The history of popular culture: 1 Tomato Ketchup

There is no definitive research on the subject, but I suspect if you were to take Heinz tomato ketchup, decant it into one of those red plastic tomatoes, and then test it against the identical product straight from the bottle the vast majority of right-thinking people would vote for the bottled stuff.

The red plastic tomato ranks alongside hot-air driers and unaccompanied folk singing in contemporary cultural demonology. We spurn the brown sticky bits around the nozzle, the suspicion of heavily vinegarised adulteration, the bulbous greasiness as we try to grasp and squeeze. That much is self- evident, but is there any wider significance to this?

I'll say there is. Imagine for a moment how different our town centres might now look had Wimpy Bars and similar outlets opted back in the Sixties for the chunky glass ketchup bottle rather than the plastic tomato. Ronald McDonald might never have made it here, that spot in the High Street occupied by the Tie Rack might now be a Golden Egg. Sure, the food wasn't that good and the pale brown beverage they served was like an artist's impression of coffee, but it was only when the first American restaurants opened here and we compared the classic ketchup bottle they favoured with our plastic tomatoes that we realised what a puny parody of American eating we'd been sold.

It was the red plastic tomato wot killed the town centre British eatery. The decision to skimp on the ketchup is up there with the 60s slum clearance programme in its influence on the Way We Live Now.

If only Mr Wimpy had studied Heinz's advertising he might have grasped the iconic status of the glass bottle. Even the difficulty of getting the damn stuff out of it becomes a virtue. In a 1968 American commercial, the bottle is shaken, struck and held upside down before reluctantly surrendering a tiny puddle of its contents. "It's slow. The slow ketchup," intones the dark brown voice-over.

In nearly three decades of advertising, that message has changed just once, when a squeezy container was introduced in 1986 with a Chris Tarrant bright yellow voice-over. The original bottle was retained, though, and within a year the slow ketchup was back, culminating in the 90s campaign in which a returning soldier was able to enjoy a satisfying snog with his wife to a pastiche of the Pointer Sisters' "Slowhand" while waiting for the egress of the ketchup.

And why is the ketchup so slow? Because each 15oz bottle is packed with the goodness of two pounds of tomatoes, of course. Like Cadbury's pint- and-a-half of full cream dairy milk, this is one of those equations which doesn't seem to add up. But doesn't the sacrifice of a quantity of tomatoes so extravagant it is well nigh impossible to extract the ketchup from its beautiful glass bottle somehow symbolise the world of plenty for which Eisenhower and Kennedy's America stood?

By the time the film Diner came out in 1982, with its famous scene of upturned ketchup bottles draining ever so slowly into other bottles, we understood. But it was too late. We looked at Kevin Bacon and Mickey Rourke and ached nostalgically for a past we never had in this country. Triple thick milkshakes, authentic r'n'b, fabulous chrome bumpers, sex, and full-strength tomato ketchup.

If their stuff was Kennedy and Otis Redding, our watered down version was Harold Macmillan and the Vernon Girls. And if you think this is fanciful, remember that not only did Cilla Black release a cover version in Britain of the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling", but she had the original hit. Almost unbelievable, but worth remembering when you wonder why we embraced so enthusiastically the Americans with their authentic pop music and their lovely glass bottles of ketchup.

Thanks to the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

    Maths Teacher

    £90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

    Maths Teacher

    £22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week