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Hovis Advert Analysis Essay

It was an instant advertising classic. A small boy pushes a bike laden with loaves of bread up the cobbled street of a northern town to the strains of Dvorak's "New World" Symphony, arranged for brass band. Now the 1973 commercial for Hovis, directed by Ridley Scott, has been voted the favourite advertisement of all time.

To mark the bread manufacturer's 120th anniversary this year, the commercial will return to British television screens for a 10-day run from 10 May.

In a poll of 1,000 people, the Hovis commercial was deemed more popular than classic ads for Milk Tray, Ferrero Rocher and Bisto.

Now one of Hollywood's leading directors, who made Gladiator, Alien and Thelma and Louise, Scott began his career as a director of commercials.

He directed a series of adverts for Hovis, including "Bike Ride" in 1973. Contrary to popular belief, the commercial was not filmed in the north of England, but on Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, Dorset, which has become a tourist attraction.

The original boy on the bike, Carl Barlow, then 13, is now a 46-year-old firefighter.

He said: "Working with Ridley Scott at such a young age was a privilege, although at the time, he hadn't made his break into the epic films he is now best known for.

"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." Bill Maynard, who played the baker, later starred in the ITV shows Heartbeat and The Royal.

Dvorak's "New World" Symphony, inspired by the discovery of the Americas, has become so closely associated with the brand that Classic FM regularly receives requests for the "Hovis music".

Hovis's marketing controller Scott Clarke, said: "It's fantastically evocative and the music is iconic. The whole 120th anniversary is about celebrating brown bread. Consumers are concerned about health and it's about trying to get that message across."

The original Hovis wheatgerm loaf was developed in 1886 by Richard Stoney Smith. An early advertisement featured a man with muscles made from Hovis loaves, with the slogan: "Hovis bread and biscuits form good bone, brain, flesh and muscle".

Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers, stars of The Good Life, appeared in advertisements for the brand in the 1980s and more recently the Oscar-winning Aardman Animations has created commercials for the packaged bread.

From its outset, the brand has had an eye for a PR opportunity. When it was launched, a nationwide competition was held to find an appropriate name. A London student, Herbert Grimes, came up with the winning moniker, a shortened version of the Latin phrase Hominis Vis, meaning "Strength of Man".

A free exhibition marking Hovis's 120-year history is being held at the United Grand Lodge in London from 11 to 13 May.

The top ads


Nostalgia-laden scenes of cobbled street with brass-band backing. Polled 32.4 per cent


Box of chocolates arrives courtesy of stranger in polo-neck who abseils through the bedroom window. Why? Because "the lady loves Milk Tray". 17.9 per cent


If parody is the sincerest form of flattery, this takes the prize. A butler roams an ambassador's party bearing a tray of the hazelnut treats. "Monsieur, you're really spoiling us," says one guest in mock protest. 12.2 per cent

Honourable mentions

Bisto kids - the perfect nuclear family sit down to Sunday lunch with the visible waft from the gravy boat.

Guinness - another glass from the stout brewer, this time a seaside location with thoroughbred horses racing in slow-motion through the surf. Shot in trademark black and white.

Budweiser - After frogs, the gekko has become the new face of the American brew. Ill-tempered conversation between the two lizards takes place in front of a neon lit bar.

Reuse content

The original 'Hovis boy', famous for struggling to push his bike up a steep cobbled hill in the classic TV advert, has finally managed to ride up it 44 years later - thanks to modern technology.

Carl Barlow - now a 58-year-old retired fireman - whizzed up Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, Dorset, thanks to an electric-powered bike.

It was a far easier ride than he had as a 13-year-old boy wearing a cloth cap in 1973 - when he starred as a baker's lad wearily delivering loaves in one of Britain’s all-time best-loved adverts.

In the infamous clip, directed by then 'unknown' Sir Ridley Scott - of Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator fame - he was seen trudging up the hill.

He pushed a bike laden with freshly baked bread to 'Old Ma Peggotty's house', the last customer on his round.

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Now Carl's been back to the hill to star in a new video in which he makes light work of it on his electric bike.

The two-minute clip shows other cyclists attempting to make it up the hill using standard bikes before having to admit defeat halfway up the notoriously steep incline.

The cyclists then stand back as Carl, decked out in flat cap and with a basket full of bread, powers his way up Gold Hill.

The film was made by Evans Cycles who want inspire more of us to cycle to work and take the bike on our commute.

Commercial director of Evans Cycles, Joel Natale, said "We hope re-visiting such a beloved advert, and helping Carl conquer the hill once and for all, will inspire more people to get on two wheels, save on their commuting costs and escape the frustrations of how they currently get to work."

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It is not the first time Carl has revisited Gold Hill with him returning in 2013 to recreate the famous advert to mark its 40th anniversary, though he didn't attempt to pedal up the entire incline.

Speaking in 2013, he said "I seem to remember it was cold when we did the 1973 advert, but I soon warmed up as I had to push the bike up the hill many times for the best part of the two days filming on Gold Hill.

"After the advert I had some teasing at school due to the pudding basin-type haircut, but it was mostly in good fun."

The voiceover for the advert was provided by the delivery boy speaking as a grown man, reminiscing about his days as a youngster when he did his bread round.

To the sound of a brass band playing Dvorak's New World Symphony, set against the backdrop of a fictional northern industrial town, he said "Last stop on round would be Old Ma Peggoty's place.

"T'was like taking bread to top of the world.

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"T'was a grand ride back though. I'd knew baker have kettle on and doorsteps of old Hovis ready.

"There's wheatgearm in that loaf," he'd say.

"Get it inside you boy and you'll be going up that hill as fast as you come down."

Carl was at stage school when he starred in the commercial that earned itself a slice of British history.

The advert won a clutch of accolades and was voted more than three decades later as Britain’s all-time favourite.

Although he was paid a handsome sum of £60 back in 1973, he did not go on to make a career of it, preferring instead to earn his crust as a fireman, serving 30 years in the London Fire Brigade before retiring.

He said "The advert has been such a big part of my life and it really captured the hearts of the nation.

"Three boys were auditioned - one couldn’t ride a bike, one wasn’t prepared to cut his hair, and I was happy to do both."

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