A CLERIC scowls out from his photo on bags of Tyrrells
sweet-chilli-and-red-pepper crisps (right), representing
the "fleeting look of contempt" promised to winners of a
competition. When, outside the crisp-marketing world, he was
recognised as the poet R. S. Thomas, it was suggested that he would
not have been best pleased.
"The fact that they advertise themselves as 'Handcooked English
Crisps' would certainly have been a red chilli rag to Thomas's
fiercely Welsh nationalist views," said Dr Jeremy Noel-Tod, a
lecturer in literature and creative writing at the University of
East Anglia, last Friday.
Dr Noel-Tod first spotted the image at a petrol station last
month. He did 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 of last week.
Dr Noel-Tod thinks that Thomas, 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 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".
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.