Ah! Gravy train over for Bisto kids

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They have "Aaaahd" their way through eight decades of roast dinners and survived two world wars. But lunch is finally over for the Bisto kids who are being dropped from the gravy campaign this autumn.

The urchin-style cartoon children, who were created in 1916 and first appeared in a Bisto advertisement in 1919, will be absent from the gravy advertisements for the first time, following months of speculation over their future.

When Will Owen designed the kids in flat caps and tatty clothes, accompanied by a trail of gravy steam, one of the most enduring advertising images was born. While most campaigns from the same era floundered, the Bisto kids survived with only minor facelifts.

Among advertisements that appeared around the same time, only to become quickly dated, were: "You haven't used Robinson's Barley, or your baby would not fret and look so puny"; and "Your chauffeur will drive better on BP". Another with a short shelf life was a pipe tobacco advertisement: "Come what may," said the vicar, "there's one thing I know won't change. Half an hour in a quiet corner with Three Nuns."

Bisto was defensive on the future of the kids yesterday. While the company confirmed they will not appear in advertisements in the near future, it said it was too early for obituaries and they may be resurrected at a later date.

A spokeswoman said: "It is certainly too early to start planning obituaries for the Bisto kids. Not only are they alive and well, but the famous cartoon characters, who have been dropped off the new packaging, are etched in Bisto's heritage and culture and could well reappear in the future."

However, the kids have been viewed as too old-fashioned in recent years, and have faced waning support for the nostalgic image of a roast beef dinner following the BSE crisis.

They were also seen as less popular than the more contemporary Oxo family, their main rivals in the pounds 76m British gravy wars, in which Bisto has a 55 per cent stake.

The famous "Ah Bisto" slogan will remain. It ranks alongside the classics of the advertising copywriting like "A Mars a day helps you work rest and play" and "Murray mints, Murray mints, too good to hurry mints".

The spokeswoman added: "We have just introduced some unique new products . . . and are embarking on a hard-hitting marketing campaign for this winter. Instead of the cartoon kids, the new packaging focuses on the equally famous 'Ah' gravy trail cipher."