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Who Remembers Admags?

If you’re younger than 35 or so, it’s unlikely that you remember the advertising magazine on independent television, since their brief period of popularity (if that is the word) came to an end when they disappeared from our screens in 1963, following a recommendation for their abolition in the Pilkington Report of the previous year.

Yet in the early days of ITV the advertising magazine or ‘admag’ was an integral part of commercial programming. So what were admags and how did they come about?

Advertising magazines, or ‘shoppers’ guides’ as they were first termed, were in many ways a follow-on from the advertising documentary seen on cinema screens. They were offered as part of the independent television programming formula as an alternative to ‘spot’ advertising in commercial breaks and offered advertisers a more relaxed, less blatant means of putting over a commercial message. Most admags lasted about 15 minutes or so and were uniquely British.

Even though they were mind-numbingly banal, they were different from the output of the BBC and many viewers quite liked them. To quote Jo Gable:

"The admag was unique to Britain and there was a kind of backdoor bravado about them in the way every admag transmission cheekily bumped up the amount of advertising per clock hour. But the viewers never complained. They loved the quaint little programmes, which provided the same fascination as flipping through a mail-order catalogue. There was no telling what came next."

In her book The Tuppenny Punch and Judy Show she lists and describes a whole range of now forgotten admag programmes and it would be a waste of space to repeat all those details here. What can be mentioned is that the programmes changed significantly in character over the years.

The first programmes were entirely filmic; they were recorded on film, used film stars and their style was borrowed from cinema convention. Presentation was formal and stylish – which flattered the target audience but hardly accorded with their own lifestyles. Later admags were staged live in the studio and were much more down to earth.

Slater’s Bazaar starred actor John Slater openly plugging products, whilst Send for Saunders had as its star a concierge in a block of flats, whose residents were constantly running out of household products and borrowing these from Saunders, with free advice on them thrown in. Most popular by a long shot was Jim’s Inn, a homely pub run by Jimmy Hanley. Regular characters were always dropping in and discussing the latest whizzo bargain they had found, and such was the programme’s popularity that an LP album, Singalong at Jim’s Inn, was cut for fans, featuring the cast singing old-time favourites.

If admags represented such harmless and popular entertainment, why were they taken off? Simply because they blurred the distinction between advertisements and programmes and amounted to sponsored programming, at that time banned by the ITA.

Disdained by the authorities, admags were soon forgotten. Most went out live and were thus not recorded. Not a single complete admag survives in the National Film and Television Archive and of the two they have, Going Shopping with Elizabeth Allan – Harrods is the most complete item remaining. It was shown in the London area only and was made for what was then called the Associated Broadcasting Company or ABC-TV, later known as ATV.


British Television Advertising: The First 30 Years, by Brian Henry (Century Benham Ltd, 1986).

The Tuppenny Punch and Judy Show: 25 Years of TV Commercials, by Jo Gable (Michael Joseph Ltd, 1980).

© 1998 Andrew Emmerson.

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