So, it’s the dawn of videogames. 1978. Well, maybe not the dawn… but you’re still in your pyjamas and you certainly haven’t had your breakfast yet.
Your name is Mr Atari and you have this cool new electronic machine, the Atari VCS (later renamed the 2600).
Gone are the days of TV games that only involved bouncing a little white square from one end of your TV screen to the other using bigger white rectangles.
Now people can play in the comfort of their own homes all (well, some) of the videogames they have, up until now, had to spend 10p a time on in the sleazy arcade over in the rough side of town, while trying to ignore that dodgy guy with the greasy hair, the glasses held together with sticky tape, the long, dirty raincoat and the body odour – who always stood just ever-so-slightly uncomfortably close to you while you were playing Galaxian.
Admittedly, the graphics on the TV versions of the games were much worse, most of the colours had disappeared and the iconic but very uncomfortable joystick left you with RSI for life after about 20 minutes’ use (or it would have if RSI had been invented in 1978). But apart from all that, it was EXACTLY like playing the arcade originals.
So, you have this cool machine and you want to market it to young, trendy, tech-savvy buyers in the UK – the question is, who do you hire to star in the TV adverts..?
Who, exactly, comes up with the answer Morecambe and Wise..?
It’s a strange choice. There’s no denying that their popularity was at its peak in the 70s and nobody is suggesting that Eric and Ernie were anything but very, very funny.
But they had been around for decades even then and were hardly cutting-edge or trendy in any way. So would you really want your new, high-tech, state-of-the-art electronic device associated with a couple of middle-aged music-hall comics-turned-TV stars?
Maybe hiring them was meant more as a means of validating and demystifying such a revolutionary, unfamiliar product in the eyes of older, sceptical parents who may have been baffled by the technology and suspicious of this gizmo – make it look safe and familiar, in other words, by associating it with the safest and most familiar celebrities of the day.
After all, the parents were the ones whowere going to have to fork out £99 (plus £14.95-£29.95 for each game cartridge) to get it as a Christmas present for their kids (and £99 was a lot of money 31 years ago. The Choob is not clever enough to work out what it would be in today’s money… but I suspect it would be, ooh, loadsamoney).
So if even old fogeys like Eric and Ernie liked having a go on it, it couldn’t be all bad, could it..?
And I guess it worked. The VCS sparked the home videogame boom that has ultimately led to the Wii, the PlayStation3 and the XBox360.
So, in a way, Morecambe and Wise are directly responsible for controversial, violent games such as Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt. It’s a funny old world. Don’t tell the Daily Mail…
This week’s classic ads are particularly nostalgic for the Choob as the Atari VCS was the second videogame console I ever owned (the first was a first-generation Grandstand TV game, similar to the one on the right).
Sigh. Now I feel old.
Anyway, here, then, are a few of those bizarre, anachronistic Morecambe and Wise Atari adverts (wonder what Ernie’s hi-score at Defender was…).