A. Oxo's love affair with the family image started as long ago as 1958. The initial storyline - about a couple whose main interests semed to be casserole and gravy -captivated an audience for 18 years.
Married bliss Oxo-style starred Katie (Mary Holland) and Philip (Richard Clarke, followed by Peter Moynihan) in advertising's first soap opera. Everything revolved around dinner as Katie informed Philip that Oxo has nine good ingredients and "gave a meal man appeal".
A short time later a son, David, appeared and aged from birth to around three in one summer. Viewers took the family to heart. When Philip spoke to Katie sharply on one occasion, girls in an electronics factory came out on strike. And there was uproar when Katie arrived home with her shopping basket and started making gravy without washing her hands.
Even the Independent Television Authority's Council on Advertising objected about the display of bad manners when Philip mopped up his gravy with his bread. Mary Holland said she was recognised wherever she went - and many people believed Katie, Philip and David were a real family.
She carried on cooking until 1976 when the pair were dropped because Oxo wanted a fresher image. Ironically, a new Oxo family was created in the 1980s.
Q. How did the advertising change
A. After Katie was dropped, Oxo turned to Dennis Waterman in 1977 who started telling the public about the benefits of using a stock cube, but a few years later, Lynda Bellingham and Michael Redfern were introduced as the new Oxo family. They were an immediate hit as viewers were attracted to their homely image and three growing children. Lynda Bellingham went onto star in several sitcoms, but Michael Redfern hit the headlines recently when it was revealed he was making ends meet by driving cabs.
Oxo dropped the campaign after a very successful 16-year stint because they said traditional family values had changed; families rarely sat down for meals together.
The Bellingham'Redfern family made one last ad together - dubbed The Last Supper - which went out in September 1999, before Coronation Street. It attracted millions and the 30-second advert has gone down in history as one of the great advertising traditions along the lines of Gold Blend and the Milk Tray ads.
After the family, Oxo decided to go for a more modern approach. They recorded a number of ads which featured the comic Arthur Smith doing a voiceover.
He recited a list of ingredients designed to reflect today's society. The company ditched the classic Sunday roast in favour of more contemporary scenarios with other characters trying out more modern foods. The acclaimed documentary maker Dominic Savage was involved in the production of the ads and one of the scenes was actually shot in the actor's home in Wales. All the characters used were real-life friends to make the ads more edgy and believable.
However, Oxo has just announced it intends to introduce a new family to our screens in the New Year. The cast hasn't been revealed but the firm, which started making stock cubes costing pennies in 1910, has gone back to its tried and tested ad formula.
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by Katharine MacColl
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