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Monkey World News

Single birds end the tea party for PG chimps

The Sunday Times


AFTER 45 years, the tea party is over for the PG Tips chimps. Their television adverts that once aped British family life are now seen as old-fashioned by younger viewers. The chimps will be replaced by animated birds who act like single 20-somethings renting a house together.

The end of Britain’s longest advertising campaign was welcomed yesterday by animal-rights activists who have claimed that the series was exploitative. A spokesman for PG Tips said: “The change is not a response to animal-rights activists and we have always provided after-care for chimp actors. The chimps have lost their impact on younger consumers. They associate the product with their parents’ generation.”

The first tea party was introduced by Peter Sellers in 1956 and since then the talking chimps have been seen as piano removal men, housewives and even parodied James Bond in one campaign. Carry On actors provided the voices for memorable lines such as “Avez vous un cuppa?” Unilever, owners of PG Tips, has now turned to Aardman Animations, the Oscar-winning company which produced Wallace and Gromit and the Creature Comfort adverts for the Electricity Board. Four plasticine “T-Birds” will debut in the middle of next Monday’s Coronation Street and viewers will follow the “humorous ups and downs of the 20-something birds as they rent a house”. The first advert features Maggie, a London pigeon, Tom the Irish Owl and Pete the Geordie starling.

Dropping the chimps is a gamble for PG Tips, the nation’s leading tea brand, which holds 25 per cent of the 540million tea market. Sales fell when the chimps were temporarily taken off the screens in 1968 and the adverts were swiftly resumed. That could happen again.

The early chimp actors were returned to Twycross Zoo, Leicestershire, where keeper Molly Badham provided Dan and Sue, the first chimp actors, to the then Brooke Bond company in 1956. The adverts became a worldwide hit and the fees paid for Twycross chimps kept the zoo going. Ms Badham stopped supplying actors for the commercials when she became uneasy about their wigs and elaborate clothing.

In 1993, an Australian trainer admitted that he smuggled Christina, an orang-utan in the series, from Indonesia to Europe. Recent adverts have been filmed with American animals. The last chimp actors were said by PG Tips to be “resting” in Hollywood.

Jim Cronin, director of the Monkey World ape sanctuary near Wareham, Dorset, said: “The adverts have been damaging to chimpanzees. It is great if they are going. They made it acceptable to use chimps for entertainment.”

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