Monday, September 22, 2008

Thomas Lipton and Me



So I'm staying a hotel with nothing much to do and I decide to make myself a cup of tea. Naturally I select the English Breakfast variety (from Indonesia) as I can't stand all those flavoured teas like Earl Gray and certainly am not about to start drinking nonsense like peppermint or blackcurrent tea this late in life. I like builder's tea - strong, a dash of milk and about 3 sugars the way God intended.

I'm about to rip open the pack when I notice that Lipton's are now putting old Thomas Lipton's signature on the packs. That seems new but then as he died in 1931 I'm not sure we can take this as a guarantee of Sir Thomas's personal approval.

I've always liked Lipton - Glaswegian, self-made, cabin-boy to millionaire and the man who eschewed the effete tea drinkers of London and pioneered the concept of the cuppa for the masses which has sustained generations of the French family through several wars, the Blitz, Thatcher and now the credit crunch. Don't you dare suggest a cup of coffee in our households!

I have a few cross reference points with Litpon. He eventually bought a very nice house with large grounds in Southgate, North London and I used to walk past it to Southgate Technical College where I did my A-levels. It was a home for retired NHS nurses when I used to wander past it and later I bought a house in Southgate (somewhat less grand). He died in Southgate but left most of his money to Glasgow and was buried up in Glasgow's fabulously Gothic Necropolis where, incidentally, I used to wander occasionally while a student in Glasgow (but never noticed his grave).


He did come to Shanghai a couple of times and was apparently refused entry to the snobby Shanghai Club on the Bund - and if it was still there I expect I'd be turned away at the door too. Whether this enraged him or not I don't know but he was reputedly personally not a snob so he might not have cared.

In a way he got his revenge on Shanghai long after his death by launching the pathetically weak Lipton's black tea on the market and then introducing green tea bags in a nice example of selling to the Chinese something they themselves are supposed to be famous for.

The only remaining question is whether or not this is really Lipton's signature or just a fancy John Hancock devised in an art department at some ad agency? Given that we've just had hurdler Liu Xiang appearing in an ad with two actors portraying his parents (!!) rather than with his real ones you might well wonder.

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