Peter York On Ads: Island idyll unchanged by ravages of crime

Are you just that bit West Indian? We're not all as far gone as Ali G but, for the joke to have worked when Sacha Baron Cohen first proposed it nearly eight years ago, it had to have had wide resonance. It assumed most people under 30 knew a full-on "wigga" when they saw one, and that quite a lot had rubbed off - music, language, clothes - into the mainstream. Baron Cohen, an upper-middly Jewish public-schoolboy who did history at Cambridge, was reflecting 60 years and more of fashionable interest in the West Indies and West Indians.

Ian Fleming and Noel Coward were pioneer, post-war, smart settlers in Jamaica. Colin Tennant was on Mustique a little later, bringing the Princess Margaret set with him. Mick Jagger, who by the late 1960s was already playing it both ways socially, did Mustique for the louche life and Jamaica for the dreadlocked musical co-operations, the Peter Tosh sessions. Chris Blackwell, like Tennant, another Victorian plutocrat's grandson, set the pattern in the 1970s with Island Records. His Kingston-meets-Notting-Hill label consolidated a whole strand of young upper-class taste around reggae, dope, Afghan artefacts and a new vocabulary rendered in cod Jamaican accents - batty boy and rass clot were favourites as I remember it. All a bit like Mayfair Cockney.

Over the 1970s, and particularly during punk, fashionable attention shifted to the Jamaican immigrants' children living here. The Carnival, the riots, the life. Dreadlocks in Ladbroke Grove instead of Kingston. We were all getting that bit West Indian, and overwhelmingly that meant Jamaican.

Jamaica became a major destination in the 1980s as New Money went increasingly long-haul. And three generations of Jamaicans had become our most familiar assimilated New Brits. Lenny Henry, the Brummie Everyman with the funny God-fearing disciplinarian mum, was typical. In the 1980s, assimilated Jamaicans became part of most ordinary urban landscapes. There were black sitcoms set in Peckham barber shops and in relatively genteel housing estates. And things seemed to be getting along here and there. Setbacks certainly, but appearing to inch forward as Jamaican became another flavour in the British melting pot (and coffee-coloured people by the score, of course, because Brits and Jamaicans stirring together made the largest population of mixed-race children in Europe).

There's a whole sub-set of advertising featuring jolly Jamaicans, here and back there. Lilt, with "it's totally tropical taste", starred old West Indian dancing ladies and helped set the mould. Creatives who had spent impressionable years in Brixton or Ladbroke Grove were always looking for a chance to show off their mastery of roots.

And then there's Jamaica itself, the Tourist Board's advertising for the Island Paradise, a staple of the spring advertising schedules since God was a boy. The current commercial is exactly like every Jamaica ad I've ever seen. It's got the lot, saturated hyper-colour, blue sea and bright greenery, surfing kids with dreadlocks and, of course, attractive women of colour. Plus "One Love" as the music track - "Let's get together and feel alright". But do we?

While this commercial could have been put together any time in the last 25 years, I suspect the automatic associations with Jamaica have changed. They've got scarier. We know more, we've read more, we've seen more films and documentaries giving the impression that Jamaica's slipping backwards, becoming gang-ruled, unsafe, unless you stay in your holiday compound. Yardies, drug mules, the police's Operation Trident for black-on-black crime, all reflect back on Jamaica, on what marketing people call the national brand. All of it raising worries that won't go away with a bit of blow. Once there's an impression, rightly or wrongly, that a destination is difficult, then tourism falls away. Jamaica's hardly Iraq but I suspect anyone under 40 who actually wanted to see local life would think twice.

The story isn't new. The Harder They Come was released 34 years ago. But Jamaica's image has moved from picturesque to turbo - violent and international, from grass to industrial drug-dealing. The issue isn't race, it's 21st-century class and geography, miles away from the accounts supervisor in Basildon or the BT engineer. It's a cleft stick for the Tourist Board and its agency. They can't square up to it in the advertising - that's there to drum up bookings - but they'll know perfectly well that, precisely because we're that much more West Indian, it's there in their younger target markets' collective head.

Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday


Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would

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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £100,000: SThree: If you would like to work fo...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission £100k +: SThree: Trainee Recru...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities