How to make a cult out of a beef curry

No 152: VESTA
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The Independent Culture
Did you live through the Vesta years? Have you been wondering what happened to those curious cardboard boxes with their little constituent bags and sachets, and the crispy noodles that grew like trick Japanese flowers in a pan of hot oil? Vesta stirs all those bedsit memories so powerfully it's got obvious cult potential.

And that's certainly the way its owners see it, and the new Vesta mega- ads present it, as Sixties cultism in a most elaborate "rockumentary" pastiche. The central idea is that "the Vestas" could very well have been one of those struggling late-Sixties rock groups who shared our bedsit world - engaging British heroic failures from Ashford, Kent.

This conceit is developed at length - three minutes - following a format pioneered by Miller Time on Channel 4. It's done like one of those mainstream rock-bios (particularly TV's recent Rock Family Trees), with a lot of inside jokes and attention to detail: cheesy early handout- photos; "unique footage from Ashford's fabled Crypt club" of the Vestas performing, with a lot of Beatley head movements; Johnny Walker on voice-over.

Intercut with all this are interviews with the band members now, some still quite Spinal Tap, others middle-aged south-London retailers. "Wally Wallace, lead guitar" is wonderfully throaty in his council-house kitchen. He's got a pirate scarf on his head, he's clearly lost the plot, and he's soldiering on in the ragged array of old musos.

The other conceit is that the Vesta meal people have sponsored the Vestas by feeding them. They'd eaten their way through stacks of beef curry and chow mein and still loved the stuff. "Crispy noodles, man," says Wallace, with a clear play for the student-and-young-comic circuit. "All you need for a jolly good feed," it says on screen (next week it's love-ins, be- ins and eat-ins).

It's all very sweet and British and quite timely from the cult viewpoint. But who on earth, in the takeaway age, will actually want the product?