You could have knocked me down with a feather: How we shot that Everest commercial

Neil Hanson back at the Tan Hill Inn
Neil Hanson back at the Tan Hill Inn
  • Having first run the Tan Hill Inn in the 70s, in his latest book Neil Hanson reveals how he returned to England’s highest pub and masterminded the famous Everest commercial.
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During the summer we had managed to fix some of the worst of the problems with the building, though plenty remained.

We’d opened up the blocked-up old fireplace in the dining room and installed a log stove, but the west wall still sprouted black damp at regular intervals. The other major problem was the state of the windows. We couldn’t afford to replace them and, although the worst of them had been patched up by our joiner in the spring, they were still almost as cracked, leaky and draughty as they had ever been, letting in wind and water in summer and howling gales and snow in winter.

The Tan Hill Inn  in the height of winter

The Tan Hill Inn in the height of winter

One evening back in the carefree days before we’d taken over the inn, when such things as watching TV in the evenings were commonplace, I’d been staring vacantly at the flickering image on the box during a commercial break. As I watched Ted Moult extolling the virtues of Everest double-glazing, a sudden thought struck me. “How come they’re always on about sound-proofing or how tough they are? Why do they never film one that’s to do with keeping out wind and wild weather instead?”

I filed it away under Life’s Unsolved Mysteries and didn’t give it another thought, but as I was standing behind the bar one autumn evening, pondering what to do about the cracked and rotting windows, inspiration struck.

I disappeared at once into what we laughingly called The Office – the sauna cum crisp store at the head of the stairs. Twenty minutes later I had knocked off a letter to the marketing director of Everest Double Glazing, pointing out their terrible sin of omission and suggesting, a; that it was high time that the company got its act together and filmed such a commercial, and b; that there could be no finer place to film it than at the most wild, woolly and godforsaken inn in the UK. I gave the letter to the postman the next morning, but never really expected even the courtesy of a reply.

Three days later the phone rang.

“Mr Hanson?” a suave voice said. He introduced himself as the account executive of a large advertising agency, responsible for the Everest account. “Your letter was passed to me and we’d like to come up and have a look at your inn tomorrow.”

The next morning a helicopter appeared, swaying alarmingly in the force of the gale as it went into a hover before making an unsteady landing on the car park at the side of the inn. A gaggle of power-suited advertising execs and a couple of creative types, including the director who would be shooting the commercial, emerged.

Even though they were trying to be non-committal, I could tell they were excited. Characterful pub interiors might be ten a penny in Britain, but there was no pub anywhere in the country that had surroundings quite like the wild and windswept moorland around Tan Hill. As an Emily Brontë fan had remarked to me one day: “It makes Top Withens look like Regent’s Park.”

It turned out that Everest had been on the brink of filming a new commercial and had already researched a few locations, including the Jamaica Inn on Dartmoor, but had rejected it, so the director said, because of the “ugly clutter” of electricity pylons and telephone poles nearby.

I suspect no-one from Everest or their advertising agency had ever heard of Tan Hill before I wrote to them. However, having been made aware of its existence they promptly shelved their original idea for the commercial and within a week had scripted a new one. We would provide the location and, with luck, some suitably foul weather; in return, they would supply us with some new Everest double-glazed windows.

The deal was done and within a fortnight, three enormous wagons were lumbering up the winding moor road, causing traffic jams for miles as they struggled to negotiate the tight bends, steep gradients and stretches of single-track road with passing places. When they arrived it was blowing the customary gale and it took four strong men to wrestle each window into place.

Two days later, the film crew arrived on site, bringing with them the star of the show and national treasure, Ted Moult. A Derbyshire dairy farmer, Ted was a self-made businessman who had come to prominence in the 1950s on BBC Radio’s Brain of Britain quiz. Even though he was eliminated in the first round, Ted’s warmth coupled with his quick wit had already charmed the producers and listeners alike and he soon became a regular on radio and television.

Ted was also credited with introducing the idea of Pick Your Own Strawberries and made a point of personally greeting customers as they arrived at his farm. Everest were shrewd enough to recognise the appeal of a man who was universally liked and he enjoyed a long and lucrative association with them.

We had good and bad news for the crew. The good news was that the promised wild weather had duly arrived, with horizontal rain driven by a shrieking gale that was rocking the building. The bad new was that if they wanted breakfast, they’d have to buy it from us because the catering wagon had been unable to resist the full force of the wind and was now lying on its side in the car park.

Despite such minor hitches, Everest duly got their commercial in the can. Having placed powerful lights in every room at the front of the inn to give it that welcoming glow when seen from the moor, the crew disappeared outside to film the opening sequence. It required Ted to stand on the fell above the inn, leaning into the wind as he set the scene, shouting to make himself heard above the screaming of the gale, and then have his flat cap blown off.

Since the wind could not be trusted to oblige with a gust at just the right moment one of the film crew’s gofers gave a tug on a piece of fishing line discreetly attached to the great man’s cap to send it flying off towards the distant dale.

Ted was a hardy farmer, but even he was unused to the kind of weather served up at the inn. After filming outside for all of five minutes, another of the crew’s gofers came running in to ask if I might have any spare warm underclothes that Ted could borrow. I sorted him out with a set of brand new, bright red thermal underwear bought in anticipation of the long cold winter to come. Ted disappeared upstairs to change and was so warm and contented in his borrowed gear that when filming was over, he set off for home, still wearing my thermals and I never saw them or indeed him again.

The commercial climaxed with the “money shot”, as makers of a rather different genre of film might have called it, with Ted standing by the front window of the bar, dropping the famous feather to demonstrate the efficiency of the window’s draught-proofing and then uttering the immortal line: “You only fit double-glazing once, so fit the best – fit Everest.”

I am sure the falling feather shot would have worked perfectly anyway, but with one eye on the gale still howling outside, the crew sealed the outside of the window frame with gaffer tape just to be doubly sure. One of the gofers climbed a small ladder and dropped the feather, which was then retrieved by one of the other gofers and passed back to him so that he could drop it again. Meanwhile at the other end of the bar, a dozen men grouped around a monitor screen groaning with disappointment or gasping with childish delight as they watched the playbacks of take after take of the feather, drifting down past the window and settling on the sill. Finally they had the shot they wanted with the feather performing a perfect set of parabolas before landing right in the middle of the sill.

The director called “Cut, that’s a wrap,” whereupon the gofers, wranglers and other strangely-named film crew began dismantling their equipment and loading it onto their trucks with a haste that suggested they did not altogether share our enthusiasm for our wild moorland kingdom.

They disappeared down the road soon afterwards, leaving us to bask in the still unaccustomed warmth of our new draught-proof windows and the rosy glow of anticipation for the 15 minutes of fame that would be ours when the commercial began to air.

• Pigs Might Fly by Neil Hanson is published by Dale Publishing priced at £9.99.