Old ads with Marks but no sparkle

Ads from the M&S archive
Ads from the M&S archive
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She has been the face of Marks and Spencer’s fashion department for a decade, but when Twiggy was enjoying her first flush of flame in the swinging Sixties, it was a man with green jumper and a smug expression on whom the store relied to shift its merchandise.

Rarely-seen M&S commercials from the period reflect a retail landscape that was more cardigans than Carnaby Street.

Ads from the M&S archive

Ads from the M&S archive

The colour films, unearthed for a “golden years” film festival in Bradford next week, recall an era when tweed was still twee and when the last word in ladies’ headgear was a nylon scarf.

The adverts are being screened to audiences of filmgoers who may remember them from first time around, along with other once-controversial features whose shock value the passing years have diminished.

One of the commercials, originally shown in cinemas, features a smirking and slightly balding male model on a tandem, wearing a green sweater and carrying a blonde on the back.

“This man is a wool collector,” intones the fruity and familiar voice of the announcer, David de Keyser. “He collects only wool by St Michael at Marks and Spencer.”

The film has been kept at the company’s archive, based at Leeds University, and has been loaned to the festival for next Wednesday morning’s free, one-off screening at Bradford’s National Media Museum.

Company archivist Katherine Carter said: “M&S used award-winning songwriters and exotic locations to advertise its fashion collections on the big screen.

“We have a fantastic collection of film in our archive and the Golden Years festival is the perfect place to showcase these nostalgic adverts.”

The company enjoyed such a large market share at the time that it could afford to limit its advertising to “prestige” colour spots at cinemas, for which its models simulated carefree summer holidays in glamorous locations, and danced in Terylene skirts.

Ironically, at the time they were filmed, its present-day star was taking part in fashion shoots of an altogether more adventurous nature. The teenage Lesley Hornby, known by her childhood nickname of Twiggy, was called “the Cockney kid with a face to launch a thousand shapes”.

Now helping M&S to update its image, she has visited the archive in Leeds, which also contains 70,000 items of clothing and other material.

The five-day festival, which begins on Monday, also includes a screening of the 1962 film, The L-Shaped Room, Lynne Reid Banks’ account of sex, social mores and illegal abortions in the seedy world of London’s bed-sitter world.

Considered at the time so shocking that only adults could see it, Bryan Forbes’ film is the story of a young French woman, unmarried and pregnant, who moves into a multiracial London boarding house. The screening, is also at the National Media Museum.