Sunday, 22 February 2015

Bond, Brooke Bond: when James Bond sold tea

A recent article on the MI6 - The Home of James Bond 007 website about the James Bond-influenced Milk Tray television adverts in the UK reminded me about another highly successful campaign that looked to the Bond films for inspiration. Between 1956 and 2002, tea manufacturer Brooke Bond ran a series of adverts for its PG Tips brand featuring chimpanzees in anthropomorphic roles. The adverts would show the chimpanzees wearing clothes and performing human actions, usually in humorous everyday domestic or work situations. Inevitably, given the name of the manufacturer and the ever-increasing popularity of James Bond, some of the adverts parodied the Bond films.


Three adverts spoofing Bond were produced in the 1980s. One was in the form of a film trailer. “And now, the films you've been waiting for,” announces the voice-over to scenes of henchmen skating in a winter landscape and an explosion at a villain's mountain lair. “From the files of the British Secret Tea Service,” the voice-over continues before viewers are introduced to a dinner-suited “Bond, Brooke Bond,” and “Bond's boss, Tee.”

Bond's mission is to safeguard the secret of the 'big bag' – bigger tea bags mean more room for the tea to impart its flavour in the teapot – and to help him there a lab-coated character (presumably based on Q), who supplies Brooke Bond with a gadget-converted tea urn. We also see Brooke Bond pursue henchmen in the icy landscape and a naval admiral in Tee's office. The advert ends with a quip from Brooke Bond.

Another advert is set on a smoke-filled railway platform at night; a sign indicates that the station is Istanbul. Brooke Bond is about to board the 'Leyton Orient Express' and approaches a station porter. “We were expecting you,” the porter tells Bond. Suddenly, the porter pulls out a gun and demands the secret from Bond, who disarms him by placing his hat over the gun. “That porter chappie got ideas above his station,” Brooke Bond quips.

A third advert places Brooke Bond in China. Bond is in an interrogation room and is threatened by the villain with being cast into a shark-filled pool unless he reveals the 'big bag' secret.

The three adverts have distinct settings, yet all are recognisably Bondian as they took various aspects of the Bond film series. The first appears to have been inspired by films with notable mountain-set action sequences, particularly On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). The admiral may have derived from The Spy Who Loved Me too, perhaps being based on Admiral Hargreaves or Captain Benson. Then there are more general memes, such as the Q character, the dinner jacket, the witticisms, and, of course, the 'Bond, James Bond' expression.

The rail station-set advert is clearly inspired by From Russia With Love (1963), although the “we were expecting you” line has a later introduction in the film series, not being uttered by the villain until Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

The third advert draws largely on SPECTRE-based memes – the shark pool from Thunderball (1965), the mountain lair of You Only Live Twice (1967) and the interrogation room of Dr No (1962); that is, the sparsely furnished ante-room with the circular grille in which Professor Dent 'warns' Dr No of Bond's presence.

Brooke Bond's set of Bond-influenced adverts demonstrate the diversity of the Bond series and significance of key films, among them From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me. Memes expressed in those films gained and retained their cultural currency by being replicated and adapted well beyond cinematic release, and indeed continue to have cultural resonance

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