By 1989, British Airways had been through a period of losing £100 million a year. By 1993, the company was reported to be the world’s most successful airline.
Hugh Hudson (whose directing credits include Chariots of Fire and Greystoke) produced a 1989 commercial for BA that literally gave the company a “human face”. Produced at a cost of over £1 million, the ad had a cast of 4,000 and was seen by over 600 million people in 70 countries.
The idea was to show the eyes, ears, nose and mouth of an enormous face coming together, all seen from a bird’s eye view over Utah. The link was that British Airways claimed to bring 24 million people together every year.
Each part of the face was played by American high school students who were bused to the desert locations.
The students were dressed in different colours to collectively form a face in a sequence choreographed by American Judy Chabola, who had arranged the crowd movements at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
The kids made a face, formed an eye, winked, and then formed the earth. Tom Conti provided the voice-over. Hugh Hudson sat in a helicopter till they got it right.
The theme used in the ad – Aria on Air by Yanni and Malcolm McLaren – was an adaptation of the Flower Duet from Léo Delibes’ 1883 opera Lakmé.