Travel Newsstand for the 2018 Holidays
Read all about it! Edward and Doris Bair, a business traveler and a flight attendant, are anthropomorphized Heathrow Bears. Their holiday TV ads impressively sell a humanized Heathrow Airport. 'Tis the season for It's a Wonderful Life but, no, Virginia, there's no Bedford Falls. Selling Santa in Finnish Lapland and fighting for reindeer herds in Norwegian Lapland.

Can You Bear It? Home for the Holidays at Heathrow Airport
In a desperate attempt to humanize Heathrow Airport--where hope and humanity go to die--the powers that be at London's big aerodrome created a little advertising campaign for the 2016 holidays. The TV spot (top) introduced Doris and Edward Bair, two seniors stylized as anthropomorphized bears. (If you thought "Hey, the Paddington Bears!" you nailed the subliminal London transport homage.) They were coming home to London (presumably from retirement in a warmer clime) and are "humanized" when they met their waiting family at Heathrow.

British audiences, suckers for these kinds of longer-form, high-concept holiday "adverts," were delighted. So Heathrow went back to the emotional well last year. The 2017 holiday ad (middle) was a smash. The two-minute "film" traced a 50-year love affair between Edward, once a lonely, bedraggled business traveler, and Doris, a BOAC stewardess and, later, a British Airways flight attendant. Set to Petula Clark's gloriously upbeat 1966 hit, I Couldn't Live Without Your Love, Ed and Doris built a family and always faithfully met each other at Heathrow time after time across the decades. The spot cleverly shows you the airport as it developed in ten-year increments from 1967 (lots of wood paneling and Helvetica signage) to the supposedly glittery present. There's also some very clever product placement: Walkers Shortbread, briefly viewed in the 2016 spot, is positioned as the Bairs' traditional Heathrow arrival gift. And, of course, Walkers now sells packages of shortbread featuring the Bairs.

The Bairs return again this year (bottom) for a third bite of the, um, shortbread. The spot isn't nearly as much fun as the 2017 version, but it does continue the family story. The Bairs are living in Florida--we suspected as much from Edward's passport photo in the 2016 advert--and facing a lame, lonely American holiday. Inspired by a video call with the grandbears in a London decked out for a festive family Christmas, Doris and Edward hop on a plane back "home" to ... Heathrow. The music bed this year is Every Time You Go Away, the treacly 1985 hit for British singer Paul Young. (FWIW, it was actually a cover of a Hall & Oates tune.) And do not fear: Walkers Shortbread, now the British airport equivalent of the gigantic bar of Toblerone, makes one cameo as Ed again disrupts an airport display.

The Heathrow Bears have become holiday staples in Britain and even gained a global following, so airport officials created a Web site for the Bairs. In fact, they're so popular that Simon Calder, the respected travel writer for Britain's Independent newspaper, uses the Bairs as a touchstone to criticize Heathrow management's mismanagement of the sprawling airport.

No, Virginia, There Is No Bedford Falls. Except ...
Had your holiday viewing of It's a Wonderful Life yet? The 1946 Frank Capra film is shorthand for all we want to believe about America: The plucky, average man George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) fights the evil Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) and is redeemed on Christmas Eve by divine intervention and the devotion of family and friends, each of whom owe their happiness and success to George. While I've expressed doubt about George's desire to travel--Why does Mr. Potter think that business travel is inducement to sell out Bailey Brothers Building and Loan?--not even this warped, frustrated old frequent flyer is immune to the film's appeal. Capra was a genius and how could you not root for Donna Reed? She became everyone's mother in her hit sitcom a decade later.

But there's something else that tugs at our heart strings in the flick: Bedford Falls. We all want to live in a place like Bedford Falls. It's pretty. It's charming. Everyone loves everyone. Mr. Potter is apparently the only creepy guy in town. The gorgeous Gloria Grahame is the town floozy and the cab driver, Frank Faylen, goes on to become Dobie Gillis' father. The problem is that Bedford Falls doesn't exist. Never did. The movie was shot on the RKO Movie Ranch in Encino, California. In fact, the sets of Bedford Falls were created for the 1931 movie Cimarron, an adaptation of the Edna Ferber novel.

Still, the myth of Bedford Falls dies very hard--and there are some kernels of truth. Capra visited Seneca Falls, New York, in 1945 before filming the movie and the feel of Bedford Falls is patterned on the hamlet in New York's picturesque Finger Lakes. In fact, Seneca Falls has worked hard to remake itself into Bedford Falls in the more than 70 years since the premiere of It's a Wonderful Life. It markets itself these days as "the real Bedford Falls" and holds an annual festival to celebrate the movie and recreate some of its post-war, black-and-white charm. Seneca Falls has even generated international attention for its devotion to Bedford Falls. There is an irony, though. Seneca Falls has a non-fiction reason to be proud of itself. It is the site of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House, a National Park dedicated to the mother of the woman's movement in America.

Another historical note: The 89-acre RKO Movie Ranch was bulldozed in 1954 to make room for a housing subdivision. They wisely chose to call the development Encino Village, not Pottersville.

Tight Connections ...
      Selling Santa in Lapland No one really connected Finland and Christmas as recently as several decades ago. But a concerted effort to sell Santa Claus--er, Father Christmas--has turned Finnish Lapland and its capital of Rovaniemi into a magnet for Christmas-obsessed holiday travelers.
      Selling Santa in Advertising The jolly fat man with the bright, red suit trimmed in fur and boots with big buckles? That's hardly the traditional image of Santa in Lapland--or anywhere else. The modern image of Santa is largely the creation of The Coca-Cola Company. And it won't surprise you to learn that the model for the Coca-Cola image of Santa was ...a salesman.
      Meanwhile, Back in the "Real" Lapland ... The Sami people of Norwegian Lapland don't have much affinity for the modern image of Santa, but they do depend on reindeer for food and commerce. In fact, they are at war with the Norwegian government over the size of their herds. -- Joe Brancatelli

This column is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.