The unlikely collision of lager and glamour girls that became a national institution for decades.
At the risk of upsetting Scottish readers, I have to say that the words ‘Tennents’ and ‘Lovely’ do not feel as though they belong together. Even by the standards of grim cooking lagers, Tennents has always struck me as being particularly grim on the few occasions I’ve had it. Perhaps it just doesn’t travel well.
But for almost thirty years, Tennents attempted to infuse their beer with a certain glamour that fizzy lagers inherently lack, in the form of the Lager Lovelies. These were the women who appeared as beer can models from 1965 until 1991 when the growing forces of political correctness – and the move to ban even the hint of a suggestion that there might be a link between beer drinking and sexual prowess or success took hold – finally did for them.
Tennents had first introduced canned beer in 1955, with the 16oz size (similar to a 440ml can today, and roughly a pint) and quickly picked up on the idea of featuring scenic views of Scotland and England on the can, possibly to distract from the taste but definitely to take advantage of the printing process involved in labelling the new-fangled cans and give them a wider appeal than bottles. This proved a success, but the real innovation came in 1965 with the Housewives Choice series, which might sound like something from the back pages of Fiesta magazine but in fact was an ambitious – some might say hilarious – attempt to position Tennents as a literal cooking lager, with twenty individual images of women on the cans, each accompanied by a beer-related recipe. At this stage, the imagery was an attempt to sell the beer to women rather than use them to attract male drinkers, but this was never going to be a success, and very soon the recipes were dropped and a model named ‘Ann’ – Ann Johansen, in fact – would be introduced as the face (and body) of Tennants for the rest of the decade.
Ann’s images were hardly what you would call risque – while there were a few swimsuit and pin-up photos, they still seemed rather chaste even for the time. But she clearly had something that appealed, and as the series went on, she was featured in slightly – very slightly – more revealing glamour girl images. Sales rose and, like the Big D peanuts girls, the Tennents Lager Lovelies became a mainstay of pub culture.
As time went on, the images became a little raunchier – but let’s not exaggerate things. By the standards of 1970s promotional totty, the images of glamour models – not, it might be said, the top tier of the industry despite the obvious publicity opportunities that might have come from licensing images of popular Page 3 girls – were still quite mild. There was lingerie but no nudity, and the poses were rather wholesome. For a drink aimed almost exclusively at a male audience, the promotional images were a spark of genius, giving a touch of safe titillation that would hardly upset anyone – and by running entire series of images, Tennents could also cash in on the collector mentality, as drinkers sought out each photo as well as focusing in on their favourite girl. The brewer also produced calendars, beer mats and other promotional material for people to take home.
Of course, all good things come to an end, and the Lager Lovelies began to seem like a rather dated anachronism by the end of the 1980s – not only did the whole idea seem a bit sexist to many, but the move towards generic, immediately recognisable (though, ironically, quite interchangeable) corporate designs was in full force. Brewers wanted their name and logo front and centre to avoid confusion and help build brand loyalty, and while the Lager Lovelies might have been associated with Tennents by those in the know, for the less initiated they probably just caused brand confusion and made the beer look gimmicky. Big brand lager drinkers might not really be a discerning bunch, but they like to think they are, and by the end of the 1980s, the lager you drank often became part of your identity. In 1991, the Lager Lovelies were unceremoniously dropped. At the time, no one raised much of a defence for the concept – but of course, by its very nature, the Lager Lovely was an ephemeral pleasure, destined to be thrown away by all but the most oddball collector – because who would hold on to an empty beer can just because it featured a photo of a lingerie model, especially at a time when scantily-clad girls were plastered across newspapers, record sleeves, paperback covers and everywhere else? Naturally, this means that the original cans are now eagerly sought out by a certain sort of collector.
Given the current hysteria about even the hint of double entendre in a beer name, I doubt that we’ll see a return of the Lager Lovelies anytime soon, even in ironic fashion – the last time the name appeared was on a special edition gift pack featuring the geriatric stars of Scottish sitcom Still Game – how jolly postmodern. But there’s something quaintly innocent and amusingly eccentric about these cans, and I suspect the only people who are upset by them are the sort of moralising prigs with whom you’d never want to share a pint…
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