The power of television advertising for my generation can be seen by the associations it makes.
The River Tyne (which runs just a mile and a half from where I write) is famous both for heavy industry at its estuary (coal exports from Medieval times, ship-building later); and for salmon fishing in its scenic upper reaches (before, and now after, the era of heavy industry).
The sight of a man in waders, standing in midstream, casting a fly for salmon; is one of the most iconic country scenes hereabouts; as elsewhere. As Thoreau wrote in a favourite passage from his A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River:
I can just remember an old brown-coated man who was the Walton of this stream, who had come over from Newcastle, England, with his son,—the latter a stout and hearty man who had lifted an anchor in his day.
A straight old man he was who took his way in silence through the meadows, having passed the period of communication with his fellows; his old experienced coat, hanging long and straight and brown as the yellow-pine bark, glittering with so much smothered sunlight, if you stood near enough, no work of art but naturalized at length.
I often discovered him unexpectedly amid the pads and the gray willows when he moved, fishing in some old country method,—for youth and age then went a fishing together,—full of incommunicable thoughts, perchance about his own Tyne and Northumberland.
He was always to be seen in serene afternoons haunting the river, and almost rustling with the sedge; so many sunny hours in an old man’s life, entrapping silly fish; almost grown to be the sun’s familiar; what need had he of hat or raiment any, having served out his time, and seen through such thin disguises? I have seen how his coeval fates rewarded him with the yellow perch, and yet I thought his luck was not in proportion to his years; and I have seen when, with slow steps and weighed down with aged thoughts, he disappeared with his fish under his low-roofed house on the skirts of the village.
I think nobody else saw him; nobody else remembers him now, for he soon after died, and migrated to new Tyne streams. His fishing was not a sport, nor solely a means of subsistence, but a sort of solemn sacrament and withdrawal from the world, just as the aged read their Bibles.
However... Whenever I see a fly-fisherman, my mind returns to a TV advert from 40 years ago which became a kind of obsession, a folk-reference, in Britain for a while.
The sweet old ham actor who played the book-seeker in these ads even earned himself national obituaries on his death.
Thus the human mind functions. Yesterday I observed a lone figure far from shore on the Tyne near Wylam, turned to my wife, and enquired: "JR Hartley?".