The BFI will now let you watch adverts – for free!

Okay, that headline’s not as bad as it sounds – the BFI Player is not becoming ad-supported.

However, it does now have a big stash of historic adverts. Behold the press release!

The BFI National Archive is home to one of the world’s largest screen advertising collections with over 100,000 cinema and television adverts ranging from the iconic and most recognisable brands including Guinness, Cadbury’s, Shell, Heinz, Persil, Hovis, Kelloggs and Coca-Cola to the obscure (Andrews Liver Salts or CDF Dogfood anyone?)

Working with regional and national archive partners across the UK, the BFI has digitised 300 archive adverts all available for free on BFI Player. With the earliest advert on film dating from 1898 (Vinolia Soap) to the late 1980s, Commercial Break: British Advertising on Screen traces the history, overarching themes and development of the art of British screen advertising from its earliest days, finding maturity with the rise of the cinema in the 1930s and going on to transform the commercial television viewing experience with the launch of ITV in 1955 and subsequent growth of television.

Providing snapshots of what we ate, how we travelled and the lives we all aspired to, this collection includes classic campaigns from the golden age of advertising in the 1970s and 1980s from the likes of Collett Dickenson Pearce (CDP) and J. Walter Thompson, featuring early work by Sir Ridley Scott The Boy on the Bike (1973), Hugh Hudson (Fiat Strada: Figaro, 1979) and Tony Scott (SAAB: New Delivery, 1985) which helped launch their Hollywood careers.

The collection also showcases unexpected delights from established directors including Nicolas Roeg Guinness: Hop Farm (1974), Lindsay Anderson Black Magic: Taxi (1964), Joseph Losey Silvikrin Shampoo (1964) and theatre legend Joan Littlewood Egg Marketing Board: Sheila – series (1964), long after they ‘made it’.

Famous faces onscreen include Tony Hancock, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Sheila Sim, John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, Beryl Reid, Sammy Davis Jr, Googie Withers, Geoff Hurst, George Best and Margaret Lockwood as well as ‘before they were famous’ appearances by Anna Karina, Michael Caine and Terry Thomas.

The female consumer has long been a target of screen advertising, selling everything from baked beans and washing powders to labour-saving devices to help lighten the domestic load. Interestingly, in a male dominated advertising industry, this collections tells (and sells) a more positive story of social progress for women, with increasing social and economic independence, tracking the ups and downs of female empowerment in the 20th century, with its false steps as revealing as its forward ones.

BFI National Archive Curator Steve Foxon says, “There’s an art to selling, as any ad man or woman will tell you. Britain’s screen advertising has been a central part of the British film story since its earliest days, It found its feet in the cinema, transformed television and its ripples have even influenced Hollywood”

Adding, “A perfect blend of nostalgia, salesmanship and craftsmanship, screen advertising at its best is incredibly potent, affecting our emotions as well as holding a mirror up to reflect society’s changing aspirations, values, fears and desires. Few films can capture all this in such a compact and expressive format.”

Commercial Break: British Advertising on Screen highlights the evolution of the UK’s extraordinarily dynamic industry across the twentieth century, showcasing the astonishing variety of approaches, strategies and tricks advertisers have used over the decades for us to part us with our money, entertaining us even as they subtly manipulate us with promises of a new, tastier, brighter, cleaner, healthier and better lifestyle.

In addition to the BFI Player collection, the BFI National Archive has lovingly remastered 24 iconic film adverts made by some of the most illustrious names in British cinema. Described by BFI Head Curator Robin Baker as “mini masterpieces of big nostalgic emotion” these fondly remembered titles have been restored in 4K and will be made available to view at BFI Mediatheque from July, as part of a tie-in advertising collection, to view in venue at BFI Southbank.