" and "one potato, two potato" were two them. Another advert consisted of sounds like water into a pan and the knobs of the cooker being turned - I do remember at the time that the sounds did feel like the equivalent of nails being scraped down a blackboard. I am sure that the Sunday magazine supplements had these adverts in them at the same time as well.

    Once a year, the man in the blue boiler suit came to where I lived and gave out gas fire a clean for legal reasons, and it was often on the coldest days of the year when one desperately needed to get warm - one could see remains of the previous coal fire hole when the apparatus was briefly removed, and it was coal from when the house was built in the late 1920s until modernisation in 1974. Later in 1990 we had got a new gas fire and kept that until I moved away, and by then, it was the Landlord who did the arrangements. Recent years was when the man gave the fireplace a clean out on a weekday mid-morning while Ken Bruce was playing on the radio, usually PopMaster. In the adverts, the blue fame, synonymous with the company was a way of safety - a yellow flame was bad and dangerous while a blue flame was good - "as blue as the ocean" as one gasman said in a 1990s advert.

    British Gas adverts in the mid 1980s had Gary Watson or even Michael Aspel voicing over the 3 x 3 grid on screen with female sub-gospel singers singing about "Wonderfuel [sic] Gas", and remining us to look under G for Gas in the Phone Book - the BT nee GPO one rather than the Yellow Pages when they used to be inside phone boxes before they were stolen. Cue middle-aged man in a public phone box (even in the pre-Yuppie, house brick mobile phone era, for 1987 was still just about in the future), ringing the Gas people, about a gas leak or no gas at home. Cue some boiler-suited [sic] man coming to visit a housewife at her semi-attached suburban home whose husband is conveniently not there, (for he is an Executive or something and so is the breadwinner), and the gasman is there to attend to the boiler - and it always happened on days when it snowed in the advert. A post-Hopwood Brian Capron even played one of the gasmen in an advert that I saw.

    And then the 1980s was British Gas' finest hour (or decade), especially around 1986. Firstly, we had the Thatcherite shares offer in late '86, with the memorable "if you see see Sid, tell him" slogan - cue fisherman, milkmen and Mr Public trying to relay the message to the masses. This was also around the same time as the "get more for your Monergy" [sic] slogan - a portmanteau of "Money" and "Energy". Secondly, at the end of 1986 and towards the start of 1987, we had the sub-PIF from the gas company - cue a husband in an overcoat and scarf, and his wife coming home and reaching their front door - the husband looks uncannily like Donald Sutherland in Don't Look Now, but I know it wasn't him, and the wife looked nothing like Julie Christie, thank goodness. "Hey Brian, I can smell gas", the wife says to her husband while some creepy music was building up in the background. We see the couple opening windows, switching the gas off at the mains, being discourage to light a cigarette (for more reasons than one hopefully). And the huge shout of "NO!" by the husband just as the wife was about to switch the living room light on - it made any Australian soap opera episode cliffhanger boring in comparison.

    The final five seconds of the advert invited us to buy a national daily newspaper the next day (usually the red top or middle-market ones) to see a British Gas advert, usually near to the TV listings page, and telling us what to do if there is a gas leak - we were supposed to cut the advert out and keep it (I wonder if anyone has still got theirs?) and there was space to put that pre-Transco or National Grid number for your local emergency gas service. I put mine near the door of the living room for quite a long time, and we probably had just one gas leak in all that time which was sorted out before it got too serious. They appeared around January 1987 and was issued a few times throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. "DO's" and" DON'Ts" in the advertising merited me to send it to the Apostrophe Protection Society.

    And there were the adverts involving some female spokesperson in supposedly a British Gas showroom, speaking in her sub-BBC News presenter RP voice saying "we don't like to see people being cut off due to non-payment, especially as winter is coming, but we would like to help. Call this number or pick up this free leaflet from your local Gas showroom for information as to how we an help you save money". Sounded patronising considering that she was a Sue Lawley-alike presenter speaking in a very middle class way to someone who probably couldn't even afford a penny chew in the climate back then.

    By the early 1990s we got the "flicking thumb" gesture which well-parodied in around 1991, and the "don't you just love being in control?" in which even Joanna Lumley appeared in one advert at the time - one other advert from this time was a bit controversial due to complaints that it treated pensioners badly, although while writing this, I vaguely remember what that was about. The "being in control" slogan was even mentioned and parodied in that year's pantomime that I went to that year just before Christmas. By 1993 we had the lovely cartoon Great Britain map coming to life with isobars for a scarf and the tune of "crazy weather, I'm at the end of my tether" song, which even now sounds like it is from the 1940s and I haven't traced what it is called and who had sung it to this day.

    In 1996 the later Caroline Aherne (or Hook) with her screen son Craig Cash appearing as Mrs Merton and Malcolm appeared in their adverts, being the "nosy neighbour", beckoning, "she's seen me - I'll have to go out and say hello" referring to new neighbours ro0ss the round from the Mertons. No doubt that Aherne and Cash had better success on the BBC, not to mention the Mrs Merton chat show which ran for a few series in the late 1990s. Around a year later, British Gas tried to give BT a run for their money with British Gas Communications and their short-lived telephone service - cue man warming himself next to his landline telephone on a table - no wonder it didn't last very long.

    Any nostalgic memories of British Gas, folks?

    I've everything I need to keep me satisfied
    There's nothing you can do to make me change my mind
    I'm having so much fun
    My lucky number's one
    Ah! Oh! Ah! Oh!

  • #2
    Electricity is interesting but gas isn't, it seems.
    I've everything I need to keep me satisfied
    There's nothing you can do to make me change my mind
    I'm having so much fun
    My lucky number's one
    Ah! Oh! Ah! Oh!

    Comment


    • #3
      I remember the 1980s adverts with the song "cook-ability - that's the beauty of gas"
      The Trickster On The Roof

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by George 1978 View Post
        "Secondly, at the end of 1986 and towards the start of 1987, we had the sub-PIF from the gas company - cue a husband in an overcoat and scarf, and his wife coming home and reaching their front door - the husband looks uncannily like Donald Sutherland in Don't Look Now, but I know it wasn't him, and the wife looked nothing like Julie Christie, thank goodness. "Hey Brian, I can smell gas", the wife says to her husband while some creepy music was building up in the background. We see the couple opening windows, switching the gas off at the mains, being discourage to light a cigarette (for more reasons than one hopefully). And the huge shout of "NO!" by the husband just as the wife was about to switch the living room light on - it made any Australian soap opera episode cliffhanger boring in comparison.

        By the early 1990s we got the "flicking thumb" gesture which well-parodied in around 1991, and the "don't you just love being in control?" in which even Joanna Lumley appeared in one advert at the time
        These two were classic...

        British Gas produced LOADS of educational videos back in the 1980s and 90s for schools to hire. Not many of them have been uploaded to YouTube.

        It is disconcerting how Britain was once self sufficient in gas back in the 1990s (and was even an exporter) but now has to import a significant proportion of gas.

        Comment


        • #5
          I recall the British Gas advert 'Tell Did.' When BG shares were available.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Moonraker View Post
            I recall the British Gas advert 'Tell Did.' When BG shares were available.
            Presumably short for "Diddy" David Hamilton, I presume.
            I've everything I need to keep me satisfied
            There's nothing you can do to make me change my mind
            I'm having so much fun
            My lucky number's one
            Ah! Oh! Ah! Oh!

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by George 1978 View Post

              Presumably short for "Diddy" David Hamilton, I presume.
              Sorry, meant to say Tell Sid.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Moonraker View Post

                Sorry, meant to say Tell Sid.
                The actual slogan was: "if you see Sid, tell him". We had a neighbour at the time with that name and my late father used to joke that it was referring to him.
                I've everything I need to keep me satisfied
                There's nothing you can do to make me change my mind
                I'm having so much fun
                My lucky number's one
                Ah! Oh! Ah! Oh!

                Comment


                • #9
                  I used to get Sid confused with the off-screen character from the Philip Schofield era CBBC Broom cupboard.
                  The Trickster On The Roof

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Moonraker View Post

                    Sorry, meant to say Tell Sid.
                    It was a very silly idea to put the D next to the S on a Qwerty keyboard.

                    With regards to that campaign, if AIDS wasn't the coronavirus of 1986, then that year was also about share offers, wasn't it? Ad breaks were full of them - British Telecom had theirs around the same time and some of the banks such as the TSB did as well? Cue pro-Thatcher businessmen in pin-stripe suits, wearing black bowler hats, carrying leather briefcases and umbrellas, reading The Times, going to The City (London EC1 of course), and making, to quoth Harry Enfield's character, "Loadsamoney". And then the recession came, and Major arrived.
                    I've everything I need to keep me satisfied
                    There's nothing you can do to make me change my mind
                    I'm having so much fun
                    My lucky number's one
                    Ah! Oh! Ah! Oh!

                    Comment

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