If there is one commercial that both looks and sounds and in all honesty probably even smells like the absolute definitive representation of the seventies’ deluded vision of profligate glamour in an austere world somehow staggering on into the eighties – a baffling juxtaposition tantamount to The Delfonics and Skiboy being turned away from Stringfellows for being too ‘jet set’ – then it has to be that Ferrero Rocher commercial with The Ambassador’s Reception.
Yes, that infamous one set to a cheap and nasty soft porn soundtrack-like reworking of Gazebo’s minor Europop hit I Like Chopin and a voiceover by Tom from Pipkins and featuring a concierge proffering a tray of Ferrero Rocher arranged into a pyramid around a party full of swanky monied types positioned somewhere between an escaped ‘function’ scene from Howards’ Way and that thing with ‘medals’ that inspired George Harrison to write I Me Mine, the bloke saying ‘EXCHURLENTE’ despite appearing to actually be saying something else entirely, and – as a thousand bad punchlines that can’t even be bothered to quote it correctly will gleefully attest – the woman declaiming “Monsieur – with this Rocher you are really spoiling us!”. The only real problem with this theory and indeed with the advert itself – apart from it being comically cheap, comically tacky and comically dreadful, of course – is that it doesn’t date from the seventies or even the eighties. The Ambassador’s Reception, as far as anyone can ascertain, took place in 1993.
This was, it has to be said, an unlikely time to be so opulently endorsing such a wildly outdated sub-scene in a Bond Film that just slows everything down-level vision of how the monied few live and everyone else gets told that they want to regardless of whether they actually do or not. By 1993, aspirational glamour had been largely outmanoeuvred by more easily attainable and affordable ‘sophistication’, which could be yours for the cost of a few Habitat glasses, a Cranberries CD, one of those collections of ‘new writing’ that came free with The Observer, and some Purdey’s Natural Energy to swig in an ostentatiously minimalist fashion whilst you perused your PEPs and TESSAs. In less Big World Cafe-aligned circles, a worryingly large volume of young adults were literally wearing filthy jumpers with whopping great holes in them with angst-inflected pride, while others were enthusiastically reclaiming the sort of sportswear last seen on kids who wanted ‘a word’ with Pogo Patterson at the end of an episode of Grange Hill, and others still threw on a multicoloured shellsuit, downed a couple of tablets and frankly could not care less. The Society Pages were only read by those who were actually in the Society Pages, Hello! magazine’s persistent attempts to introduce the world to a new wave of flashily betitled and entitled photocopier paper-faced aristocrats were the subject of widespread scorn and ridicule, and on top of everything else, 1993 was seen out by Adrian Edmondson breaking down and shouting that it was advertisers who should be in the dock rather than poor old Godfrey Spry at the end of If You See God, Tell Him. Everyone had seen through the family crests and seen past the Gwyn from Absolutely-style blazers that they were stitched onto, so why were Ferrero still trying to push their most prominent product as the chosen scoffage of Prince Michael Of Moldavia?
The simple answer is that pseudo-aristocratic elitism was the only lifestyle that Ferrero Rocher had ever known. In an age where confectionary brought back from ‘abroad’, whether it was those long blister pack strips of moderately sour cola sweets that drew huge salivating crowds in the playground to those whopping great exotic variant Toblerones that at least presented the illusion that someone had thoughtfully picked up a gift for you whilst they were actually on holiday rather than had just remembered at the last minute in the airport, were the last word esoteric allusions to cultural and literal wealth and glamour, Ferrero Rocher were the gold foil-wrapped gold standard. Not only were the constituent elements an elaborate arrangement of highly-appointed ingredients – at the time even hazelnuts were widely affected to denote some form of elusive and otherwise unattainable benchmark of authenticity and quality – they came in their own gilt-crinkled wrapping with tightly ruffed thick paper casing, and what’s more were presented inside a smooth hinged plastic box with the same degree of thickness as the windows on the jewellery case in the Picture Box opening titles. They looked way too elaborate and well-appointed for the likes of you, but cost only marginally more than an oversized wedge of Dairy Box. They even looked like they could do that refractive camera lens hot blue star-esque glinting thing more normally seen on about-to-be-stolen gems in seventies thrillers and Maggie Moone’s dresses on Name That Tune entirely of their own volition. Small wonder, then, that they instantly became the de rigueur thank you gift for someone who had done something that selflessly went way above and beyond the call of duty such as, say, helping to arrange something for a school fete.
Nothing tarnishes like glamour, of course (and there’s more about the decline and fall of this one-time sophisticate’s choice here), and it’s entirely likely that by 1993, everyone was so bored with being relentlessly expected to be performatively impressed by Ferrero Rocher that they would probably actually have preferred Dairy Box. There was still one deeper, larger and more grandiose level to Ferrero’s romantic razzle-dazzle, however, that sat beyond the reach even of The Ambassador and company, and which has lost absolutely none of its societally transcendent eliter-than-elite allure. This was Ferrero Prestige, a big massive tray full of Rocher and tantalisingly mysterious ‘other’ Ferrero chocolates which would loom into view like The Domo from Eternals, and sail straight over your head and off into the distance occasioning ineffective disapproving glances in the direction of anyone who had craned their neck in an attempt to try and work out what the enigmatic interlopers actually were, pressed into service whenever anyone needed to be thanked for something utterly off-the-scale like helping to arrange a really good school fete.
One of these enigmatic interlopers was Mon Chéri – literally ‘My Darling’ – which took the form of a curved milk chocolate trapezoid containing a combination of cherry liqueur and an actual cherry, wrapped in the sort of pale pastel pink so beloved of C86 bands yet here evoking a world of cocktails, casinos, romantic art gallery trips and countless other places and parties that members of The Bodines would never have been allowed within eighty seven million miles of. Mon Chéri shared its literally prestigious tray space with the similarly hazelnut-skewed confection Küsschen – ‘Little Kisses’ – and, more excitingly, Pocket Coffee. Marked out by the deployment of the most stylisedly seventies lettering imaginable, the oblong blocks of dark chocolate containing an actual literal shot of gooey Arabica espresso that constituted Pocket Coffee held an allure and glamour redolent of the days when ‘proper’ coffee was the preserve of smartly dressed yet grounded would-be sophisticates rather than seriouser than serious broadsheet press professional types telling you off for liking the occasional Caffè Nero because they know about some place where they use a blend nobody else knows about where the coffee is filtered through old episodes of The Tennis Elbow Foot Game and then sent through the post to TV’s Tony Dortie so he can add in an even more elusive blend infused with shredded copies of Week Ending – The Cabinet Leeks then pack it into recycled card boxes and get his cat to give it a thumbs up before mailing it back fresh to the shop every third Wednesday and anyway why are you going to see Eternals instead of الرجل الذي باع ظهره is that gum are you chewing blahdi blahdi sodding blah. None of whom would ever appreciate or indeed deserve Pocket Coffee, but it has to be said that Pocket Coffee was also wasted on the usual actual recipients of a tray of Ferrero Prestige, who were invariably the sort of people who would ‘hand them round’ without them ever seeming to actually reach you.
So if they weren’t intended for hoity-toity Mindhunter-watchinger-than-thou types or those who could take them or leave them to be honest with you but they really did enjoy arranging that Tombola, who were those enigmatic extra-curricular chocolates aimed at? Well, it clearly wasn’t The Ambassador. He may have all the money in the world, but there’s one thing he can’t buy – a dinosaur – and nor can he buy his way into the sort of casually quirky and assured lifestyle choices that the corresponding advertising campaigns suggested the designated raiders of the outer reaches of the average Ferrero Prestige had made almost without thinking about it. While the reception guests were marvelling at how exchurlente the Rocher were, Mon Chéri opted for a comic vignette about a businesswoman dressed like she meant business clearing up after a swanky dinner party and using the art of popping a chocolate into her gob to send a ‘signal’ to that guy she’s had her eye on for a while, Küsschen daringly depicted a racy scenario with a group of young upwardly mobile types enthusiastically coupling up over chocolates with massive beaming smiles and which ended with an actual literal wink-to-camera multi-snog initiated ménage à trois – honest to goodness, this is what you maniacs voted to leave – and Pocket Coffee deployed a ‘meet cute’-style mini-romance with two stylish arty types bonding over pepping themselves up during an evening school exam. Quite what then went on to the sound of Laura Pausini and 883 is frankly anyone’s guess, though we can be fairly certain that they would have had a more legitimate claim to be being ‘spoiled’.
Nowadays, the only person you’ll find building a pyramid out of Ferrero Rocher is Richard Herring (although more about that here), and The Ambassador’s oh so lavishly appointed billionaire’s alternative to a selection box is built instead around a huge quantity of Ferrero Rocher flanked by half as many again of its two close praline paste relations; coconut and almond acquired taste variant Rafaello, and the little-acknowledged Rondoir, a negative mirror-universe version crafted from varying hues of plain chocolate and presumably hailing from a ‘Dark Future’ timeline where the Ambassador has slightly different hair. Well, it might explain why that bloke’s voice was so badly out of sync. If it still looms into view like The Domo, then it’s The Domo after Pip The Troll has teleported in and stank out the place. Meanwhile, if you really want to impress a small room full of people – rich, cultured, jumping in and out of pants with the two nearest adjacent bits of alright or otherwise – then you really ought to try building a pyramid of Pyramint.
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If you’ve enjoyed this, then you’ll enjoy Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. Though Pocket Coffee would be even more welcome, obviously. I’m saying nothing about Küsschen.
The somewhat less aspirational world of cheap substitute colas is explored – if not exactly taste-tested – in Can’t Beat The Real Thing here. You can also some find some thoughts on Ferrero Rocher’s fall from glamour in Christmas Emergency Questions here.
There’s much more about the esoteric thrill of sweets and chocolates that you only ever saw ‘on holiday’ in Looks Unfamiliar with Joanne Sheppard here.
© Tim Worthington.
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