From the archives: comedy giants

19 December 2018

As classic Christmas television season fast approaches, we delve into the Barclays archives at the comedy legends that have lent their names to Barclays advertising campaigns over the years, from Dudley Moore and Peter Cook in the 1970s and 80s to Rowan Atkinson as a prototype ‘Johnny English’ in the 1990s. Here are our top picks. 

Dudley Moore as a punk

In the first wave of Barclaycard TV adverts, the strategy was two-pronged: go for glamour, with globetrotting sophisticate Alan Whicker – or go for laughs, with Dudley Moore. A fixture on British television as half of a double act with Peter Cook, by the late 1970s Moore was also a Hollywood star. He returned to Britain for a series of Barclaycard adverts in which he repeatedly failed to pay for goods – petrol, a car battery and, in one unlikely scenario, a bag of punk rock records – by foolishly not carrying a Barclaycard.


Dudley Moore dressed as a punk

Peter Sellers and Peter Cook

In 1980, Barclays turned to Peter Sellers to advertise the benefits of its current, savings and student accounts. The adverts have the sad distinction of being the final filmed work of the Inspector Clouseau actor and former Goon (whose colleagues Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan had previously fronted Barclays radio adverts), as Sellers died shortly after the campaign was launched. With the films quickly pulled, the student campaign was reshot, starring another British comedy legend, Moore’s erstwhile partner Peter Cook.

Arthur Lowe and Ian Lavender

In the much-loved sitcom Dad’s Army, actor Arthur Lowe played Captain George Mainwaring, platoon commander of the Home Guard and, in his civilian life, bank manager. Who better to play an outgoing bank manager (Mr Mainwaring) advising his replacement (Ian Lavender’s hapless character, Private Pike – now grey of hair) on the benefits to his customers of a Barclays deposit account!

Rowan Atkinson

Probably the best known and loved of all Barclaycard commercials, the long-running and award-winning series starring Rowan Atkinson as a character not a million miles away from his subsequent movie persona Johnny English, began in 1990 and ran until 1997. The Blackadder and Mr. Bean actor starred as Richard Latham, a spoof spy who was rather more shaken than stirred.

“By using humour, we’ve managed to capture the imagination of the British public,” said Barclaycard’s advertising manager at the time, and the moral of the adverts tended to be that however much Latham messed up – setting carpets on fire in Cairo, getting thrown into Spanish jails, dealing with snakebites in the Outback – his biggest mistake would be to forget that Barclaycard was “more than just a credit card”.

Jennifer Aniston and Samuel L. Jackson … and Jennifer Saunders

In the early 2000s, with the economy on the up and double-figure interest rates no longer on offer, Barclaycard’s advertising ambitions took a new turn. Although British comedy legend Jennifer Saunders starred in one campaign, the focus shifted across the Atlantic to Hollywood, with several commercials featuring one of the world’s most in-demand comic actresses, Jennifer Aniston, as well as Hollywood star Samuel L. Jackson fronting a series helmed by legendary ad-director Jonathan Glazer.

Stephen Mangan and Julian Rhind-Tutt

In 2007, Barclaycard looked to two more comic actors playing thinly-veiled versions of their sitcom characters. Laid-back smoothie Julian Rhind-Tutt, and irritating, accident-prone Stephen Mangan had perfected their roles on cult British television favourite Green Wing, and, for the campaign, travelled the world in a long-running series, getting into scrapes from which only Barclaycard could rescue them.

Advertising trailblazers

In the 1960s, although desperate to express their individuality and advertise on TV, British banks were tied by a ‘gentleman's agreement’ to only issue joint statements related to banking policy. In 1966, Barclays was able to work around the agreement by advertising Barclaycard – a subsidiary company product – in Scotland, for customers of the British Linen Bank, another Barclays subsidiary company. This ingenious work-around ushered in a golden period of advertising for the bank, which from the beginning has attracted big names from the world of British comedy and Hollywood.