“Bargains make me happy”: WA Salvage’s Luigi
In 2005, after 34 years of stolid service, WA Salvage cast aside its human face, the great, very beloved Luigi, even can be described as “iconic”. In fact, according to the award certificate in the frame on his dining room wall, this Great Man name Claudio Versaico has played “longest standing character presenter in WA’s TV history”.
Less than one year later, the company FAIL! Coincidence?
Even though this, I think this is a story about the “Good Old Days” of advertising industry. Mr Claudio was obviously very loyal, and the company even was loyal back to him, give him the full time job for many years – just doing the adverts!
But the “Bad New Days” eventually arrive, inevitable maybe in this industry. After 34 years, Wesfarmers/Bunnings basically ruin his advertising career because they wouldn’t let him take his Luigi, one and only character, with him, to further campaigns. He got the job offers afterwards, but he wasn’t allowed.
I think he WAS the Luigi, so he should be allowed. But, in a Dullsvillain ‘exclusive’ (can just call me Joe HongSpadge now!), he has now ruled out a comeback.
Since Mr Claudio, 72, has retired, now singing in the amateur opera (see also 1987 Sunday Times story about his professional opera – at the end of story), but has also been the PATRON of PROSH, where everyone followed him around for one day, help to raise thousands of dollars for the charity sick people.
Is very kind for Mr Claudio approve of the interview, because, he said he was recently been screwed over by a local TV crue, he thinks maybe from A Current Affair (but equal as likely Today Tonight), he said they just occupy his house for 3 hours, never telling him it was in order to feature him in a segment on “The Most Annoying Ads”, in which he spoke for about 30 seconds. A big shame that Dick and Uncle Mac miss that. He said in the same show they also targeted ‘Farmer Jacks’ guy – another GOOD ad, speaking relatively…another BAD media!
So Mr CLaudio Versaico kindly agreed to the interview (and photo shoot) with the Dullsvillain, and displays the community attitude towards “selling the soul”.
Oh yeah and here’s the making of a WA Salvage ad.
Zhu Hongbing: How did you get the part?
Claudio/Luigi: I joined the opera company in 1968, mainly in the chorus and small parts. We were rehearsing an opera down at Guildford Road for the opera company, and they got in touch with the office to find out if we got any people that prefereably of Italian origin, Marketforce is looking for a new face to do the advertising for WA Salvage. So I went to do an audition with them, this was in May 1972.
I just had to read a proposed advertising, and they liked the way I spoke and that was it . . . I did the advertising for WA Salvage for 34 and a half years.
In 1972 were the ads similar or different to 2005?
It started “Come to WA Salvage and sava-da-moni!” That was the first thing I had to do because they gave me the name as Luigi Savadamoni. That was a registered name, Luigi Savadamoni.
The person that actually invented the character, his name was Dick Bayens, he actually invented the name ‘Luigi Savadamoni’, with the company’s approval.
What about the handkerchief-thing Luigi wore on his head? Is this the Italy culture?
That was stupid thing I had to wear. It was Dick Bayens idea, he just thought this is what the labourers wear. I came to Australia in 1950 . . . no, no-one in Italy would wear a handkerchief on their head.
So how often would you make the advertisement?
At the time i was working for the Main Roads, now working on a government job you had to get permission from the office to be able to do it, so i went to the office and asked permission would i be able to do this advertising. Because in that time then we used to get a Monday off every fortnight. So he said to me, ‘You do it on your Monday off, we got no problem with that.’
So we would shoot a new commercial every fortnight.
Every 2 weeks for 34 years?
No no that was for the first few years, and then when I eventually went to work for WA Salvage as the manager of the warehouse, we used to shoot commecials every week.
So the company gave you the full time job, in addition to the advertisement?
Yes. I was the manager of the warehouse.
How did you like making the advert?
They used to send me a script on Thursday so I could learn it and do the shoot on Monday, and then I found that whenever we would go on-site to do the shoot they would change all the articles in the advertising, so there’s not much point me learning all weekend to do the advertising when you come and do the actual shoot they will change the products.
So I got sick of that and I said ‘I don’t wanna do that anymore, so in future you let me look at the script, get in front of the camera and do it.’
So they try to give you the homework?
Yeah cos it’s too confusing you know? You learn all the bits you gotta say and then when you come on the actual shoot they change the products, so what’s the point?
So the Luigi advertisement for many years was the ad-lib from you?
Yes I never used the board, i just quickly had a look and away we went.
How did you find out when they finally make the decision there will be no more Luigi?
Well WA Salvage was owned by Bunnings, and Bunnings is owned by Wesfarmers, and what they decide, they decide to do away with WA Salvage for some unknown reason to me.
It’s a pity because it was a good money-earner.
The last few years I was actually employed just to do the advertising. I was at home, I would be on call and whenever they need me to do the commercial. I was on salary.
Could you continue the character of Luigi anywhere else or is this the ownership of WA Salvage?
I tried a couple of times but they tried to put some problems on me, I tried it for other company who selling floor tiles and that, and when I did the commercial they complained that they didn’t want me to use that name. I couldn’t see the reason why, I mean, they were finished.
After doing it for 34 years, you get set in doing one character, you know? If people want you, they want you to play that character because it was well-known. I’m not just saying that, it was one of the best-known faces in Perth.
What do you do for a job now?
I’m retired. I carried on doing the WA Salvage ad till I was 70, I carried on an extra five years after my retirement age.
Did you get recognised?
Everywhere i went.
Was it annoying?
Not really. I look at it this way: It was paying my salary, why should I get annoyed?
So when people want to talk the WA Salvage with you, it’s no problem.
Do you remember WA Salvage had the product, the can of paint with a drawing of Luigi on it….
Do you think the drawing looked like you?
I think it was pretty good.
Were you happier about being famous on TV or famous on the product?
My products, you see, they were allowed to do the advertising because i was fully employed by them, and they were allowed to use my face on the products.
Which was more exciting, being on TV or having your own product lines?
I would say when you see yourself on TV and you enjoy what you’re doing.
Can help the people with the bargain products?
Yeah, when that happened i was happy.
When you first play the part of Luigi Savadamoni did it ever feel like the cliche, did the character ever annoy you?
No, because it was done in fun, and it’s always been a fun advertising, we had a lot of fun doing it, you know, and you had to use that sort of attitude otherwise you go crazy.
Do you ever get asked, when they make the advert, tell you you must use more strong accent?
That’s the thing about my advertising, it’s not a put-on thing, that’s the way I talk. I just talked the way I normally do, and it works out alright.
I was the front face for the company, they used to get all this bargain stuff . . . it certainly make me happy because if i can be part of you getting a bargain, that made me happy.
So I sorta believe in what I was advertising, and it came across. That’s the little secret of lasting a long long time, because it was done in a genuine sort of way.
Was it a coincidence that WA Salvage get rid of Luigi and then almost straight away stop completely? They didn’t last very long without Luigi, so do you think you could increase the success?
Well I couldn’t have done any worse could we?