Get Me A Guinness, Love, Would You?: Guinness TV Ads in the 60s and 70s

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Guinness advertising is almost as iconic as the drink, but it wasn’t always ice cool..

When we think of Guinness we usually think of of harps, toucans and surfing horses but Guinness advertising has been around as long as advertising has. In fact, it’s known that Dorothy L. Sayers worked on the Guinness contract in her day job with an advertising company in the 1920s. The ‘surfing horses’ ad from 1999 won a Sunday Times poll as best advert ever. It was certainly impressive with its Moby Dick/ James Joyce literary references and state of the art filming techniques but not all their advertising, though certainly creative, has been quite so impressive. It does plot the course of social attitudes and change , however, in an extremely interesting way.

Although Guinness TV advertising began in 1955, the first significant advert was broadcast in 1962 when the theme was ‘After Work‘. Here we were shown a range of people finishing work including a farmer and a male and female factory worker. In the next shot they are at their local having a Guinness, except for the woman who is at home as she obviously has her husband’s tea to make! But we do see her having her tea accompanied by a Guinness, which was quite groundbreaking for the time. More groundbreaking when you consider this was the first time on TV anyone was shown actually drinking Guinness, and a woman to boot! This slightly egalitarian approach didn’t last too long, however, at it would be many years before women would be seen drinking Guinness on TV again.

The ‘After Work‘ theme was continued in 1966 but this time the advert was a little more sophisticated, although not in terms of gender politics. Some nicely shot footage of a dockyard and, uncharacteristically for Guinness, soft music were used for this ad. Once again, the ad appealed to the manual labourer and a Guinness was the least he could look forward to after a hard days grafting. These adverts were created at a time when UK industry was just getting back on its feet after the war and employment was relatively plentiful. And there were no problems associating alcohol with work or even as a ‘treat.’ !

In the late 60s the massive Guinness advertising contract was handed over to the American advertising company J. Walter Thompson and this was when Guinness advertising became distinctive and certainly more creative. One of the more recognisable elements of the Guinness ad, though not used in all, was the laconic gentle male Irish voiceover. Although I’ve been unable to find out who this almost familiar voice was, and he became one of the most instantly recognisable voices in advertising, this format lasted for nearly 15 years. Used to highlight the Irish association with Guinness it provided a backdrop to a range of Guinness-drinking scenarios, usually taking place in a stereotypical ‘local’. For many years, purely targeted at men, the scenarios usually involved women as nags, slaves or just appendages who got in the way of their men enjoying their Guinness. Unless , of course, she was supplying him with it.

An example is 1970’s ‘Take Home Rain‘ ad which won the bronze advertising award at the Cannes Film Festival the same year. A young man and woman are painting a room in their house and outside we can hear the wind and rain hammering down. ‘Get me a Guinness love, would you?’ says the man. The woman looks slightly anxious. Next shot we see her leaving the house and being battered by the wind and rain, forcing her way to the bar through a crowded ‘local’ and then holding her hand over the glass of poured Guinness to keep the rain off. She walks into the house and hands the Guinness to her husband who replies, ‘Thanks love. Didn’t you get yourself one?’ One wonders if some of those adverts were being ironic about the role of women in the lives of male Guinness drinkers, and, if so, these could have been funny but it seems unlikely as the ad company came up with so many similar storylines that the joke wore thin very quickly. If there ever was a joke.

Babycham & Cherry B. Pony and Snowball. Drinks for retro gurls ...
One for the ladies

Throughout the 60s and 70s Guinness was targeted at men by men, as were most other alcoholic beverages other than Babycham ( I’d love a Babycham!) and Pony (The little drink with the big kick!) or if she was a particularly hard drinker, a Cherry-B. Women were rarely seen in Guinness’ ‘locals’ unless, of course, they were behind the bar. Some Guinness adverts were ostensibly aimed at women, however, but through being aimed at women they were really being aimed at men. The good people at Guinness were giving the little women advice on how to keep their men happy. ‘ If he says he’s popping out for a ‘quick one’, don’t expect him back too soon.‘ You can almost hear the word ‘love‘ at the end of this sentence. ‘He‘ does, of course, have to wait on the black gold settling, so tough luck, darlin’. In another early 70s ad we see a woman struggling home with a shopping basket full of messages including a six-pack of Guinness. ‘ Mrs Angela Hunt has just been down the road for a Guiness or two.’ What is this woman? An alcoholic? A social deviant? A feminist! We’re not fooled by this for a second though as the Guinness, of course, is for her husband, ‘..who believes shopping is a woman’s job.’ Phew. Had us going for bit there! In another ad from around the same time the chummy Irish voiceover suggests to the man sitting in the armchair about to empty his glass,’ If you’re just finishing a glass of Guinness, where’s your next coming from? You’ve still time to pop out to get some. In the meantime, here’s some music for your wife.’ Cue unthreatening easy listening dirge. In some ways this could be seen as progress. At least ‘the wife’ isn’t being expected to fuel her husband’s alcohol intake. But the little lady still hasn’t been invited to ‘the local’ quite yet.

That was all going to change though. And who’s this strutting about in ‘the local’ looking like she owns the place, even playing darts? Why it’s a member of the 70s TV Royal Family, Liza Goddard. And it was during this mid-70s point that advertisers suddenly had a brainwave and realised that maybe, just maybe, women might be a market worth exploring. In this ad we see the customers, Goddard and male companion, from the point of view of the barman. She is playing that ever-so-unfeminine activity at the time, darts, she’s not dressed in the twin set or three-quarter length cocktail dress of previous women in Guinness adverts but like a man in shirt and jeans. ‘Another?’ the barman asks the male companion. ‘Yes please‘ says companion knocking back the last of his Guinness. ‘And what about.…? asks the barman, clearly not wishing to acknowledge the fact a woman has found her way into his snug. ‘Two Guinnesses‘ says the man, ‘What? You both drink it? Oh come on..’ replies the barman incredulously, clearly feeling the basis of human decency has come crashing down around him. ‘Bit of gentle persuasion then?’ he eventually giggles nervously when it’s sunk in. ‘Not really‘ says Goddard (who asked her to butt in?), ‘I just got him to try one.‘ Her companion’s face suddenly screws up into one of shock and embarrassment at this admission of emasculation. Oh, the horror! The horror!.. So put that in your pipe and smoke it Neanderthal bar person. The forces of Feminism are about to engulf your whole life, not just your bar! She may have had to behave like an honorary man to be accepted into this most testosterone-filled of TV environments but she was crashing through the metaphorical glass partition between Cocktail Lounge and bastion of masculinity, the Bar. Although groundbreaking, this didn’t open the floodgates to female-orientated Guinness advertising quite yet, but it did signal a change which was reflected in a few of the subsequent campaigns.

You want some of this, Skip?: Guinness proto-feminist Liza Goddard

In an ad not long after, a young, blonde woman is dozing in a hammock on what is clearly a Summer’s Sunday afternoon in Middle England. We hear the church bells peal and insects buzz around as the laconic voiceover prepares us for a Guinness being poured off-camera. The effervescent sound of the beer being decanted into the glass is heard and then a perfectly poured glass of Guinness appears, held by a disembodied male hand, and is offered to the woman who accepts it gratefully. We’ve come a long way with this ad. Not only is it just the woman shown but we only see a male hand. On the debit side, however, she is in a garden and not in ‘the local’. It was still a little early to be showing only women in a pub. But it was further progress of sorts!

A little later a strange advert from the late 70s featured a young girl in a night club with friends and the fact she was the main character in this story was significant. She is drinking Guinness and talking about what a great drink it is. A guy hears her talking about how great it is and asks her to dance thinking she’s talking about the club. Their conversation carries on at cross purposes. Eventually she takes him over to the bar to buy him a Guinness. A woman buying a guy a drink was unheard of. She even knows the name of the barman as she orders two Guinnesses (this is a fallacy of alcohol advertising where they try to make out all customers know the barman by name). The pay off is when she looks at him and says ‘Do you come here often?’, so we have the woman making the running, and another sacred cow of advertising relationships is milked to within an inch of its life. Although slightly baffling, it was the moment Guinness advertisers embraced the female market and accepted that women were not just there to keep their husbands happy and non-violent by making sure they had their Guinness.

Like the After Eight campaigns (See below: They Must Be Worth A Mint), the frequency and fairly healthy budgets of Guinness advertising attracted some up-and-coming young ( and old) acting talent. We have already mentioned the lovely Liza Goddard in her post-Skippy but Pre-No Honestly days and certainly before her rather strange marriage to Alvin Stardust (more on odd celebrity marriages later). But isn’t that Shakespearian acting royalty Nigel Hawthorne knocking back a pint of the black gold? It certainly is, and in a way Sir Humphrey Appleby would find rather vulgar. But, would you Adam and Eve it, Jonathon Lynn who actually wrote Yes Minister is in one here where he’s the Best Man to a nervous groom and gets him to knock back a pint of Guinness to calm him down. Good idea. But who’s the groom? None other than Roy Cropper from Coronation Street! Just fancy that. Talking of Coronation Street, there’s Alf Roberts, also from Corrie, supplementing his meagre corner shop income by moonlighting for the dark nectar. Next up it’s pre-All Creatures Great and Smalls booming-voiced Christopher Timothy in his kitchen laboratory failing to invent a decent cheaper alternative to Guinness. Lucky the little wife has humped a six pack all the way back from the shops for him in her shopping basket. Because he’s worth it. And, bloody hell, it’s a sweaty Jeffrey from Rainbow behind the bar trying to avoid serving some perspiring thugs ice-cold Guinness (‘No call for it around here.‘ Really? Where are they? The Gobi Desert?).

Was George from Rainbow gay?
What do you mean, there’s no call for cold Guinness, George?

During the 60s and 70s the advertisers clearly tried to appeal to men only and believed that drinking Guinness was, some time before Old Spice, the ‘Mark Of A Man’. Of course, the timing of these type of ads coincided with the rise of, what was called at the time, Women’s Lib. Whether these ads were a response to this social change or merely reflected it is uncertain but it was almost like they were trying to protect a last stronghold of masculinity. A ‘man’ was someone who visited his ‘local’ regularly, this ‘local’ was populated mainly by other ‘men’, the bar person and customer knew each other by name (often ‘George’ for some odd reason), if any women had managed to sneak in they sat silently in shadowy corners sipping a vodka and lime or Cherry B. But the mark of a real man was when he had shaken off the shackles of marriage and family, had almost broken his neck getting to the ‘local’ before closing time (10.30pm!) and was eventually given this pint of cold Guinness and he would knock it back in a oner. And time for another! During my life I have known people who could sink a pint in one go, although I was never one of them, but I have never known anyone who would find this pleasurable, other than to entertain a crowd.

All advertising, particularly in the 50s, 60s and 70s, was a barometer of social attitudes and change and Guinness ads are a perfect example of this. By the late 70s women were not only being, grudgingly, allowed into ‘locals’, they were even drinking Guinness themselves. And the pivotal point was probably in the late 70s when we saw that sleeping woman in her garden and a disembodied man pouring her a glass of Guinness. But she was in her garden and not in the ‘local’. Was this just a concession thrown from the male drinking establishment? And if truth be told, nearly 50 years after these TV ads began, few women on their own would go into a pub today unless they were meeting someone.

Guinness went on to create some truly memorable TV ads from the 80s onwards where artistic creativity took the place of social conservatism but, looking back and viewing them with a healthy head of irony, they were interesting, often funny and they did try to change with the times. But, as they might say, within reason.

And after all that, ‘Could you go out in that wet, freezing, stormy night and get me a Guinness please, love?’ I think I deserve one.

They’d sell Guinness to anyone..so long as it wasn’t a woman.

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They Must Be Worth A Mint: After Eight Advertising In The 60s and 70s

How After Eights were used to make us feel shit about ourselves in the 60s and 70s.

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The sixties and seventies were certainly a time when advertisers thought that aspirational advertising was the way to the proletariat’s sweet-tooth, before the word ‘obesity’ even existed. In the case of Camay soap advertising, for example, it was about the elite educating the Great Unwashed in the importance of cleanliness. Convincing ordinary people that by buying a certain product, they were aspiring to be like the incredibly sophisticated, privileged individuals featured in their adverts, those people we looked up to and wanted to be like. Apparently. In fact, ordinary people really just wanted those privileged people’s money and live their life of leisure and social ease. But maybe buying After Eights was the first rung on that particular social ladder.

Drooling Twats

Let’s go back to a time when a 3 bob box of chocolates catapulted you into the giddy stratosphere of the upper classes. When, if you were not invited to black-tie dinner parties in the country, you were a fucking failure. If you didn’t drink ‘French’ brandy and smoke Havanas after a meal, you were scum. If you didn’t listen to the Admiral’s post-prandial stories you were a cretin of the first order. But here was a sliver of hope in the the shape of a wafer thin mint.

Recently in The Archers, that everyday story of country folk, Emma and Ed’s dream of having their own home was dashed after Ed lost his job due to some dodgy insecticide dealing. So far, so un-After Eight. As poor Emma sold off all the items she’d bought for her dream house, her mum, Susan, asked why she was getting rid of the lovely brandy glasses she’d bought. Emma confessed she’d bought them in the hope they could have invited friends round to their house for a dinner party and she would have served them brandy in the glasses after the meal (she didn’t mention After Eights as it happened). This was Emma’s After Eights’ aspirational fantasy. It’s what people who owned their own house did. Poor Emma was an After Eights’ advertiser’s core target audience.

It’s interesting that Emma mentioned brandy specifically as this was iconographic to After Eight ads. Of course, why wouldn’t it be as this was the moment the hostess unleashed the chocolates to her assembled group of upper class twats. The ads changed only subtly over the years but certain elements were always present. As well as ‘French’ brandy, cigars featured heavily with whiskered septuagenarians blowing acrid thick smoke into the faces of subservient younger women. Masculine or what? And, of course, coffee ‘as black as the night.’ Yet another symbol of utter sophistication, as only our betters drank black coffee in the 60s, for the rest of us it was Maxwell House or Nescafe with milk and sugar, if we drank coffee at all. 

The slogan only changed once in 20 years. It started off as ‘Luxury. Plain, unashamed luxury.’ This word ‘luxury’ crops up rather often in these ads, verbally as well as visually. However, some advertising executive with an eye on the zeitgeist, at a time when the psychology of advertising was raising it’s ugly head in agencies, realised that the word ‘plain’ is the antithesis of the perception they wanted to convey with this product and the slogan was clipped to ‘Luxury. Unashamed luxury.’ It doesn’t quite scan as neatly but leaves the viewer in no doubt as to what this brand is all about. The idea of ‘luxury’ is piled on in spade-loads in the subsequent ads. The word ‘unashamed’ is also interesting. If ever a political point was being made in these ads, it was here.

The musical backdrop also changed rarely. Lush strings in the style of Mantovani accompanied the early versions. Clearly the target audience was the upwardly mobile twenty-somethings, those whose only ambition was to live a life like these fictional characters in the ads. This aural backdrop was eventually replaced by a slightly jazzier harpsichord soundtrack, in the hope of providing yet another layer of impossible sophistication. Come on, who doesn’t have an obsolete Elizabethan stringed instrument in their Drawer-ring Room?  

The setting was also a construct made up of certain objects all of us could only dream of possessing. The cavernous dining room lit only by candles in silver candelabras, the shadowy oil paintings of crusty old mountebanks and popinjays on the walls, the elaborate arrangements of silver condiments (no HP sauce here), fruit bowls groaning with pineapples and grapes, very luxurious in those days, ordinary people only bought grapes when visiting someone in hospital, and solid silver coffee pots glinting in the candlelight. 

In later versions directors tried to vary the setting a little while still ramping up the elements of exclusivity. Firstly, the dinner parties were moved to ‘the country’, that unspecified hinterland only the upper classes knew about and had ‘a place.’ In other words a massive pile which had been in the family for centuries, no doubt. This, ironically, was at a time when nobs were having to sell these out-of-town-in the-family-for-centuries residencies to hotel chains as they couldn’t afford to maintain them. The same group of chinless wonders are found sitting around drinking ‘French’ brandy and smoking cigars as their trophy wives looked on adoringly, but this time they were on ‘the terrace’ and there wasn’t a gust of wind or drop of precipitation to be had. What part of England were they in? Bangkok?  A few years later they were ‘abroad’, ‘..since George was posted to the tropics..’, wherever ‘the tropics’ are? The hoi polloi wouldn’t know and would be too afraid to ask. Clearly George was sent to educate the natives in our British way of life which, of course, included After Eights, the symbol of manners and good taste. Hurrah for George!

The aristocratic- looking personnel for these ads was, literally, straight from central casting. All they had to do was look superior, smug and utterly obnoxious. The males had all the action: smoking cigars, drinking the ‘French’ brandy, looking like they were involved in earnest conversation with the other males (the women obviously didn’t get involved, but more about that later) and occasionally shooting some billiards, not snooker, that was a lower class pursuit. All the ladies had to do was look gorgeous and in awe of their men, nibble the corner of an After Eight seductively and swivel their eyes around the room. They knew their place. 

But with only a few exceptions, it was always a woman who provided the voiceover, invariably the hostess. Domesticity was her role, but with the help of the servants, obviously. Can’t expect her to do everything! 

‘Now don’t you worry your severely coiffed little head about such things, darling…..’

Their language evoked a time that for 99% of the population, never existed. A world of tradition, convention and conservatism (with an upper and lower case’C’). Doesn’t everyone have dinner parties, you can imagine them wondering? They believed solidly in tradition, a word that is only used to justify something that is, otherwise, unjustifiable. ’I might be old-fashioned but I like leaving the men to drink their port…they pass the port and we pass the After Eights.’ And, let’s face it, women love their choccies. It’s fair to say After Eight ads hauled back the cause of women’s rights by 50 years.

With the advent of, what was referred to then as, ‘Women’s Lib’ in the 70s, (male) advertisers felt obliged to throw the women a few chocolatey crumbs and After Eight ads were no exception. Suddenly we had a male voiceover. Not a suspect male, or ‘girly-swot’ as Boris Johnson would call him, who organised and hosted dinner parties, mind you, but an Alpha male who talked gruffly about tradition rather than feminine observations on relationships. Interestingly, the narrative also changed significantly to reflect the challenging economic conditions of the austere early 70s. It begged the question, how could advertisers continue to push the winning aspirational After Eight formula in times of such hardship? Easy. Emphasise the luxurious element even more. And it is one of the male voiceovers that refers to this. ‘Luxury. We need a bit more of that nowadays.’ Even when the female voiceover returned (males probably not really aspirational enough to their female target audience), they referred to economic difficulties and spoke directly to the viewer. ‘Are you someone (like me) who prefers to forget about the Balance of Trade figures?’ Well she would say that wouldn’t she but she needn’t have worried her pretty little head. All she really had to concern her was whether cumquats were still in season or that the brandy was reliably ‘French’. Another ad featured a slightly younger male voiceover lamenting in a way only the public school classes with their arranged marriages could do. ‘If you’ve got to get married,‘ he splutters, find a girl who makes you laugh and is generous with the After Eights. Very generous..’ as he leeringly and lasciviously eyes a young woman done up like a trussed turkey, across the cavernous room. Yes, we know what you’re thinking you revolting beast! References to ‘thinness’ littered the ad, and he wasn’t just talking about the mints.

Before the male voiceover was finally put into its four-poster bed for good, we were given one last masterclass from that professional toff, Gerald Harper. His unmistakeable upper-crust tones gracing an early 70s version of the After Eight ad. Inevitable really as, at the time of broadcasting, he was Hadleigh, upper class adventurer going out on ITV on Friday nights at 9pm. The opening credits of this Harper-led vehicle featured him riding over his huge English estate on a thoroughbred stallion, driving around in his personalised number- plated Rolls, shooting grouse on his moor and hosting After Eight dinner parties at his family pile. (Might have made last bit up but plausible.) It was a gig written for the likes of him. Although he didn’t appear in the ad (too well known), his version was particularly elitist, even for After Eights. Men in black tie (obviously) playing billiards, women hanging around just looking languid. And, of course ‘French’ brandy. ‘My grandfather did not allow business to be discussed in the billiard room..’ as he looked up at an oil portrait of some whiskery old git. His disdainful pay off line pushing back the boundaries of sexism even for the 70s, ‘Even if it did mean letting the women in….’ Perish the thought.

Soon we were back to the tried, trusted and more lucrative female voiceover. Upper class men just weren’t sexy and sexiness was important to the brand. Women were, once again on safer ground, talking about Rupert and his head full of books, Great Uncle Alistair fighting the Battle of Waterloo with condiments, classical scholars like Uncle Bertie and the ghost of Henry, the Fourth Earl. At no point was there any suggestion that women might aspire to anything more than hosting parties, dealing with tradesmen, having their hair coiffed to within an inch of its life and taking elocution lessons. Their men were invariably much older, aloof and horribly ugly. No wonder some of the women’s eyes swivelled around the room as they comfort-ate boxes of After Eights, desperately looking for slightly more attractive and interesting male totty. You ain’t gonna find it in this ad, darling!

The production values were relatively lavish for commercials. As well as luxurious sets and moodily effective lighting, a host of quite well known actors, like Gerald Harper, popped up in them. All actors see adverts as artistically beneath them but these roles were money for old rope. Just look self-satisfied, snobbish and superior and Uncle Bertie’s your uncle!

Actors of high standing popped up in many of the ads throughout the 60s and 70s, adding a touch of class to scenes that were already improbably haute monde. The excellent and very lovely Adrienne Corri talked about great Uncle Alistair fighting the Battle of Waterloo from the opposite end of an overlong table. This woman worked with Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange for god’s sake! Also turning up ‘..in the tropics..’ was Alexandra Bastedo. Many a 70s teenage boy’s  pin-up when she was Sharon McCreadie in The Champions’. Despite the fact I found her a bit too sweet to be wholesome, she carries off the role of colonial trophy wife, black servant in tow, with aplomb, and, not to mention, a curiously non-melting After Eight. And isn’t that the gorgeously moon-faced Patricia Hodge (who even does the voiceover), the Portia of Horace Rumpole’s chambers, planning yet another dinner party with lashings of After Eights? It surely is! Going back even further here’s the lovely Wanda Ventham of The Lotus Eaters and, once again, Rumpole of the Bailey, looking longingly at her dull, sweaty, overweight, tuxedoed ‘French’ brandy-quaffing husband as she wolfs into yet more wafer thin mints. 

I am completely aware that having a pop at these adverts is tantamount to throwing a dart at a board as huge as an After Eight ad’s dining room wall. Hitting the target isn’t difficult. But this ad campaign lasted for over 20 years and I don’t remember anyone commenting on the sheer crassness and elitism they conveyed for so long. Didn’t people get pissed off at the utter snobbery of them? Advertisers would claim they were just a bit of fun, tongue-in-cheek. As the lady says, people like a bit of luxury. But I failed to see the irony in the ads. They were quite baldly saying , ‘These people are what you should be aspiring to, this is the way decent people live and by purchasing these bon-bons you can, at least, emulate a tiny part of their lives.’ Poor Emma wouldn’t see through the insidious context of these campaigns but I like to think we’ve matured as a viewing public these days and we’re not taken in by such elitist crap. They wouldn’t get away with it today, other than in an ironic way. Mind you, many people vote for Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, men you would not be surprised to see in one of those ads, although Boris would be dribbling his ‘French’ brandy down the front of his already stained black tie and leaving chocolatey smears on his unironed, slightly off-white shirt (maybe his wife/partner should use Daz?). 

In a comment left on Youtube after viewing this 20 year campaign, the estimable Mike Smith summed up over 20 years of After Eight advertising in a single haiku-esque, wafer-thin comment.

‘The chocolates for 

Seventies toffs, now they 

Sell them in Poundland.’

How’s that for sophistication?

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