Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Culture: Mark Takes the Fizz out of Top Soft Drinks Firm; Barbara Hodgson Talks to Mark Thomas, a Man Who Puts the Fizz into Political Campaigning. Hot Ticket

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Culture: Mark Takes the Fizz out of Top Soft Drinks Firm; Barbara Hodgson Talks to Mark Thomas, a Man Who Puts the Fizz into Political Campaigning. Hot Ticket

Article excerpt

IT might be the fizzy drink of choice for teenagers but if one thing in Mark Thomas's life is certain, his kids won't be among its devotees.

The drink is Coca-Cola and the popular political comedian confirms: "No, they don't drink it. I won't have it in the house,"

Anyone who hears Mark at Durham Book Festival tomorrow will find out why. As will readers of his new book.

Its title, Belching Out The Devil, is a pretty clear indication of his feelings.

He says his research for it, which took him around the world, uncovered some grim truths behind the multi-billion-pound industry and he doesn't hold back in his attack on the biggest brand in the world.

It's all enough to wipe the smile off the face of the Santa in the rather lovely-looking Coca-Cola Christmas adverts.

Activist Mark, whose campaigning brand of comedy has spanned TV and stage as well as books, has been a thorn in the side of many politicians and corporations for 20 years.

So why pick on Coca-Cola?

"I never liked Pepsi," answers Mark.

Coke was a different matter. Like a recovering alcoholic, the 45-year-old confesses: "I used to drink Coca-Cola."

He remains one of those who associate the tingle of Coke bubbles in his nose with happy childhood memories - an example, he says, of the insidious power of its advertising.

"It makes you register what Coke has done. It's managed to put itself into people's houses, into their lives - a little moment of pleasure in an ordinary life."

He starts his book with a reference to those carefree Coke days, and reads me the bit about his much-loved grandmother, who was from the North (he also had an Uncle David who worked in the mines) and died at the age of 98.

"She would bounce me on her knee, sing Geordie folk songs and entrance me with the smoke rings she could blow.

"When I stayed with her, every day began with the two of us making a trip to a coffee shop.

"She would have an Embassy and a coffee and I would have a Coca Cola and a sticky bun. It's one of my favourite memories." He adds: "Whenever I had a glass of Coke, I would think of her - I still would now." If he were to drink Coke, that is. Which he wouldn't.

He is, as we so often find him, entertainingly outraged. And his book is written in similar vein - a serious message delivered with a razor-sharp wit.

It all started with his Dispatches documentary last year on the subject.

After that, he travelled from Istanbul to Mexico City, digging out stories behind the advertising campaigns.

Behind Coca-Cola's homely, feel-good image, he says, he found suffering.

"I've been travelling around the world talking to people at the end of the stick, people who worked under or in the Coca-Cola system."

He tells me of a water-intensive Coke plant operating in a drought-prone area in India; workers dealing with chemicals without proper safety equipment; and of child labour in El Salvador's sugar cane fields which supply the industry. …

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