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Chilli crisps not so hot on poetry

10 January 2014

NEXT to the photograph of R. S. Thomas on packets of Tyrrells sweet-chilli and red- pepper crisps is the promise of a "fleeting look of contempt" to winners of its latest competition.

It has been suggested this week that, were the poet alive to see this, the manufacturers would be on the receiving end of their own prize.

"The fact that they advertise themselves as 'Handcooked English Crisps' would certainly have been a red chilli rag to Thomas' fiercely Welsh nationalist views," said Dr Jeremy Noel-Tod, a lecturer in literature and creative writing at the University of East Anglia, on Friday.

Dr Noel-Tod first spotted the image of Mr Thomas last month, at a service station, and had a "double take", he said.

"My reaction was a mixture of real amusement at the absurdity of it and real anger that a respected poet should suffer such an undignified posthumous fate for the sake of selling overpriced fried potatoes." 

It took a week for his  message to Tyrrells - on Twitter - to receive a response. "We are humbled and sorry that we didn't recognise him sooner! Thanks for pointing it out" the company tweeted on Thursday.

Dr Noel-Tod imagines that R. S. Thomas, a Welsh poet and Anglican priest who died in 2000, would have been "deeply contemptuous of the whole business, though he is also reported to have a wickedly dry sense of humour in person, so he might privately have relished the way in which this facetious piece of marketing has backfired.

"It does seem to me to raise a real ethical question about the casual appropriation of images of the supposedly anonymous dead for jocular commercial purposes."

The competition for which the portrait has been used invites customers to suggest captions for old photographs. "When we see an eccentric old photograph - like the one on the front of this bag - we can't help but dream up a silly caption," reads the packet.  Winners are offered "a fleeting look of contempt, or £25,000 in cash - whichever they'd prefer."

The former is to be delivered by "a Tyrrells representative with a proven track record in the arena of highly directional momentary repugnance".        

Dr Noel-Tod reports that the company is considering providing crisps for the R. S. Thomas centenary celebration weekend in Wales at the end of this month.

Richard Harries reviews R. S. Thomas 

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