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The Cornflakes Connection

By Paul Scoones

On 31 March, a British television commercial for Kellogg's Cornflakes featuring Doctor Who was filmed in Auckland, New Zealand. This might sound like an April Fools Day hoax sprung one day too soon, but this did in fact take place.

I first heard about the project two weeks earlier when an advertising company wanting to audition members of the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club for a Kellogg's Cornflakes commercial contacted me. The television advertisement was envisioned as a group of Doctor Who Appreciation Society members eating breakfast, and in order to satisfy the terms of the advertising codes of practice (which apparently requires everything to be in fact what it claims to be), the director required Doctor Who fan club members for the commercial (apparently the difference in the name of the club didn't matter).

[Jacket and scarf]
Romana's version of the Fourth Doctor's coat from Destiny of the Daleks and a matching scarf

The commercial is one of five, all featuring the slogan "Whatever you get up to, get up to Kellogg's Cornflakes." The series features unusual clubs and societies, the other groups being synchronised swimmers, trampolinists, pregnant women and Popeye fans. The commercials were filmed in New Zealand due to the ideal weather conditions for outdoor filming. The Doctor Who instalment was an indoors shoot, and as such was originally going to have been filmed in England, until a last minute change of plans saw it relocated to New Zealand. It was to feature five fans of the show, dressed in Doctor Who costumes that would be recognisable to the general public.

Andrew Beech, a well-known British Doctor Who fan who has been involved with the Doctor Who Appreciation Society for many years and the man behind the yearly Panopticon conventions, was flown out to New Zealand as a consultant and to take part in the commercials. He brought with him from his own private collection authentic costumes which had actually been used in the series, including the cloak that Jon Pertwee wore in The Sea Devils, Romana's version of the Fourth Doctor's coat from Destiny of the Daleks and a matching scarf, an original Fifth Doctor costume (the pre-Awakening version), which even included the Doctor's half-frame spectacles, and an Earthshock-style Cyberman outfit. The production team had hired additional costumes from the London costumiers Bermans, including a replica Fifth Doctor outfit (which Andrew suspected had probably been made for a television spoof).

Although nine New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club members auditioned for the commercial, the director then apparently had a change of mind and instead cast people whose features resembled the Doctors to some degree.

The filming of the commercial took place on Sunday 31 March in a very large disused warehouse in East Tamaki, South Auckland. Jon Preddle and I had spent the previous afternoon and evening with Andrew Beech, and were permitted by the director to attend the film shoot. Simon Brooks and Blaise Douglas, who had flown out from London with the production crew, wrote the series of commercials. Simon played one of the parts in the commercial, whilst Blaise looked on. In an interesting coincidence, it transpired that Blaise is the son of the late Colin Douglas, an actor who appeared in Doctor Who as Donald Bruce in The Enemy of the World and then as Reuben the lighthouse keeper who gets possessed by the Rutan in Horror of Fang Rock.

[Photo of cast members]
Left to right: Seamus Breen, Simon Brooks, Andrew Beech, Cornelius Stone

In addition to Andrew Beech and Simon Brooks, three local extras had been hired, chosen because of their likenesses to certain Doctors. Cornelius Stone (coincidentally, a long-time fan and former TSV reader), and Tom Hodders were sourced through a casting agency. Seamus Breen, an ex-patriot Irishman, was the other member of the group, and related to us the story about how he had been having a quiet pint of Guinness (or five) in Kitty O'Brien's pub when he had been approached and asked if he would appear in the commercial. It was clear to us why it was that he had been approached, as his facial resemblance to Jon Pertwee is quite astonishing. Seamus knew nothing about Doctor Who, but had fond memories of Jon Pertwee's role in Worzel Gummidge. In order to satisfy the aforementioned codes of advertising, everyone appearing in the commercial had to be a bona fide member of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, and Andrew had brought along membership forms so that the others could be joined up.

[Cyberman][Fifth Doctor costume]
Left: Tom Hodders as the Cyberman; Right: An original Fifth Doctor costume

From the outset it was established that Seamus would be dressed up as the Third Doctor, and Simon as the Fourth, but the other roles underwent some changes. Andrew had originally been told that his fair hair marked him out to play the Fifth Doctor, but Cornelius was instead chosen for this role, complete with wig, and Andrew was relegated to play the Cyberman whilst Tom Hodders was made up as another Fourth Doctor. The director, Paul Arden, then decided that with a curly haired wig Andrew was a better likeness for the Fourth Doctor than Tom, who as a consolation was given the role of the Cyberman. The changes didn't stop there however, as it was then decided that Cornelius would not wear the Fifth Doctor's coat (arguably the most distinctive part of his costume), and the two Fourth Doctors ended up wearing coats which were not representative of Tom Baker's costume, complete with a completely inaccurate scarf. Absurdly, because Simon was unshaven, Andrew was also made up with facial stubble!

The commercial was a simple, one-shot affair. The four 'fans' dressed as Doctors sat in a line at a breakfast table with the Cyberman to one side. The shot had a precise duration of ten seconds, and commenced with a close-up of a Dalek-shaped milk jug (built by local freelance model-maker Mike Hansen). The camera then moved back and panned up, following the movement of Simon's hand as he picked up the milk jug and mimed pouring milk over his cornflakes, before joining the others in (miming) eating a breakfast of cornflakes. The cornflakes bowls and cornflakes were plastic props with built-in bulbs, which caused the plastic to smoke if the lights were left on too long. The bulbs were wired to the lighting controls, and a wire was attached to the arm of the Cyberman costume, since Tom had to stand holding his bowl. This simple production was camera-rehearsed and then filmed well over sixty times, each time modifying the actions of the performers or the positioning of the props very slightly at the director's whim. After about forty rehearsals, additional props such as toast, orange juice and teacups were added to the table, apparently because it is also an advertising code of practice requirement that cornflakes cannot be portrayed as a complete breakfast food.

Rehearsals commenced around 1pm. At 5.30pm, when the crew took a short break from filming, the crew had still not achieved the perfect take, and Jon and I decided to leave. The commercials were intended for screening on British television, although there was a possibility that they would be screened in New Zealand at a later date (this didn't happen).

[Photo of cast members]
Left to right: Tom Hodders, Seamus Breen, Simon Brooks, Andrew Beech, Cornelius Stone

Photographs by Paul Scoones

This item appeared in TSV 47 (April 1996).