Ridley Scott’s Hovis Commercial: “Bike Round” (1973)

In 1968, director Ridley Scott co-founded RSA with his younger brother and fellow director, the late Tony Scott. Short for Ridley Scott Associates, the company would grow to become one of the most prominent commercial houses in the advertising industry, claiming some of the most distinguished filmmakers in the world among its roster.  As for Scott himself, he would eventually direct upwards of over 2000 commercials.  Naturally, this makes it a unwieldy, near-impossible task to generate a comprehensive analysis of his entire body of work– there sheer volume of Scott’s commercial output is so staggeringly large I couldn’t find anything in the way of even a comprehensive list.  As such, the best course of action appears to be a focus on only his most influential and enduring commercial works, of which there are still many.  

The earliest of these is a classic spot for Hovis bread, titled “BIKE ROUND”.  Shot in 1973, the spot has gone one to become a beloved piece of British pop culture.  The concept is relatively simple, with a nostalgic storyline that finds a young boy having to walk his bike up a long, steep hill every day to buy a loaf of bread, only to have a fun ride back down the hill waiting for him as his reward.  Where the piece stands out is in its stately cinematography, which employs a high-contrast, cinematic touch that favors composition and atmosphere over dialogue.  A sense of place is quite palpable here, with Scott’s framing emphasizing the quaint British town that serves as the spot’s backdrop.  The piece feels authentic and well-lived in, and one gets the impression that this very might well be a memory of Scott’s own from somewhere in his childhood

Scott’s aesthetic proves ideally-suited for the commercial space, given his ability to quickly convey an atmosphere and storyline in a visual way that’s both economical and full of detail.  Indeed, one would think he’s been doing this for quite some time. Commercials, by their nature, are transient and impermanent– meant for quick consumption of a timely message and then best forgotten.  This is even more true of spots from “BIKE ROUND”’s era, which tended to eschew flashy narrative in favor of utilitarian messaging.  That Scott’s work here has endured after forty-plus years and amidst the noise of veritable millions of subsequent advertisements is all the more remarkable, and points to his future innovations within the format as well as his cinematic legacy at large.  

HOVIS: “BIKE ROUND” is currently available on Youtube via the embed above.