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Friday, 1 January 2021

New Month Old Post: Posters on the Wall

Guinness, Smirnoff, Accountancy and Monty Python

(First posted 17th October, 2015. 1,040 words)

Athena tennis girl poster
There was a time when no self-respecting, young person’s bedsit would be complete without an iconic Athena poster. Along with the thousands of other young persons who had exactly the same one, it was a statement of your individuality. Full-blooded young males could have a sexy French lingerie model or the knickerless tennis girl absent-mindedly rubbing her naked bottom (gratuitously included here). The more emancipated might have the muscular man cradling a baby. For the rebellious it would be Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix surrounded by psychedelic swirls. The arty could choose a fine reproduction print, perhaps a Salvador Dali to indicate their leanings towards the avante garde. For the revolutionary Marxist it had to be Che Guevara. For those of a philosophical bent it might be seagulls in mid-flight, quoting Virgil: “They can because they think they can.”

Athena outlets sprang up in most large towns and cities, and for a couple of decades they made good profits. Not out of cheapskates like me though. My walls were adorned with a scruffy and eclectic mix of images acquired entirely free of charge. Here are some of them in my attic bedroom in our dingy shared house in Leeds in 1972, next to some colourful ink blots on blotting paper, the product of an idle, unsupervised afternoon at work.

One was a Guinness poster to show that independence and resilience were important parts of my individuality. You had to be pretty independent and resilient to drink the stuff. No one else I knew liked its burnt and heavy flavour. I’m not even sure that I did.

I had sent Guinness a sycophantic letter admiring one of their newspaper adverts: ‘How to Make Guinness’. Back came a roughly A2-sized poster in a cardboard tube.* It caricatured the process from harvesting the barley through to delivery by road tanker, and gave sound advice on how to avoid common errors such as brewing it upside down with the head underneath the body.  

Smirnoff poster: accountancy was my life
Then there was the Smirnoff poster: “Accountancy was my life until I discovered Smirnoff.” Well, it was true, accountancy was my life, and I dearly wished it wasn’t. Oh that something so simple as learning to handle a bottle of vodka could instantaneously transform it from the humdrum into one of glamour and excitement! But, from the other adverts in the series, I would rather have been the camel train trekker who used to take the caravan to Southend but now traversed the desert, or the mainstay of the Public Library who had escaped to carefree rural reverie, rather than the suited, cigar-smoking, nineteen-thirties City of Westminster gangster in the wide-brimmed Panama hat.

Anyone would have thought that accountancy was boring. Well, thanks to John Cleese and Monty Python, that is exactly what most of my contemporaries did think. Most damaging was the ‘Vocational Guidance Counsellor’ sketch about an insignificant little man whose careers advisor declared without doubt that the ideal job for him was chartered accountancy. “But I am a chartered accountant,” he protested. He wanted a new job, “something exciting that will let me live.” He wanted to be a lion tamer. Chartered accountancy was “dull, dull, dull ...”,  a career in which it was a positive advantage to be “unimaginative, timid, lacking in initiative, spineless, easily dominated, no sense of humour, tedious company and irrepressibly drab.” The sketch ends by asking for donations to The League for Fighting Chartered Accountancy: “this terrible debilitating social disease.” I am certain it influenced my subsequent rejection of the career. So much for independence and resilience.

The senior partner where I worked found the sketch so offensive it became practically a dismissable offence to admit you watched the programme. John Cleese, however, discovered that his own accountant was not offended in any way at all. When asked why, he explained it was because the sketch was about chartered accountancy, whereas he himself was a certified accountant.

But a fervent Monty Python fan I was, one of those who could recite ‘The Piranha Brothers’ and ‘Room for an Argument’ off by heart. We even used to audio-tape and transcribe the television shows so we could act them out ourselves in our shared house. My brother used the school’s photographic equipment to make a poster from the Whizzo Quality Assortment page of Monty Python’s Big Red Book. This showed a box of chocolates containing such delights as Crunchy Frog, made using only the finest baby frogs, dew picked and flown from Iraq. “Do you take the bones out?” “No, it wouldn’t be crunchy if we did.” That poster went on my wall too.

In 1973, I went with a group of mates to the Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House in New Briggate to see Monty Python on tour. Many of the sketches, such as ‘The Parrot Sketch’, and the animations projected on to a screen, were straight from the television series, but there was some new material too. In one sketch a group of bowler-hatted city gents were sitting on stools reading newspapers in a cocktail bar. It got its first laugh simply by using language you would not then have expected in a theatre, not even in Monty Python: “I see Nixon’s had an arsehole transplant.” The punchline brought the house down: “It says here the arsehole rejected him.”

The programme for the show was in the form of a huge poster. Many of them ended up gliding gracefully across the vast auditorium in the form of paper aeroplanes, but with my bare walls in mind, I carefully rolled mine up and took it home. Here it is, well just the lower edge of it, at the other end of my attic room above a messy desk of reel-to-reel tapes, guitar music and the camera case. I still have it today in the Guinness cardboard tube, much faded, its corners damaged by drawing-pins and blue-tack.

Cluttered desk

Monty Python's Farewell Tour Official Programme


* With it came a smaller poster, ‘How to economise on Guinness’, which suggests mixing it half and half with champagne to make ‘black velvet’. This can be seen to the right of the ‘How to make Guinness’ poster.

I have now found a coloured copy of the ‘How to make on Guinness’ poster:

36 comments:

  1. Happy New Year!
    Ah, Smirnoff... Smirnoff Ice, a ready-mixed alcopop sold in small bottles used tombe my preferred party drink when out with my girl friends. In fact, I have been thinking of it lately and was trying to buy some for mine and OK‘s New Year‘s Eve, but could not find it at the supermarket.

    As for posters, for a couple of years in my mid-teens I had a poster from the Berlin Museum on my bedroom wall, showing the famous Nofretete (Nefertiti) bust, an object of timeless beauty and still much admired by me. About 20 years later, I would finally see it for real during a trip to Berlin.

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    1. So it was you who was the mainstay of the public library until you discovered Smirnoff! Google it.

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  2. Well I admit to once liking Guinness, good for nursing mothers ;) it's the iron you know, better than Babycham which was disgusting.

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    1. At ante-natal classes, the health visitor who ran them was a strong advocate. "If you're feeling a bit tired or fed up," she kept saying, "have a glass of Guinness." You got the impression she still did.

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  3. Ah nostalgia, nostalgia - no better time for it than New Year's Day.
    A friend recently reminded me that for some years I had a poster of part of a Tony Benn speech on a tea towel on the back of the loo door. He is still on my list of heroes.
    Happy New Year by the way!

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    1. Not nostalgia in the sense that I'd want to be back there. I once wnet to a lecture by Michael Foot about the Luddites.

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    2. Aye, nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

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  4. I am ashamed to admit that, as a teenager, I had a poster of The Monkees on my bedroom wall.

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    1. I thought that was only true in fairy tales.

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    2. I heard of a man whose wife wanted to see a Monkee's reunion in Switzerland. He thought she had to be joking. Then he saw her face. He finished off with "Now I'm in Geneva.'

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    3. Above - it's like the Monty Python team has reformed!

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  5. I once asked an accountant friend about the difference between an accountant and a chartered accountant. His explanation made no sense and I can't remember what he said. Now as a self funded retiree, I need neither as I don't pay income tax.

    The teen me had pop star posters all over my bedroom walls, mostly male but a couple of females just to prove to myself that I wasn't gay. That was such a fail!

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    1. Only to yourself?
      Accountancy was good for learning how the world works. It helped me keep tax to a minimum.

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  6. I think Boris Johnson would make a good Python. I remember the tennis girl. I use to fancy Sue Barker.

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    1. I still do. Boris Johnson would be an awful Python. He would try to make it all about him.

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    2. He could be in charge of the Ministry of funny walks and silly haircuts perhaps?

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  7. Hmm...change Nixon for Trump in that line and it still works. :)

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    1. I can think of other suitable substitutions too.

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  8. I love Monty Python too and particularly "Vocational Guidance Counsellor," LOL! Accountants need to develop thick skins about their profession, like lawyers.

    Happy New Year!

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    1. Happy New Year to you. I got a bit obssessed by it. Another one I liked was the sketch in which Oscar Wilde, James McNeill Whistler and George Bernard Shaw compete in epigrams.

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  9. I raised my boys watching Monty Python and they still love the movies today. It is fun to see the room of your youth. I admit as a teenager I had Beatle posters all over my walls.

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    1. Not so much a room of my youth - I was in my early twenties by then.

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  10. I liked, "I used to think Wanking was a town in China until I discovered Smirnoff".

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    1. Having once audited a company that made television adverts, which gave some insight into how these things worked, it would not at all surprise me if they thought of that one, only to reject it want of a suitable image.

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  11. You outclassed my early digs, so I shall only take this space to wish you a happy 2021.

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    1. Thank you, and to you. Never regarded my digs as classy, though.

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  12. Ah yes, posters. I don't know what Athena is, but we certainly had our share of posters as teenagers in America. All the boys had Farrah Fawcett on their walls. I had Rachel Ward. I also had a big Budweiser poster, which I suppose is the counterpart of your Guinness.

    I loved Monty Python too -- I used to sneak out of bed at night to watch it when it aired at 11:30 p.m.

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    1. Ah, the Farrah Fawcett red swim suit poster - all teeth and nipples.

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  13. You have a hell of a memory Tasker. At university I had the periodic table on my wall. Thanks for reminding me of that knickerless tennis player. How many lusty dreams were ignited by that particular image? The model's name was Fiona Butler and the picture was taken in the long hot summer of 1976 when she was eighteen. She never made a penny from the poster though her ex-boyfriend did.

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    1. Periodic table! After posting about how much you disliked science. What brought on the change? Were you going out with a girl called Beryllium?

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    2. Stupidly, I thought that such tables were for mapping menstruation cycles.

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  14. When you said the model was only 18 I was reminded of Jack Lemon's line in Save the Tiger ... *Nobody's 18,* he tells the hippie girl who thumbs a lift on Rodeo Drive.
    Can't believe the girl never made a cent from that poster. The swines.

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    1. I bet the chartered accountants did well, though.

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    2. I was aye baffled by the £40m. black hole in the Patisserie Valerie accounts. Accounting irregularities? or as Deep Throat said, *Just follow the money ...*

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