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Jon Pertwee - The Telecom Commercials

By Graham Howard

In 1985 the New Zealand Post Office (NZPO) contracted Jon Pertwee to appear in a series of television commercials to promote their telecommunications business. Deregulation was imminent, and with the potential threat of competition on the horizon, the commercials were presumably viewed as a way of increasing the public's awareness of their telecommunications products.

However, with the Government's decision in 1986 to corporatise, the NZPO's telecommunications activities were incorporated into that company we know and love, Telecom New Zealand. Although the NZPO had instigated the project, it was apparently thought that Telecom would still use the commercials as part of their advertising strategy, and it was because of this belief that the commercials were constructed with an 'emphasis [on] the new corporation'. But Telecom ultimately decided the commercials were 'unsuitable' because of the use of the now inappropriate NZPO logo, and, more importantly, because they were thought to be 'a little gimmicky for the products [Telecom] were selling and the image Telecom was trying to project.' The commercials were therefore shelved, and have never been seen on New Zealand television. (Telecom may not have been impressed with the commercials, but it was reported in the press that one of them won the top award for commercials at the Chicago Film festival!) Produced at a cost of some $400,000, the decision not to use the commercials caused something of a minor public scandal at the time, with Telecom claiming that the money wasted was 'peanuts' compared with their total revenue, and Jon Pertwee himself describing the decision as an 'unconscionable waste' of money.

Of the commercials themselves, there were five in the series. They were produced by McKay King Advertising and directed - in the words of Jon Pertwee - 'by one of your finest directors', Sam Pillsbury, and 'beautifully done'. Filming took place around Wellington in 1986. Pertwee also noted at the time, that Telecom had been given permission by the BBC to use the Doctor Who character as a 'spokesman' for Telecom in New Zealand (I'd love to know how much the BBC charged for this privilege - a reasonable proportion of the total cost I suspect!).

With the recent death of Jon Pertwee, it seemed an appropriate time remember this 'version' of the Doctor, particularly as it was unique to New Zealand. I only have three of these commercials on video so am unfortunately unable to provide a breakdown for the other two in the series.

1. A pasture in rural New Zealand
[duration 1 minute]

A young farm woman is mustering some sheep. She whistles to her dog, when suddenly the familiar sound of the TARDIS materialising is heard. An electronic treatment of the Doctor Who theme music begins (this music is heard in all three commercials). The TARDIS is a red (!) telephone box with 'Telecom' emblazoned on it, along with the troublesome NZPO logo. The door opens and the Doctor appears.

The woman approaches and offers a distinctively New Zealand 'Gudday.'

The Doctor replies 'Good morning,' as the woman excuses herself before moving past the Doctor and into the telephone box.

The Doctor then proceeds to give the obligatory plug for Telecom: 'Where would people be without the telephone? Lengths of copper wire [holds up some thick copper wire cabling] gave everybody a speaking tube to the world. Well, now in New Zealand, through Telecom, the humble telephone is putting a whole new future at your fingertips with this: threads of glass that can fit through the eye of a needle [demonstrates] and yet can carry not just one conversation, like the copper wire, but 2000 conversations simultaneously.'

At this point the woman reappears from inside the telephone box: 'Thanks mate. Don't worry, I made it collect - flash phone box eh!'

The Doctor: 'Ahh, but there's more to this phone box than meets the eye - see you soon.' [The 'TARDIS' dematerialises]

The woman wanders off with her dog, [saying something I can't make out]. At the bottom of the screen we are presented with the NZPO logo again, and the slogan 'Telecom - the future is at your fingertips'.

2. A bridge in rural New Zealand
[duration 30 seconds]

The 'TARDIS' materialises on a bridge just as a flash Mercedes is about to cross. The Doctor Who theme music that began with the start of the commercial begins to sound off-key. The telephone box opens, steam billows out and the Doctor appears. The driver of the car, who is wearing what is probably a chauffeur or driver's uniform, picks up his mobile phone and dials.

Driver: 'Huge obstruction on the bridge, boss. Could be here for hours.' [The Doctor approaches the car] 'What's up Doc?'

The Doctor: 'Good morning. Oh, I see you've got a new mobile telephone.'

Driver: 'It's Telecom.'

The Doctor: 'Oh that's good! Do you mind? [Grabs phone off driver] My telephone box is out of order: Hello, Telecom? This is the Doctor.'

The voice on the other end of the line asks 'Who?'

The Doctor: 'Yes we've got a bit of a problem. Call me when you're on your way, will you?'

The voice on the other end of the line asks 'Doctor Who?'

The Doctor: 'Yes, that's right.'

The final shot is of the Doctor and the driver fishing over the bridge, presumably as they wait for Telecom to arrive The Doctor says 'Maybe it's off the hook?', the driver exclaims 'No, I've got it!' as the slogan 'Telecom - The future is at your fingertips' appears.

3. A farm in rural New Zealand
[duration 40 seconds]

The outside of a quiet farmhouse at night. The 'TARDIS' materialises and the Doctor steps out, carrying some telephone equipment. The farmer pokes his head out of the window.

Farmer: 'It's about time!'

The Doctor: 'Gudday.' [Deliberately affecting a poor imitation of a New Zealand accent]. Now inside the house, the Doctor plugs in the farmer's new phone.

The Doctor: 'You just put in these plug-in sockets, and you can have a new Telecom phone in every room. Now this model has auto-dialling, an alarm and a calculator. And may I suggest this 'hands-free' telephone, in matching colours for the bedroom'

Farmer: 'Yeah, that'll be the story for the bedroom!'

The farmer then pushes a button on his new phone and gets a recorded message from the Doctor. 'Telecom are working overtime to get your new Telecom phones to you. When this brochure arrives in the mail, we're in your neighbourhood.' The farmer holds up the brochure ['Plug in the new push button phones'] to camera.

The Doctor comes over to the farmer: 'You can even have one in the loo if you like!'

The commercial ends with a shot outside the house, with the familiar slogan on the bottom of the screen, as we hear the farmer trying out his new phone.

I am indebted to Peter Coleman's article Telecom Decision Zaps Dr Who first published in TSV 5 (and reprinted in The Best of TSV 1-20), for providing much of the background information on the story behind the production and ultimate cancellation of the commercials.

This item appeared in TSV 48 (August 1996).