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The Comedy of Errors

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2 January 16 words: Advertising Sectioned
Nottingham adverts ripped from the pages of history, brought to you by Wayne Burrows
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TecQuipment of Long Eaton (c.1987)

It’s all gone a bit Penthouse and Pavement this month. Or, at least, the clipart used in this 1987 advert for a Long Eaton-based technology company has the look of something lifted from Heaven 17’s tongue-in-cheek corporate electro sellout LP, Penthouse and Pavement, released in 1981.

Tragically for all of us, in the half-decade between the first appearance of that LP and the big bang deregulation of the City of London’s financial markets, the yuppie suits, joyless handshakes and sucked-in cheekbones parodied on the record’s sleeve art – and seen here, too – had all achieved real-life ubiquity in most workplaces, and much of the advertising imagery of eighties Britain.

What had happened in between, of course, was a summer of riots, an actual war in the Falklands, a 1983 election win for Margaret Thatcher and the 1984 miners’ strike. All of which had led inexorably to the scrapping of mostly northern and Midlands-based manufacturing industries to put the wider economy in the predominantly London-based hands of the aforementioned City’s financial markets.

By the time 1987 came around, the imagery and go-getting slogans of the corporate business world had become as central to Western popular culture as the Red Army soldier and square-jawed worker had been to the USSR in the fifties. The business suit was the standard uniform of the individualist. The six-packs of sports stars in Nike trainers on advertising hoardings came complete with Soviet-style injunctions to Just Do It and behold our glorious entrepreneurial future.

In fact, if you substitute the new computer technology’s aesthetics for the old industrial-age portraits of electrified factories, you could plausibly argue that Communism probably didn’t really collapse in 1989. Instead, it shed most of its stated obligations to the people subject to it, then simply privatised its propaganda, surveillance, prisons and bureaucracy on the way over the Iron Curtain. In their own small way, TecQuipment of Long Eaton really had seen Tomorrow’s Leaders.

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