Roy’s a Southern Man

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Who can’t recall that original Speight’s TV ad where the old-timer consoles his mate about his “city girl” girlfriend? 

The mate’s new girlfriend has … a place on the harbour, a 500 SL Mercedes, 80-foot yacht and her old man’s got a box at Eden Park – but she doesn’t drink Speight’s. 

“She’s a hard road finding the perfect woman, boy,” the old man intones in a gravelly voice. 

Roy Meares, 63, the English-born advertising genius who wrote that Speight’s ad in the 1980s, is now happily retired in Queens­town – but still has plenty of creative energy. 

Meares is dabbling again in art – he went to art school in England before shifting to New Zealand. Today he leaves for a two-month art class in Santa Barbara, US. 

“I just want to get the same creative energy out of now doing art as I did in advertising.” 

Meares says he was working in Auckland for worldwide agency Saatchi & Saatchi when he was asked to revive the Speight’s brand. 

“In those days, what was the line, ‘drink Speight’s and lose your mates’ – it was declining rapidly. 

“When I sold the idea to the client it was just when beer advert­ising was allowed to be on TV. 

“Of course, they wanted something exciting – like the ‘Southern Man’ rescuing some Japanese tourists.” 

Meares recalls his client being a bit nonplussed when he revealed his script was two guys sitting around a fire having a conversation. 

The ad, of course, took off – even spawning events like Wanaka’s annual Perfect Woman competition. 

Years earlier, Meares had also done his bit for Speight’s by penning the lyrics for the Southern Man anthem – the one with the chorus line: “I’m a Southern Man, and I’m Southern bred, I got the South in my blood, and I’ll be here till I’m damn well dead”. 

Meares says the brewery used the ‘Southern Man’ tag for its billboards but couldn’t then advertise on radio or TV. 

“They said, ‘Can you write a song that everyone down South knows you’re talking about Speight’s?’ 

“I wrote the lyrics, Murray Grindlay wrote the melody and they loved it,” Meares says. 

“It always amused me that here was this ex-Pom, living in Auckland, writing all of these scripts for these Southern boys.” 

Meares says his Speight’s ads and long-running Anchor family ads for dairy products were the first authentic New Zealand ones. 

“When I first got into advertising here, you would look at all the creative reels from Britain and basically copy them.” 

Meares was also behind Steinlager’s famous ‘They’re drinking our beer here’ campaign and later revived the Clydesdale ads for DB Draught. 

“I’d always wanted the Clydes­dales to pull the beer truck out.”

Ironically, Meares shot this scene on Queenstown’s Speargrass Flat Road – the same road he bought a property in 12 years later, in 2008. 

Meares says he was used to coming down to Otago, including Queenstown, at the time he did the Speight’s ads. 

“I used to wake up in the morning at Millbrook [near Arrowtown] and think, ‘God, this is a beautiful place, I wish I could live here’. 

“[Film producer mate] Jeff Williams, after a boozy lunch, was taking me back to Millbrook and we were going down Speargrass Flat Rd. 

“He said, ‘there’s a place for sale’, so two days later my then-wife and I ended up signing for it.” 

One of Meares’ last campaigns, after he moved here two and a half years ago, was for the Government’s Kiwibank. 

“We’d done the little green car, and they then wanted to do something about their specific products. 

“We came up with using Sam Neill, not thinking he’d do it, because he’d never done a TV commercial in NZ before but he agreed to it.” 

Meares says he shot movie star Neill with local-based director Roger Tompkins, whom he’d teamed up with for the Speight’s ads. 

Meares – who’s on the board of Film Otago Southland – says he loves living in Queenstown. 

“I’ve spent half of my life trying to polish shit, quite honestly, trying to give ‘me-too’ products some sort of personality.
“But here you’ve got it – the basic product is brilliant, comparable with anything around the world. 

“The only thing is, you’ve got to keep re-inventing it and re-packaging it – it’s just a matter of keeping it fresh.” 

Did someone say Destination Queenstown is looking for a new marketing manager?