Friday 9 May 2008

Coming, Sahib!

The disembodied brown hand of a native bearer enters the room through a Vorticist explosion of colour, gripping a brass tray laden with tall glasses, a crystal jug and a package of Horlick’s Malted Milk. All the way from Slough to refresh the hard pressed colonial administrator. It can even be mixed with brandy or sherry to make a “drink for the gods”.

Today, we examine the advertiser’s response to the challenge of advertising in India. Some of these examples address the realities of colonial life with explicit reference to the master-servant relationship. The ever attentive servant hovers in the background, almost unseen, ready to perform his duties with perfect self-effacement. The mem-sahib can relax in the knowledge that every household chore will be carried out with discretion and efficiency, leaving plenty of time for leafing through the pages of the Times of India Annual and dream of luxuries like a fashionable watch or a ciné camera. Many of the finest and most reassuring brand names from home can be found there. Peek Frean and Jacob’s biscuits, the perfect accompaniment to Brooke Bond Tea, Horlicks, Wincarnis and Eno’s Fruit Salts to calm the nerves, Pears’ Glycerine Soap for a matchless complexion and Wright’s Coal Tar Soap for well scrubbed children, Odol and Kolynos for gleaming teeth. All the comforts of home for the wives and daughters of the officer class.

One successful artist, possibly of Indian origin whose work features in both advertising and editorial illustration (including the covers) is William Spencer Bagdatopulos (born 1888). His signature appears on the two more exotic adverts for Pears’ and the Valet Auto Strop Safety Razor. The Pears’ image evokes a dreamy sensuality with a sultry foursome in provocative mood. The peacock in the background is the main player in the Valet advert with a severe, unsmiling androgynous creature mounted on its back. The Hindu God, Skanda is sometimes depicted mounted on Parvani the Peacock. Perhaps there is a connection with the world of wet shaving. Follow this link to see some poster designs by Bagdatopulos promoting India as a tourist destination.

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