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Eagle vs Unicorn…

     …seconds away, round 1!









It seems almost unbelievable to a Twenty-First Century audience, that as late as 1966, no individual bank has yet advertised on Televsion!  Independent Television is more than ten years old, and television advertisements are selling us just about everything, from  toothpaste, holidays pints of beer and gallons of petrol for the “getaway people” to the ubiquitous soap (both real soap – in the form of bars, flakes or powder, and “Soap Opera” in the form of what today is pompously entitled “continuing drama”) Just why therefore, we have seen no bank advertising on our screens, seems curious until you untangle the snobbery.  A general disdain for “this type” of advertising leads the Committee for London Clearing Banks to impose a “gentleman’s agreement” which forbids individual banks from the “vulgarity” of selling their own products on TV.  All that can be allowed, are  bland messages issued by the committee on the JOINT behalf of the banks – archaic indeed –often produced as male-biassed educational films to be shown in schools, without even making it onto television.  By the summer of 1967, some banks are clearly frustrated at such old-fashioned restrictions, and Barclays is first to come up with a very good idea:

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1967 Barclaycard British Linen Still Sequence 00


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1967 Barclaycard British Linen Still Sequence 01

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1967 Barclaycard British Linen Still Sequence 03

1967 Barclaycard British Linen Still Sequence 04

1967 Barclaycard British Linen Still Sequence 05

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1967 Barclaycard British Linen Still Sequence 06

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1967 Barclaycard British Linen Still Sequence 07

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1967 Barclaycard British Linen Still Sequence 08

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Breaking the gentleman’s agreement…

This storyboard is for an advertisement for Barclaycard, a newly formed subsidiary company of Barclays, that runs the Bank’s new credit card operation.  In the last frame, the man settling his Barclaycard bill is writing out not as you might expect a BARCLAYS cheque, but one from his account with the BRITISH LINEN BANK which just happens to be a Barclays subsidiary company!  The advert is televised in Scotland, to the customers of the British Linen Bank, and Barclays has therefore managed to break the gentleman’s agreement on TV advertising, by advertising one of its own products, but not strictly as Barclays. As we find out now from John Dalton, Former Barclaycard Advertising Manager, the dithering over being the first bank to advertise on TV went on into the 1970s, with Barclays believing they had succeeded in 1972. Then in 1989, a slightly embarrassing discovery is made….

To say that “Barclaycard ‘A piece of Plastic’” was a TV commercial isn’t strictly true and it obscures a fascinating aspect of early bank television advertising history. That film was used only in cinemas and at promotional events. Until the 1970s, all the English banks honoured an agreement that none of them would advertise on television; the only bank advertising being screened in those days was the famous “Bank Manager in the Cupboard” screened by the Committee of London Clearing Banks.  In 1972 Barclays believed that another bank might break the agreement. For a competitor to be able to say that they were first on television was a prospect (that Barclays general managers couldn’t possibly contemplate – (neither did they want to be the Villains’ who broke the agreement). Barclaycard was the perfect solution. We were given a hefty supplementary budget of £93,000 just to get on the air first. Les Priestley and I supervised the production of two commercials during our lunch break one day. They were made at ITN’s West End studios and the whole job was done in less than 20 minutes; in later years I would go overseas with Alan Whicker for a whole two weeks, spend three times as much on production and come back with three commercials! Serious planned television advertising from Barclaycard didn’t begin until 1978 when we made jewellers Shop with Dudley Moore. Having said all that, it was not until 1989 that we discovered that the very first Barclaycard television commercial wasn’t by Barclays at all. It was made in about 1967 by the British Linen Bank (who at that time offered Barclaycard to their Scottish customers) and was shown only North of the Border.


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Thanks to our friends at Barclays Group Archives, and  Lloyds Banking Group Archives, we are pleased to present the British Linen Bank’s Barclaycard Advert, not seen for decades. This version was recovered from videotape and digitised for Martins Bank Archive – all Copyright Holders acknowledged.

(Click the image to see advert on our YouTube® Channel)


John Dalton’s comments were orignially written in a letter to Barclays Connection Magazine in 2000 and are reproduced here by kind permission of the Editor.

TV Advertisement and Barclaycard Name and Logo © Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and all other rights holders 1967 to date.

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unicrod tv mock upThe Barclaycard advertisement did not lead immediately to the advertising floodgates being opened, but in the Autumn of 1968, Martins takes a leaf out of Barclays’ book, and produces a TV advertisement of its own. Martins manages to dodge the gentleman’s agreement by also involving one of its subsidiary companies – Martins Unicorn. A thirty second advertisement was made and shown in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the South, just after the 1968 re-organisation of Independent Television, making Martins FIRST to advertise on TV in England.   Martins Bank Magazine announces the advertisement in its winter 1968 edition…

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1968 04 MBM.jpgThese five pictures are sequences from a 30-second tele­vision commercial used in conjunction with large advertisements in the national Press to publicise the Unicorn Assured Savings Plan. The commercial had its first screening at the end of October on television networks covering Lancashire, York­shire and Southern areas. These areas cover about one-third of homes in this country. With up-to-date electronic aids investment today is fast-moving and needs expert management. This is the theme of the live action com­mercial which ends by telling viewers that they can get into the investment would for only £2 a month through Unicorn's unit-linked assurance scheme.

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1968 Martins Unicorn TV Advert (1) MBM-Wi68P

1968 Martins Unicorn TV Advert (2) MBM-Wi68P

1968 Martins Unicorn TV Advert (3) MBM-Wi68P

1968 Martins Unicorn TV Advert (4) MBM-Wi68P

1968 Martins Unicorn TV Advert (5) MBM-Wi68P


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We are still trying to track down a copy of the ad, but thanks to someone who was actually there when filming took place, we can now at least tell the story of Martins’ first and only foray into the world of TV advertising.  We were delighted to receive an email from Mike Ludbrook, who worked for Martins Unicorn and watched the filming of part of the TV ad.  Mike recalls how the director was inspired by the photogenic qualities of what was then Unicorn’s state of the art computer system.  There’s nothing like the science fiction appeal of flashing light and whirring tape reels to excite the imagination…

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frame 1.jpgI worked for Martins Unicorn in 1968 as a computer programmer and was privy to the making of part of the TV advertisement, some of which was filmed in the computer room at Unicorn's premises, Unicorn House, Romford Road, Forest Gate, East London. As the daytime duty operator/programmer I was asked by the Computer Departments Manager, the late Les Lofts, to show the director from the film company around the computer room.  He explained that the company was here to make a TV advertisement, I assumed  the look around  was  to  get  the director's creative and inspirational juices flowing. On the morning in question I remember there appeared to be very little happening in the room, which was always kept pristine, the only noise being the quiet background hum of the air conditioning and the almost silent chugging away of a reel-to-reel magnetic tape update.

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frame 2.jpg I remember he remarked about the lack of action.  On hearing this I explained that although the room was unattended, there was lots going on. I took him to the Computer's (An ICT 1500) main Control Console, which could be likened to a modern day personal computer key board, but was about the size of a small church organ with illuminated keys inset into a table. I opened the hinged panels above the consul to reveal the computer's memory with its many different coloured lights flashing. His eyes immediately lit up and he was fascinated to hear that this was the  computer’s ‘brain' which did all the processing.  That got his interest and I knew immediately that he would want to film it.  Remember main frame computers were relatively rare in 1968 and probably this was the first one he had seen close up. I told him that the memory was flashing away because a magnetic tape file update (remember this was pre disc drives) was taking place on the reel to reel tape drives.

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frame 3.jpgI led him across to the bank of magnetic tape drives and opened the glass fronted doors. Again he was pleased to see more action with the tapes juddering round. Now I knew he was only interested in action. So I demonstrated the card reader which read, program run parameters, and data, on punched card into the computer at about 1000 cards a minute. Now he was really getting excited. My next demonstration was the Line printer which could print approximately 1400 lines a minute. I set up a test run for aligning and printing cheques which turned to be the best display of action in his eyes when he saw the rate at which the dummy cheques were printed. He left the Computer Room far brighter eyed than when he first entered that morning. After a brief chat between the Film Director, his name escapes me, Les Lofts and myself, it was agreed that the film crew would be back in a few days to do some filming. 

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frame 4.jpgThe filming did indeed start in a few days. I have never seen so many people in the Computer Room, there were about 10 film crew and most of the computer staff. Once the word had got around amongst the staff that an advert was being filmed everyone wanted to be in it. The first thing the Director requested was the ejection of as many of the staff as possible. It was also agreed at the morning discussion that some staff would need to remain for security reasons. I knew he wanted me to set up similar action on the computer as demonstrated during the previous tour. So apart from an operator and the Computer engineer, the room was cleared leaving 3 staff and the film crew. The filming did not last as long as I had anticipated. They filmed most of the peripherals that had moving parts or flashing lights. Also he wanted someone to be filmed operating the keyboard on the Computer Console.

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frame 5.jpgFor this I called in my longtime friend Nick Sault, who was at the time the fastest computer keyboard operator on the staff. Incidentally, Nick subsequently left the company to work in Saudi Arabia as a Senior Programmer with ARAMCO. He has long since retired and now lives in New Zealand breeding small horses.   Months seem to go by before the finished article was given a limited showing to a few privileged members of staff, me being one. From my very vague recollections of the advert, in seemed a bit dull and conservative to say the least especially compared to today's TV offerings.  I also recollect the only part of anybody's human anatomy that appeared in the Advert was Nick Sault's fingers, they appeared to look very fat flashing over the computer keyboard. At the same viewing I also recall asking my boss if the advertisement had yet been aired. Again from my vague recollection I believe that the advertisement had been shown on Tyne-Tees Television, and possibly the Yorkshire or Anglia TV Regions* of the time, never to be heard of again…


IPR © Mike Ludbrook 2010 to date

Images Text and Layout Martins Bank Archive 2010 to date

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*As mentioned in the Martins Bank Magazine article above, the commercial was actually shown in THREE ITV areas – Granada,

Southern Television and the brand-new Yorkshire TV, which at that time, October 1968, was less than three months old.