By the end of the ’80s, the old ‘ask the nice scientist man in the white coat about what low-fat toilet washing-up liquid powder is kind to your skin without static cling’ rigmarole was as old as the hills. If that wasn’t stifling enough, in the world of thick, gloopy bleaches, Domestos reigned supreme with its iconic bog pan cross-section ‘all known germs (thump) dead’ campaign. So when saucy green-jacketed lavatorial upstart Vortex crashed the under-rim scene, re-inventing the wheel was clearly not an option, and back to the lab went the ad men. But wait! There’s more!
It looks like a textbook seventies throwback. Kindly yet authoritative-looking independent microbiologist Neil Butler MSc, FI Biol, is approached by an off-the-peg investigative non-reporter, very much The Poor Man’s Sue Cook. She quizzes our learned prof about the results of his painstaking surveys of the germ-killing power of various bleaches ‘after a number of flushes’. Neil calmly reveals that, yes, one bleach did outperform those other well-known leading brands.
So far, so happy-with-your-wash. but then TPMSC throws a curveball. Instead of demanding Butler relinquish the victor’s name in terse, urgent tones, she cocks her head, raises a quizzical eyebrow, and idly inquires, ‘Care to name it for us?’ Now, this may not seem like a seismic shift in the grand cultural scheme of things, but in the heavily regimented world of scientifically-verified bleach advertising, this casual, almost coquettish request is something of a horse-frightener. ‘Care to name it for us?’ She might as well have grabbed Neil by the lapels of his lab-coat, removed his glasses, mussed his hair up, said ‘oh, sod the fucking bleach’ and demanded he take her out to the theatre, a little dinner, maybe afterwards to The Poor Man’s Stringfellow’s for a heavily disinfected floor show. This is racy stuff indeed.
But what does our man of science do? Less than a second after this leading question to end all leading questions is out of her mouth, he slams down the lid with a terse, ‘it’s Vortex’. There’s your answer. Sorry, TPMSC, very flattered and all that, but I’m a man of science, irrevocably wedded to the petri-dish (and Doris, 49, keen Rotarian, likes Battenburg and David Jacobs). You’ve got what you came for lady, now leave me be.
And that was it. Neil Butler remained very much an independent microbiologist, Vortex went down the pan in the sense the manufacturers hadn’t intended, and Lord knows what happened to TPMSC. And to cap it all, the tagline ‘Vortex kills germs longer – that’s scientific fact’ had to be amended later on to ‘that’s a scientist’s verdict’ in a rather cruel depreciation of Neil’s microbiological clout. Soon after that, even Domestos lost it, ditching the solemn u-bend cutaways for some ‘let’s get silly’ folderol to the tune of Big Bad Dom. The world, it’s tempting to muse, went singularly mad thereafter.