I well remember Sir Ian McKellan, during fallow periods when work was thin, devising a new advertising scheme for detergent. Long into the night he laboured. Should it be a housewife? Should the lead character be a single man? Should it be a super hero bubble, searching for dirt in a cape? Sir Ian disappeared for a few months and then – in a shock reappearance in the Duck and Sniffers – he appeared triumphant. The pitch itself was brief. Sir Ian was to play the main part, a beleaguered man tortured by a mysterious stain on his codpiece. Try as he might he cannot remove it without Stainaway. Sir Ian demonstrated his characters dilemma by furiously rubbing his codpiece, waving it about and moaning too all and sundry before being asked to leave by a somewhat luddite landlord. I caught up with him in the street and after dusting himself down and getting up Sir Ian explained the whole concept. It was to be set in 15th Century Italy, and this Duke of Naples had an important meeting with the Pope but had spaghetti stains on his best outfit and therefore was in a quandary about the attention he paid to his personal grooming in front of the Pontif. Many courtiers suggested remedies, but none seemed to fit and with each paltry and superfluous suggestion a courtier met with the blade of the executioners axe. Even his sisters were not immune to his wrath and on the scaffold one gave a heartfelt and well written speech about brotherly love, the joy of life and the importance of bibs. Finally a wizard appears with the detergent and removes the offending stain and is rewarded with keeping his head in the traditional position. And so the Duke finally meets the Pontif, who compliments him on the cleanliness of his codpiece, and awards him six castles and a Earldom.
The actual advertisment was somewhat over the allotted twenty eight seconds, running at roughly three and three quarter hours (minus the music but including interlude).
Sir Alec Guinness once confided in me he wanted to promote Cream Eggs. He had this idea that he doing a Hamlet, and would be in the middle of his oratory, when his stomach would rumble and he would squat down and produce a Cream Egg. The rest of the cast would then abandon their roles and tuck into his newly laid egg. This was - amazingly - turned down. As was Derek Jacobi's Zanussi washing machine idea, David Suchet's DFS Sale and Helen Mirren's Volvo (though the last one may be down to a spelling error in the proposal).