Woolly Advertising Rhymes

By Wedd, George | Contemporary Review, July 2000 | Go to article overview

Woolly Advertising Rhymes


Wedd, George, Contemporary Review


WHEN an Englishman dies abroad and has on him no other means of identification, a search through his pockets will usually reveal a letter to the Editor of The Times -- or so it is said. Since I retired, I write to The Times perhaps three times a year, and once every two years the Letters Editor takes pity on me and prints one of my offerings.

My last letter was prompted by a desultory correspondence about limericks to advertise Deinhard Green Label wines, which had appeared in the 1970s. I pointed out that for some years in the middle of the last century there had been a fashion for rhyming advertisements, and that many of these had been so memorable that fifty years later people who had read them -- as schoolchildren or students, very often -- could still repeat them verbatim. Advertisements that get the message over so powerfully must be good publicity. I offered two examples:

`Pamela's party was better than mine;

The minx got her drinks from Victoria Wine'.

And a good example from the Wool Marketing Board:

'Avast, you scum!' cried Captain Bligh

(Three months adrift) 'The shore is nigh!'

He seized his log: 'We owe salvation

To pluck -- to faultless navigation --

To discipline -- to lack of gin --

To wearing wool against the skin.

This last, a most essential rule;

There is no substitute for wool'.

That phrase, 'lack of gin', is neat. For those who have forgotten the story, in 1778 HMS Bounty was sent to the South Seas to collect breadfruit plants, or yams, to be taken to the West Indies where there was a need for another staple food crop to balance bananas -- an early example of overseas aid. Captain Bligh was an autocratic character, and when the ship ran short of water he announced that the plants in the hold should have preference over the crew. This provoked a mutiny, led by the First Mate, Fletcher Christian. There have been several films on this theme, but the first, in the 1930s, was the best, and anyone who saw it will not forget Charles Laughton as Bligh grinding out through gritted teeth the line 'This-is-MUTINY, Mr Christian'. Bligh and the loyal sailors sailed 3,600 miles in an open boat to Timor and into history.

This verse opened the floodgates. The Times published twenty over the next week or so, out of the many it received. I received more directly. It turned out that the Wool Marketing Board's campaign was remembered by a multitude of middle-aged people; and after fifty years, how many advertising campaigns can say as much? The punch line was usually 'there is no substitute for wool', but have a look at some of the verses that preceded it.

When Brummel (Beau), the swell of swells,

Electrified the Brighton Belles,

Prinny would hover in the offing,

Killing romance with fits of coughing.

'Another cold, Sir? Listen, do:

To be well-dressed be wool-dressed too.

In elegance it is the rule:

There is no substitute for wool'.

A neat joke in the second line: the Brighton Belle was the Pullman train, electric, of course, which shuttled to and fro between London and Brighton, beloved by theatre people and race-goers.

'Quo Vadis?' cried the Palace guard.

'Upstairs!' yelled Nero, running hard.

'My wardrobe must be saved tonight,

Before the looters heave in sight.

Rome's burning brightly now', said Nero,

'But temperatures will drop to zero.

For keeping warm in weather cool,

There is no substitute for wool'.

This one coincided with a famous film, Quo Vadis, based on the old Church legend that St Peter, fleeing from Rome to escape Nero's persecution, met Jesus on the way. 'Quo vadis, Domine?' ('Where are you going, Lord?') he asked, and got the reply 'To Rome, to be crucified again in your place'.

Another topical one, which coincided with the first Sputnik, ran:

The problem with a satellite

Is where to put the cat at night. …

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