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U3A Writing: Adverts

John Ricketts recalls adverts from his boyhood – and the day he met a "monk''.

The first advert which had a effect on me as a small child, was for custard. I wonder if you remember that advert for ‘Monk and Glass’ custard. The poster showed a fat jovial monk holding a glass of custard out in front of him admiring it like a wine buff admires the colours in a glass of the finest wine.

The custard was made just a hundred yards up the road from where I lived and I passed the works every day. There were double doors through which the ingredients were delivered and, almost every day they were open and one or two of the workers were outside having a quiet smoke, but I never saw the monk.

The workers got to know me and one day when I was about six or seven I plucked up the courage to ask one of the workers where the monk was. He was about to tell me when one of his mates nudged him. The latter called me nearer and pointed through the doors at a tubby fellow who had a notebook and pencil in his hand. He looked a bit like the man in the poster because he had a bald head.

“There he is, but he hasn’t got his kit on today. He only wears it when he goes home to the monkery. I’ll lift you up so you can go and ask him if he would let you see it.”

He lifted me up and pushed me in the right direction to a chorus of sniggers. The tubby man looked up and saw me. “What are you doing here? You’re not allowed in here”

I told him why I was there. “The silly buggers!” he sighed. Then he went on to explain that there wasn’t a real monk but that the picture had been made up. The company had been founded by a Mr. Monkhouse and a Mr Glassock and they had used their names on the poster. I was disappointed but such was life. Incidentally the grandson of the founder is the television celebrity Bob Monkhouse.

One of the images which I remember from a very early age was that of the Bisto Kids. My mother did not use Bisto and I was certain that I was missing something. Just looking at the pictures of the two ragged children following their noses to the pies, the stews and the casseroles enhanced by the Bisto powder made one’s mouth water. There have been very few adverts which have made me so want to buy the product advertised as that series did. In fact there have been many more which have had the opposite effect to that which the makers wished, making me say to myself instead “I’ll never buy that”

The brilliant series of adverts produced by Guinness using the motto “Guinness is good for you” never made me want to go out and buy Guinness, though I loved the pictures: the strong man with the girder, the toucan with the glasses balance on its huge beak, the ostrich with the glass in its neck, and all the others. They bought the drink to my notice, but I did not buy it.

Adverts during the war years had a different function from selling things. Rather they were selling ideas. I am certain that if you are old enough that you remember the “Dig for victory” poster, “Potato Pete”, “Careless talk cost lives” and “Be like dad keep mum”. I can still see the poster of two women gossiping on a bus with Hitler and Goering sitting behind them. These adverts must have had a great impact if I can remember them more that fifty years after their publication.

The most powerful advert ever, in my opinion was a wartime advert. It was before our time though we all knew it. It is the one of Kitchener pointing and telling his viewers that their country need them. It was powerful enough to lead hundreds of thousands to their deaths in the trenches of the Somme. I hope we shall never see an advert like that again.


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