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Chilli crisps not so hot on poetry

17 January 2014

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.

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