Not the comfy chair! Household names are now part of the furniture

THERE she was in an ad for a chair.

Honor Blackman. Honor Blackman, sex symbol. Honor Blackman who could outrun, outfight and out-seduce whichever of the James Bonds she co-starred with. Honor Blackman who could move between rooftops with a single bound.

She still looks pretty good. But the chair, my god, the chair. No ordinary chair, this one. Nope. This is one of those chairs you sit in and then pull a lever which brings a padded platform up under your legs, so you recline without effort. And that’s not the worst of it.

It’s also one of those chairs that, when you’re fed up looking at your own feet, will (by application of another lever or a button cleverly hidden in the upholstery) lift you up and tip you onto your feet, thereby sparing you the task of dragging yourself up out of its comforting embrace.

I’m not knocking the chair. It’s probably a godsend, in furniture terms, to many an arthritic or post-operative person. It’s finding Honor Blackman flogging it that would put me off my porridge. If I ate porridge, which I don’t. As a child, I resolved that once I was grown up, I would never allow porridge, rhubarb, prunes or cabbage to pass my lips, and although I softened a bit on the cabbage, the others remain banned.

The Honor Blackman chair experience is right up there with seeing the star of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” on American TV a while back, advertising that spodgy peppermint-flavoured adhesive used to keep your false teeth from falling into your lap.

It’s a world away from the guy who does the “t-two two two, one eight ninety” ad. You know the guy who pops up in the car behind the couple who are too dumb to work out how to get a telephone number? The guy is adorable, with his delighted smirk and his silly song. He’s using his recent and current fame as one of D’Unbelievables to peddle a service that has no particular statement to make about him, his teeth, virility or mobility. Although, in time to come, he may enter one of those markets too.

Not that actors are the only ones to cash in on their past fame. Politicians, on a few rare occasions, have done it, too. I remind you (at my peril) of Bertie in the cupboard. Just as edifying was Bob Dole, former US Presidential hopeful, pushing Viagra on the TV-viewing public in the United States.

But while individual politicians, when retired, may be able to tug at trailing wires of leftover affection, politicians as a class or sector never become popular enough to become anything other than company directors, like Charlie McCreevy. It’s just not a trade that delivers credibility applicable elsewhere, unlike being a member of the Defence Forces.

Soldiering, particularly in Britain and the US, has always been a great jumping-off point for later career progress. Military men have always been household names, going back to Roman times, and they have, down the centuries, parlayed it into formidable second careers. Dwight D Eisenhower moved seamlessly from being commander in the field in Europe to becoming commander in chief in the White House.

A series of waves, throughout the 20th century, brought one profession or another to prominence and public approval. Priests rode one of those waves, with stars like Bing Crosby and Spencer Tracy portraying on film priests who had made their mark on American life, while in Ireland, programmes like the Late Late Show, Radharc and others made men like Fr Fergal O’Connor, Fr Peter Lemass, Fr Michael Cleary and Bishop Eamon Casey into instantly recognisable figures, with general approval accompanying the recognition.

Another wave brought retailers into the public domain. Up to the 70s, grocers were grocers, full stop. Then came a period when grocers became public figures. Some of them did it through advertising. Pat Quinn appeared in his own newspaper and TV ads, his distinctive white polo neck sweater part of his brand. Fergal Quinn managed to differentiate himself without paying for it.

Much as we might like to, it’s impossible to gloss over the fact that, up to about four years ago, property developers were the heroes of the hour. Property developers, particularly the one with the skunk stripe in his hair, became the people to watch and envy, because of their girlfriends, cars, helicopters and holidays. That wave crashed on a shore called NAMA. But the current swell was building to take its place.

The current wave has made celebs out of economists. Most people could now name, off the top of their heads, four or five economists. They couldn’t name four or five lecturers or professors drawn from any other academic discipline. Each of our third level colleges, for example, has dozens of staff in their English departments, but other than Marie Louise O’Donnell, names don’t spring readily to mind, and Marie Louise’s springs to mind not because of her day job, but because of her willingness to go down sewers and find the experience enchanting for the benefit of radio listeners.

Economists are the exception. We follow economists the way we follow football teams and with almost as much vitriol.

You’ll hear people dissing someone else’s pet economist as “a media hoor”. The riposte may be that at least their man was the first to warn that the property bubble would have no soft landing.

Not so long ago, a few building societies and stockbrokers kept an economist as a kind of mascot for placement on radio programmes. Like Jim Power and Robbie Kelleher. Neither, though, had quite the appeal of David McWilliams, who’s like a cross between a university lecturer and a romantic lead, all studied pauses and forelock-wafting. Until McWilliams, the full potential of the forelock went unexplored. It was mostly used for tugging in Oirish melodrama, which doesn’t come near to releasing its full potential. So you have to hand it to McWilliams. Never mind whether or not he dreamed up the phrase “Celtic Tiger,” his real claim to fame is placing the forelock front and centre.

NOT all recently-famous economists have sought their fame. Morgan Kelly, for example, seems to hibernate for quite long periods before emerging from his burrow, issuing his thoughts and scurrying back underground. Stephen Kinsella and Brian Lucey are not so seasonal and share a kind of good-humoured impatience with those (notably in Government) too thick to see what to them is obvious.

Lucey has the look of a man who’d take you on in the car park out the back and then go for a pint with you. That’s if he wasn’t appearing at one of those roadshows that achieves sell- out audience numbers.

The Unique Selling Point of all these economists is their certitude. There’s a great comfort in listening to a clever clogs who has never had a doubt in his life.

The scary thing is the likelihood that, 25 years down the road, when we’ve paid off everybody’s debts, these guys will still be on our televisions.

Except at that point, the likelihood is that they’ll be flogging denture adhesive, Viagra and self-ejecting chairs.

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