'Red Rose Tea'-TV Commercial to Local Hit Single

Monday, 04 November 2013 08:16 AM Written by 

The commercial was all over Pittsburgh TV (and elsewhere) in 1968. A black and white affair showing a nightclub called the Savoy Ritz, with some very unsubtle 40's music roaring on the soundtrack. Cut to inside, a band onstage, with a banner proclaiming it a "Rock and Roll Tea Party," depicting chimps playing fake instruments: piano, bass, a drummer in sunglasses, trombone and a "singer" shouting the words "Red Rose Tea."

The chimps were the Marquis Chimps, a threesome that began in Europe and worked extensively in the US onstage and on TV, once starring in a short-lived, moronic sitcom called "The Hathaways," starring the late Peggy Cass and Jack Weston.

In the 50's they starred in a series of filmed commercials for Brooke Bond, Canadian manufacturers or Red Rose Tea.  One in particular has endured. The commercial itself was apparently filmed in 1957 for the British market (creative filming made three chimps seem like more) promoting Brooke Bond's "PG Tips" tea marketed in the UK.

Ten years later, a new vocal track adapted the original ad to the Red Rose brand, aimed at the US. Amazing that in 1968, the era of Sgt. Pepper, Janis and Jimi, Brooke Bond's ad agency still considered this "rock and roll."  It didn't matter.   Everyone noticed it.

The Red Rose version:

Having its own spin on things, Western Pennsylvania reaction was swift and enthused. Disc jockeys Zeke Jackson of WARO in Canonsburg and Frank DiMino taped the soundtrack and began playing it on the air. After Brooke Bond granted permission to use the song, Record-Rama's Paul Mawhinney distributed the single on the GINK label.

With the song spliced together to create a two-minute performance, it became a local hit, popular enough to appear years later on the CD reissue of Itzy Records' Pittsburgh's Greatest Hits Volume 2.

The melody is original, but in spots is reminiscent of Larry Clinton's composition "The Dipsy Doodle," a 1937 hit for both Clinton's orchestra and Tommy Dorsey's.

"Red Rose" isn't some profound or timeless moment in American music. It was fun. And to my ear, still is.

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