Tuesday, 5 September 2017


An online article I noticed yesterday on TechRadar prompted me to relive the famous John Smith's Extra Smooth Bitter TV ad from July 1996. This is the one that shows comedian Jack Dee extolling the virtues of that brew against a lurid bubble-filled background inhabited by oversized flame-spouting penguins. But more on that in a moment.

The TechRadar article was bemoaning Google's decision to crack down on apps that copied videos on YouTube. I didn't know any existed. Apparently there were several. Now they are all under threat, and may shortly become unobtainable, with the result that no ordinary Internet user will be able to download and keep their very own personal copy of something shown on YouTube.

I wish I had known sooner that this had been a possibility. It always irritated me about YouTube that although you could watch, you couldn't download. Now it looks as if that's how it will be forever, as Google clearly want to make YouTube's content inaccessible except through streaming.

The article is at http://www.techradar.com/news/a-number-of-third-party-youtube-apps-and-youtube-rippers-are-closing-down. They supply instructions on how to set up - at your own risk - one of the remaining apps that will capture and download a favourite video. I don't think I will be attempting that. Even if it proves technically successful, there is the legality issue to consider. Google clearly regard such downloading as near-piracy - the video equivalent of downloading music tracks one hasn't paid for - and I wouldn't want to invite trouble. (It is however tempting to set up the app in question, and see what it can accomplish...)

Naturally I fired up YouTube and checked what I presently had in my 'favourites'. Not much, as it happens. I am not an avid watcher or collector of videos. But I did have a few items bookmarked that I would consider downloading if I had the means to do so. Among them was the 1996 Jack Dee ad with the giant flame-belching and flipper-waving penguins.

This mustn't be confused with the 1993 series of John Smith's penguin ads, in which Jack Dee would be typically propping up the bar at a very quiet and traditional spit-and-sawdust Yorkshire pub, surrounded by squeaky little penguins whom he is easily able to put down and dismiss with his dry humour. The 1996 ad might be called The Penguins' Revenge. The penguins mock and menace him, as he strolls oblivious over a vast penguin belly, through a frothy and bubbly beer-glass landscape, up through the anus of a humongous penguin, emerging from its gaping mouth, and then finally stepping over beer can lids floating over a beery void. Unaware of his bizarre surroundings, and the near-misses of projectile penguins, he maintains a cool, detached and matter-of-fact delivery. The final custard-pie in his face - and he is still oblivious of this - is to pop him into a silly penguin suit as he walks off at the end.

All the time he believes he is doing his deadpan stuff on an empty set, merely holding a pint of John Smith's Extra Smooth Bitter in his hand, and taking the odd sip. At the end he is assured that the post-production team will project him into a normal pub background. But of course we see that they have an 'action sequence' in mind that he absolutely won't like.

Jack Dee later distanced himself from the penguins. The earlier John Smith ads had helped to make him a household name, but he must have felt that his future career was being hindered by the creatures. I went to see him at the Dome in Brighton sometime late in the 1990s, and his act (and our enjoyment of the show) was ruined by a loud heckler who kept asking him where the penguins were. He had ample reason to dislike them.

By the 1990s beer was no longer my favourite drink, but I thought the 1996 John Smith's ad with Jack Dee was very amusing. It had, at the time, been possible to capture ads like this on a VHS home video recording. And no doubt the variable-quality clips from that time that you can now see on YouTube were originally saved in that way. But nobody in a home environment could then have used a computer to make and preserve a modern video file, the mp4 video format being available only from 2001. What a pity.

And it wasn't going to be possible now. I wondered whether I might instead get the gist of the thing by taking a series of still screenshots on my phone. It would certainly convey the look and development of the 43-second ad, but there wouldn't be Jack Dee's voice, nor the music. Oh well, better than nothing. See what you think.

Nearly all the above were taken as screenshots on my phone. The taller shots were screen prints on my laptop - I thought the rendition might be better, but it isn't. Clearly the YouTube video was derived from a smeary, low-resolution VHS tape! I used to have software that would stretch the narrower shots vertically, but it wasn't compatible with Windows 10, and I'm not going to spend money on having that rarely-used facility.

Gosh, didn't Jack Dee look young then? Well, it was twenty-one years ago, and he was only thirty-five.

I wonder who played the penguins? Unless, of course, they were real...


  1. Technology was so promising such a short while ago. Forced changes, security fears and computers in need of upgrading has me wondering why bother. Laptop expired half an hour ago and is not going to be replaced... Youtube has become an irritating thing to watch with constant interruptions, even during a video, that I find it unbearable. Short video pieces often have 30 second ads before they play, am I alone in hitting the kill button and moving on?

  2. Coline, you are not alone. Up to a point, the Internet is fascinating, but it's not the only thing in life, and doesn't replace (for instance) face-to-face friendships. Nor do I think you can ever have genuine fun prodding screens and keyboards.

    I like it for its research possibilities. If I want to recall something, and learn a bit about it, the chances are that somebody has already posted up a piece about it for me to read. But if it's something that can be visited, then I hanker after seeing it for myself, as a real-world thing to do.

    Sorry to learn about your laptop. Requiescat in pace, I say.



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