first direct (notepad june 1999)

Our first brief after joining WCRS was to continue a successful TV campaign for First Direct featuring the British comedian Bob Mortimer. First Direct was the first 24-hour telephone and online bank in the UK, which meant their customers could bank wherever and whenever they wanted. This was brought to life in the ads by filming Bob Mortimer with hidden cameras doing things wherever and whenever he wanted. It was a simple idea elevated by Bob’s surreal one-liners and huge likability.

So it wasn’t exactly a tough brief for us. The hard work had been done. And Bob would improvise all the dialogue in front of the cameras. There was just one problem. To get sign off from the client we needed to write scripts, which meant we had to try to write Bob’s lines. To channel our inner Bob Mortimers Dave and I spent a long Sunday in the pub spouting nonsense. We soon discovered there’s a fine line between surreal genius à la Vic and Bob and inane gibberish à la Martin and Dave. By closing time we still weren’t convinced we’d reached the required level of surrealness and went back to Dave’s flat to polish off a bottle of vodka. Not exactly professional, but it was the 90’s and we were in our 20’s. Whatever we lacked in sense we made up for in stamina.

So first thing Monday morning we were at our desks early to type up the scripts. Once we’d handed them in we both crawled home to bed. (I repeat, it was the 90’s.) Now we had scripts a meeting was set up with Bob Mortimer. This led to an extremely awkward encounter in a fancy hotel suite with a very nervy Bob. As he read our scripts I noticed his fingernails were chewed to the quick. He was polite, but I don’t recall him laughing. I think we all knew this would be the last time any of us would read the scripts.

The only thing that did survive was the location, which was to be a motorway service station. For no other reason than it’s a public place and there were enough to spots to hide our cameras.

On the day of the shoot Bob ran around wearing thick-rimmed glasses containing a small camera while the film crew did their best not to look like a film crew. Dave and I had nothing to do other than try to appear like we knew what was happening and stay out of shot. At some point we tired of drinking motorway service station coffee and decided to take a look round for things for Bob to interact with. Here’s what I scribbled down.           

"...I've got a new conker string in the post..." Obviously still attempting to write surreal lines. Sigh.

Good to see a bit of toilet humour wasn't beneath us. Or Bob. We thought having him coming out of the ladies loo might be kind of funny. It went on to became a 10 second commercial and incredibly won a couple of awards. You can see the ad below. And the rest of the campaign here.

Agency: WCRS

Client: First Direct

Director: Mark Mylod

Art Director: Dave Lang

Copywriter: Martin Gillan