Actor Geoffrey Palmer has died at the age of 93. A star of countless films and television programmes, he was also known as the voice of Audi in the 1980s.
“Vorsprung durch Technik, as they say in Germany,” he drawled in the first Audi television advert in 1983. We didn’t know what it meant, but Geoffrey Palmer lent it an air of authority. The tagline and Palmer’s voice helped to springboard Audi into the mainstream. The rest is history.
Creatives John Bartle, Nigel Bogle and John Hegarty started their ad agency (BBH) in 1982. Audi was one of their first clients.
John Hegarty spotted ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ on a faded poster during a visit to an Audi factory in 1982. “I had gone to Ingolstadt and found the factory and I saw a very old faded poster on the wall that someone had left up there,” Hegarty told The Guardian.
“I saw this line ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’. They said that was an old advertising line but ‘we don’t use it any more’. And it stuck in my brain.”
Even Hagerty had no idea what it meant, but the phrase popped up in a creative meeting. There was a reluctance to use a foreign phrase in a British television advert, but Hagerty went with his gut feeling. ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ went on to become one of the most famous catchphrases of the 1980s. It progressed beyond advertising, cementing a place in popular culture.
“It’s got nothing to do with your ‘Vorsprung durch Technik, you know,” uttered Phil Daniels in the 1994 Blur hit Parklife, as he pulled up alongside an Audi Cabriolet in a Ford Granada. And who can forget Del Boy uttering the line in an episode of Only Fools and Horses?
The first Audi television advert was for the 100. It focused on the Schmidts, the Müllers and the Reinhardts heading to their holiday villas. “The Reinhardts drive an Audi 100,” drawled Geoffrey Palmer in his delightfully pompous voice. “If you want to get on the beach before the Germans, you’d better buy an Audi 100,” he advised.
Thirty-seven years on, how many Brits know what ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ means? Does it really matter? The fact is, John Hagerty made the right decision by following through his hunch. BBH also deserves credit for getting the brilliant Geoffrey Palmer to become the voice of Audi in the 1980s.
For what it’s worth, ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ roughly translates as ‘Advancement through Technology’. It’s lucky Hagerty wasn’t on a tour of the TVR factory in Blackpool. ‘Ted Put The Bonnets Back You Lazy T***’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.
RIP Geoffrey Palmer. May you be the first to the beach in your aerodynamic Audi 100.