Tuesday, 28 July 2015

A Tribute to: PG Tips Bump & Go Racers

A Tribute To: PG Tips Bump & Go Racers

I’ve just completed my set, so these can be our first tribute.

Back on Christmas Day in 1956 Brooke Bond unleashed apes onto Britain’s TV and used real chimps to advertise their PG Tips tea for over 45 years (finally giving in and stopping in 2002) – with the exception of 1968 (and they brought them back 18 months later). These monkeys became a pop culture phenomenon, turning PG Tips (pee-gee tips) into the number one selling brand of tea in Britain – yes, monkeys really can do anything, including influence people on what tea to buy. 

The campaign was based on London Zoo’s infamous Chimp Tea Parties, something that is generally considered bloody cruel today but were incredibly popular and a zoo staple (Colchester Zoo never had any of it) by the ‘50s. Twycross Zoo hired the Chimps out to PG Tips until 1978, in fact it was hiring them out before it was a zoo - the apes most people met (oh yes you could meet them) on their chimp road show came from Molly Badham, and Nathalie Evans, who rescued animals and treated their chimps like humans (including allowing them a smoke!) and then founded Twycross Zoo, mostly with the monkey money from letting their chimps drink tea for Brooke Bond. In 1962 these apes became the adverts’ stars too with adventures that mirrored day-to-day British life better than the Soap Operas have ever done (and got PG Tips the name Monkey Tea, which I called it as a wee lad too). When the adverts came back after their hiatus they were under Tony Toller and Berny Stringle and got even more sophisticated, making them lip-synch (via clever editing) and everything, the first of these was the 1971 ad Mr Shifter, a piano-based groaner that has since become ingrained in British pop-culture.  In 1996 the real chimps were phased out, not because of animal rights activists, but because CGI was showing them up. That’s where these toy cars come in, as they feature the entire Tipps family, a concept introduced in the 1992 where the chimps played a set group of four characters, a modern 1990s family, in a series of sitcomesque ads.

Now the Twycross Chimps weren’t abused in the typical sense – no animals were whipped or beaten to ride bicycles, fix tires, shift pianos or play James Bond – I can’t speak for the later chimps, and a couple of stories did surface about them being ill-treated – either way there’s still no doubt here about the negative effects of raising wild animals like human toddlers, letting them smoke and eat jelly babies or do shit like drink tea for the amusement of your paying guests and AFB does not endorse nor condone making animals perform for the amusement of humans/the selling of tea bags (even pyramid bags) all we endorse and condone is the making of neat little toys of your mascots. 

The Bump & Go Racers came out in 1996 to celebrate 40 years of PG Tips chimps, I have absolute no idea why they
decided to put the chimps in cars, I mean there were adverts with them driving cars and the parents of the Tipps family could drive but the apes were generally associated with being indoors (and pianos) not racing around. I’m going to assume it was either a ‘marketing’s idea of cool’ thing (this was the mid-90s) or a cost thing (the cars all use the same sculpt, thus the same steel mold (or tool), thus the main body of the toy is much cheaper to make). If memory serves me they came in their own boxes, with these boxes stuck to special boxes of PG Tips tea bags – which was (and still is) the usual method of giving away promotional items with tea – making them Prizes not Premiums (yeah, there’s a difference – Prizes are included in the price of the other item, Premiums require an additional payment – amazing what you can learn on the internet innit?). I was 10 in 1996 and even though I was getting a little bit too old and even though our household was a Tetley house I still rather coveted them (also expect a tribute to the Tetley Tea Folk). Just because a household’s allegiance to a tea brand is stronger than any’s allegiance to any sports team, the adverts still played on your TV set whether you only stocked PG Tips, Tetley, Typhoo or one of those posh flavoured things and although they were now focussing more on the product than the family the PG Tips Monkeys were pop culture icons – and the anniversary had given them a small but notably media push, but we were Tetley so I had no chance.

As an adult I’ve of course decided to rectify this injustice, but fuck paying any actual money for them (they go for about £5 each) so it took me a little while to get a complete set via bootsales and eBay auctions, but that small, pathetic achievement has been achieved, so let’s look at them:

Each car is exactly the same; they’re hollow, probably blow-moulded and pretty flimsy looking though they feel a little sturdier than they look, each lacks paint details except for the name of the racer on the side but has an engine sculpted in the back, behind the seat (which I’m sure is safe, but then these are monkeys that smoked that lived on cake and jelly babies so….), the huge ‘40 Years’ on the front (and underside) however prove that they’ve been made specially for this promotion and aren’t just reused from some generic £1 shop toy mould Brooke Bond got cheap. They remind me of the McDonalds’ Connect-a-Car toys the most, but honestly they look a bit weird, I’ve always though they look a little strange and now I think I’ve figured it out, they’re too short, too tall at the front and too round, I’m sure they’re based on a real motor (I know precisely fuck all about cars) but they come out looking more like dodge ’ems than racing cars. As luck would have it, I like dodge ‘ems so I don’t have a particular issue with that, except that they’re supposed to be race cars and yet I think ‘Margate’ not ‘Daytona’ when I look at them. They’re pull-back in terms of action feature, if you don’t know what a pull-back car is you had no childhood, you get quite a good distance for your pull-back too, especially taking into account they’re cheap give-aways.


“Driving Shirley round the bend”

My first Bump & Go Racer! Geoff’s the father of Tipps family and is designed to represent every dad ever – he goes to work, comes home, sits in the armchair and watches football while having a cuppa and made horrible jokes to embarrass his kids – and mostly wore a jeans and a brick-red jumper over a shirt – typical dad clothing in 1990s Britain. It’s unknown if he also went to the pub, came home pissed on Stella and beat Shirley ‘round the head, but its’ unlikely, he seemed like a nice, laid back chap chimp. Geoff is also the worst of the likenesses; in fact he looks fuck all like the monkey in question.


“At home or in the car, she’s always in the driving seat”

The mum, Geoff’s wife and the one who really wore the pants in the household, though she was mostly seen doing housework and making tea, probably for the sake of audience identification – housework, tea and shit day-time telly being the staples of any mother in the house all day and thus seeing PG Tips adverts all the time, in fact I’m sure there was an advert where she was watching shit day-time telly. Shirl’s got a pretty good likeness going on, they’ve got her bouffant hair down, though she (and Samantha) area a little flat faced, and the dress they’ve given her makes her look like she’s stuck in the ‘60s when combined with that haircut (She usually wore sweatshirts, again common mum attire in the 1990s, my nan still dresses like that).

“A dressed up and nowhere to go”

I liked Samantha, she was the typical 90’s teenage daughter but she actually rang pretty true to the older sisters I knew, trendy without being slutty, adult while still being juvenile, and she wore eye-sore trousers and pink tops, which every 90’s teenage girls seemed to do.  I particularly like an advert where she answers the phone and says “it’s alright it’s only…” and Shirley finishes with “Steve” – I swear every sister ever went out with a Steve when a teenager. She’s a bit flat-faced like her mum but not a bad likeness, and she totally would have had a pink car if allowed.


“He’s turned into a right boy racer”

A boy racer is a young male driver who speeds around showing off while being dangerous and stupid in flash little cars, it’s a British term. Kevin’s the pre-teen son, though he seems to be at Senior School, making him 11 or over. He used to wear a baseball cap and football shirt – a look that still hasn’t gone out of fashion no matter how much I wish it would. He was also a pretty accurate little character and managed to have that ‘annoying but not annoying’ thing kids that age develop in terms of personality, when they’re trying to imitate adults but don’t’ quite have the personality or understanding of humour yet to manage it, it also helped that his life seemed to revolve around actual things like homework and P.E. rather than the cartoons where kids are always doing stuff other than that. The toy’s made him a little more anthropomorphic, a little more ‘childlike’, but he’s pretty decent.  

Mr Shifter

“Shifting into top gear”

Not one of the Tipps family, but the removals man from the campaign’s most iconic advert ‘Mr Shifter’, from 1971, about a removals ape and his son moving a piano down some stairs, when the owner calls them for tea the son drops it, it ends with a truly terrible but utterly endearing old joke “dad, d’you know the piana’s on my foot?” “you hum It son, I’ll play it”. Shifter absolutely belonged in this line, perhaps more than the Tipps family – who made the cut undoubtedly because they were the current mascots - that fucking piano advert is considered classic TV (by me included) and is undoubtedly the definitive PG Tips ad, he’s also a damn fine likeness, and who wouldn’t want a cockney ape in a bowler hat and moustache driving a bright red racing car?

Jean-Pierre Berke

“The French racing diver who only breaks for PG Tips”

I’m guessing he’s either named for Jean-Pierre Jarier or Jean-Piere Jabouille (thanks Google!) and he was officially created for this promotion but he sure looks an awful lot like the French cyclist chimp from the Tour De France advert of the 1970s, one of the campaign’s better known and better remembered adverts not to feature a piano (or James Bond). It might be unintentional but I hope not, what with this being an anniversary line it’d be nice if he was paying homage to another classic old ad. Also Berk is a British slang term, when used on its own it’s an hardly offensive slang term meaning idiot that you can use on day time telly and if you’re a teacher – but it’s actually a shortened version of Berkshire Hunt, which is cockney rhyming slang – so yes, a tea company did release a joke that amounts to a character being called John-Peter Cunt.

Overall thoughts: Not a terrible line from the point of view of someone who grew up with the Tipps family - it’s really the best way to have toys of them (there were some plush toys made, but I’ve only ever seen Kevin and Samantha) and really even if 90’s nostalgia was more of a thing, NECA’s not going to rush out and make PG Tips chimps collectible figures are they? As a 40th anniversary line though the character selection kind of sucks, Mr Shifter is the only classic character (for definite), they should really have chucked all but Geoff and filled the line with Shifter, the Tour De France Chimp, the cowboy Chimp, James Bond and others from classic ads to really play up the celebratory, years spanning nature of the promotion (the 1996 anniversary ads all featured clips from old adverts, for instance) – and I still wouldn’t have put them in cars, just some vinyl figurines (like what Tetley were doing) would have sufficed lads. That said it IS really fun to watch Mr Shifter zoom about your attic.   

Finally, here’s the box, fully scanned:

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