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Telecom Decision Zaps Doctor Who

The Inside Story

By Peter Coleman

Back in 1985, the New Zealand Post Office commissioned Jon Pertwee to do a series of five television advertisements to promote their telecommunications section as an industry in this country. With permission from the BBC, Pertwee resurrected his role as the Doctor for the adverts, which were produced by McKay King Advertising at a total cost of about $400,000. Then the blow struck - the adverts were cancelled, and four hundred thousand dollars was effectively thrown down the drain. Although I have been an employee of Telecom since December 1986, I do not necessarily hold the views of the corporation, but as an employee I would like to first tell their story.

The decision to commission the adverts was made sometime in 1985. The exact date is unimportant, but it was made well before corporatisation was announced. Filming commenced, and then on 1 April 1986 it was announced that the New Zealand Post Office was to be split into three organisations (of which Telecom was one). With the NZPO logo and name scattered throughout the adverts, the decision was made after some debate to cancel the rest of the filming. The person who ordered this then went overseas on a business trip - but the person in charge of filming decided on their own initiative to complete the production of the adverts, as due to contractual reasons, there would be no reduction or increase in cost. The people working on the adverts would have to be paid the full amount whether filming was completed or not. In addition, only three days of filming remained.

The completed set of adverts was later reviewed - not only by the NZPO but also by the incoming Telecom marketing manager. The cost of changing the logo and re-filming or dubbing those parts that specifically related to the NZPO was deemed to be cost prohibitive and not in the image of the incoming organisation. It was also decided not to show the adverts for the short time that the NZPO still existed (they could not have aired before January 1987), as it was felt that it would be too confusing.

I first learned about the cancelled adverts on the front page of the local newspaper, and was not amused. I resolved to get to the bottom of the story - or at least see the adverts, no matter how long it took.

Fortunately, I met the man who ultimately cancelled the adverts - Charles Gilmore, Marketing Division Manager - at a Telecom meeting in Wellington. He was not terribly fond of Doctor Who, but I explained that I was a fan of Jon Pertwee, and he suggested I go to the advertising agency, McKay King. They put me onto another person in Telecom who could let me see the tapes. This is where things got a bit stuck, since the person who had access to the tapes could not go and ask Charles Gilmore directly if I had his permission, but had to go to her manager, who would then go up another level and then to Gilmore. This all made confirmation of my permission to see the tapes very difficult, but finally I obtained a time when I could view the tapes with some other Telecom staff - thanks to this lady who had a very remarkable memory. I only spoke to her on the telephone, and she didn't call back for six weeks due to the political flak involved, which was the main reason why it was difficult to get to see them.

Five different adverts were made, each 30-60 seconds in length. Another two were made by halving the first two. The adverts (as I remember them some eight weeks later), went as follows:

1. A pasture in rural New Zealand
A wheezing groaning sound heralds the arrival of a red (!) TARDIS, and out pops the Doctor, looking a bit lost. A flock of sheep crawls past, and a shepherdess approaches him. "Gudday," she says, "mind if I use your phone?" The Doctor extols the virtues of the NZPO whilst in the background, the girl makes a toll call to Auckland. At the end, she leaves the TARDIS and says, "Don't worry, mate, it was a collect call!" The Doctor leaves. (This was a 'propaganda' advert, and as such was totally unsuitable for the new corporation).

2. A quiet library
The TARDIS materialises, and the Doctor emerges to again extol the virtues of the NZPO in his most booming voice to the sound of sushing, and then leaves.
This advert was as unsuitable as the previous one, but the remaining three were product-orientated, and therefore more suitable, but the NZPO logos were still prevalent, even if the theme of the adverts was acceptable to Telecom.

3. A farm in rural New Zealand
The Doctor arrives, and produces a variety of telephones, which he proceeds to demonstrate, explaining how they can be placed anywhere in the house - or out. The most memorable part of this advert is at the end, after the TARDIS has gone - the farmhouse is shrouded in darkness, and the only light is in the out-house, where the farmer can be heard making a 'phone call.

4. A street in a New Zealand city
A queue of people is lined up outside the TARDIS. The Doctor steps out, and takes the person from the head of the queue into the TARDIS where he demonstrates the computer 'phone, teletext terminals, etc. At the end, the man is led outside, and the Doctor calls "Next, please!" (This advert was aimed at the executive market).

5. A bridge in rural New Zealand
The TARDIS lands on a bridge just as a utility truck is about to cross it. The driver of the ute uses a mobile radio telephone to complain about the obstruction. The Doctor emerges and takes the 'phone from his hand. Asking for 'faults', he complains about a faulty line in his TARDIS, introducing himself as "The Doctor... Who?... That's right." After the call, the Doctor leaves in the TARDIS. (This was the best of the five advertisements).