Gold Hill and The Boy on the Bike. When does a TV Commercial become Art? 

Shaftesbury in Dorset is our latest location on our summer motorhome tour. Shaftesbury – famous for the much photographed Gold Hill. Probably remembered for the scene in the 1967 Far From The Madding Crowd where numerous terrified actors trotted down the wet cobbles on horseback.

Film still from Far from the Madding Crowd, 1967, Shaftesbury Dorset, Gold Hill, Thomas Hardy
Film still from Far from the Madding Crowd, 1967

Ridley Scott’s iconic 1973 TV commercial for Hovis, though, known as Boy on a Bike, is probably even more familiar. In the short film we see a young boy peddling up the steep hill in sepia monochrome, freewheeling down at the end. This scene evokes a memory of a time that probably never existed but we all feel good about. The emotion of the scene is complete with the background music from Dvořák’s From A New World Symphony. 

Film still from Hovis Tv Commercial, The Boy on the Bike, Ridley Scott, 1973 Shaftesbury, Dorset, Gold Hill
Film still from Hovis Tv Commercial, The Boy on the Bike, Ridley Scott, 1973

Are TV commercials art? Well, of course this is an artform, and a very successful one as well. The traditional idea that art was painting, sculpture and architecture are long gone with the technology of film, photography, video, and even computer games. In some respects it is no different than regarding personal private devotion pieces of the Middle Ages, which now adorn our galleries and museums. Perhaps one of our great works of art, The Wilton Diptych, in the National Gallery, was never made as a piece of art. It had a distinct purpose of bringing its owner closer to the presence of God.

The Wilton Diptych; c. 1395–1399; each panel is 53 x 37 cm,
The Wilton Diptych; c. 1395–1399, tempura on wood panel, 53cm x 37 cm, National Gallery, London.

Perhaps the other attribute of a great piece of art is its susceptibility to imitation. Ridley Scott’s advert is no exception, brilliantly lampooned in 1978 by Ronnie Barker, showing the comedian trudging up Gold Hill carrying a loaf of bread to the background of Dvořák and the Dorset Hills – “Grandad always said it was a heck of a long way to fetch a loaf of bread!”

Gold Hill. The other attribute of art is for the spectator to find themselves in the art. So I defy anyone to stand at the top of the hill in Shaftesbury and not have a sense of history and romance – all artificially created by Ridley Scott and Thomas Hardy.

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset. Ho is, Ridley Scott, Ronnie Barker, Far from the madding crowd, Thomas Hardy
Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Susie says:

    A great town and a must visit place


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