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
"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
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
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.