On a blisteringly hot day last summer, they were filming out the back of the Adelphi. Not the Adelphi much beloved of fans and petty thieves, but the building where I work. There's a terrace there, which looks something like a city street on a clear day with a following wind. Gradually, we all stopped working and started gazing out of the window. Not that gazing out of the window isn't a prime option most of the time from that particular desk. The view unfolds over the Embankment Gardens to the Thames, with the Houses of Parliament visible past the bridge into Charing Cross. When I was a child, I owned Richard Scarry's Big Book of Towns, which included a drawing of a typical view of a big town. There were big buildings, and old buildings, roads with red double decker buses, parks full of flowers and a river with a bridge over it. There were boats on the river, trains on the bridge and planes in the sky. At some point I realised that towns like this didn't really exist; until the day I started working in the Adelphi, and was astonished by this view straight out of the imaginary past. I only got to keep the fabulous view for a few days, but that's another story; one of those few days was the day they were filming.
I had visions of the Adelphi appearing in some grand costumed Victorian drama; it is after all a grand costumed building, much the nicest building I've ever worked in, with the view of Westminster so beloved of film and TV people. But the actors milling around outside in the blazing sunshine were wearing ordinary street clothes. Well, ordinary winter street clothes; they all had on overcoats, hats, gloves and scarves. The lamppost looked a little funny, too. It had a sign saying "tow-away zone $50 penalty" attached to it, and a squat blue mailbox with a USPS logo at the base. Ah; instant New York, I see. At the far end of the terrace a subway sign had been tacked onto the steps leading down into the gardens. A yellow cab pulled up by the side of the road, and a couple of US style cars drove by. By this time I was getting decidedly curious about what it was that they were filming.
There was one exception to the people in overcoats. This was a man dressed as a Viking, with various leathers and furs, and one of those pointy helmets with horns on. He was clearly having a bad hair day, was ringing a bell and was wearing a sandwich board on which was emblazoned THE END IS NEAR. I thought of Rorschach. Dead dog in the gutter today.
In fact, there was a second exception to the people in the overcoats. There was a man in a polo shirt, shorts and sandals, with sunglasses on. He alone looked remotely comfortable in the sunshine. He was the director, and he seemed quite relaxed at this point. He asked the actors to walk up and down the street as if they were in a city, while the Viking rang his bell and prophesied doom. He called Action! and everybody started walking up and down the street, all keeping to the left in two distinct columns. From our windows above, it looked exactly like formation marching. The director began to look a little agitated. They tried again, and again; each time getting a little bit closer to the goal of looking like ordinary people walking down the street, something which most of us manage to make a reasonable fist of on a daily basis without even trying.
Eventually the director was happy with how they were coping, and started filming. A chap with a clapper board appeared. "Bunny. Scene One. Take One." By this point, the city-dwellers were beginning to look considerably wilted. The Viking still seemed suitably doom-laden. He'd target individuals and show them his sign, give them a few fleas, that sort of thing. The cab would stop and people would get in and out. The overcoat wearers would sweat. The camera rolled up and down the street. "Bunny. Scene One. Take Seven." The director became increasingly frustrated. The watching staff in the Adelphi went off to get some lunch. Outside our air-conditioned building, it was really hot.
By the time we came back, that scene was a wrap. As they say. There was now a clear air of anticipation amongst the actors. It was time for the star to appear. A space formed in the middle of the terrace, and, from a trailer, the Energizer Bunny appeared. The rabbit was about three foot high, and a nasty shade of pink, and had a drum with Energizer on the side. I was confused; I was sure it was the Duracell Bunny. The more I thought about it, the more certain I was; Warren Street station had been sponsored by Duracell for a while, with jokes about rabbits and warrens all over the place, and special messages on the message boards, which are fortuitously orange and black, such as "tube trains come and go, but Duracell goes on and on" and so forth. A colleague explained that he'd asked the director about this at lunchtime; apparently the original was the Energizer Bunny, in America; that Duracell had nicked it for the UK; that you can't copyright pink rabbits; and that Energizer had decided to nick it back. The Energizer Bunny was wearing a miniature sandwich board. It was at a funny angle and I couldn't read it. Dead bunny in the gutter today, perhaps.
The people moved up and down the street again. The Viking rang his bell. The Energizer Bunny just sat there. The Viking stopped in amazement when he saw the bunny, for no reason I could tell. Perhaps he was expecting Duracell? His bell dropped to his side. His eyes followed as the bunny walked down the street. Except that it didn't. It just sat in one place. No banging the drum, no walking, nothing. We were most disappointed, and fell to discussing how they would animate the ad. Maybe there was another film which was pasted into the live action using a computer? Whatever; this bunny didn't move.
Suddenly, all was revealed. All this time, we had been watching the Energizer Bunny's Stunt Double. The substitute was whisked away, and out came the genuine article, along with his entourage. You know how film stars have personal assistants? The Energizer Bunny has three personal assistants, each of whom operate a different bit by remote control. And what bits. His ears waggled, his eyes rolled, his head moved from side to side. He banged his drum, and of course he walked. All of these features could be operated independently, so that he could waggle his left ear only, or bang on the right side of the drum. Whenever nothing very much was happening, he had a tendency to tap his foot impatiently and roll his eyes a bit. What's more, he had actually turned up dressed for the weather, as he was wearing nothing but sunglasses and flip-flops (ideal for use at the Radisson Edwardian).
It was much easier to read the sandwich board on the real Energizer Bunny. If you've been reading this far to find out the punchline to the advertisement, your wait is over. It said SPEAK FOR YOURSELF. The bunny would roll forwards -- there were wheels under those feet -- and the Viking, in mid-rant, would catch sight of the sandwich board, be speechless with wonder and give up attempting to convince people of the imminent end of the world. Pretty impressive effect for one small electronic bunny. They rehearsed this a great many times. The Viking did seem to be having rather a lot of trouble getting over the true essence of amazement, but that's probably not surprising in the face of the rabbit's star quality. By this time, the director was clearly fed up.
Eventually he decided they were ready to film this second scene. This required a considerable wait as they set up the camera, wiped down the Viking, soothed the bunny's ruffled nerves, that sort of thing. The extras took off their overcoats for a rest, making it clear they were all wearing swimsuits underneath to cope with the weather, and lay around in the shade. The director was beginning to look tired as well as irritated. Even the bunny looked a little less vibrant as he tapped his foot dolefully.
After what seemed like hours, the cameraman finally announced they were ready for the take. All the people walked up and down the street convincingly. The Viking was giving it great gusto. The director was optimistic. The lights were on. The camera was rolling, and the Energizer Bunny started moving. He walked forwards. He waggled his ears. He readied his arms to start banging the drum.
And then his drumstick fell off.
The crowd inside the building cheered. The sweaty extras fell about laughing. The director swore like a Viking. The Viking managed an expression of drop-dead astonishment for the first and last time that day. The drumstick rolled along the floor and came to rest by the cameraman. And the Energizer Bunny rolled his eyes and tapped his foot, as if to say "Why do I always have to work with amateurs?"
-- Alison Scott
[A special note, for the web edition of Plokta only. The Energizer Bunny's home page, source of the animated GIF above, is at www.energizer.com].
While on the subject of bunnies, we hear that an American
description of men is FLAB. We wonder if the Energizer Bunny requires a fourth
personal assistant to operate this portion of his anatomy.
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