Haven't we bean here?
The Gold Blend commercials were never Adam’s Rib, but they were curious affairs. They were micro-dramas, tiny soap operas, in which the plot required two things to happen. There was a hint of a flirtation, then a cup of coffee. In most cases, the flirtation and the coffee were entwined, which is almost believable, as caffeine has always been a social drug. In the clichd rituals of mating, the cup of coffee is as important as the post-coital cigarette.
What seems less plausible now is that the momentum of this tentative relationship was fuelled by an instant coffee whose twin selling points were its price and its bland taste, yet the sales figures showed that people were prepared to suspend their disbelief. In the days of Hobnobs and shoulder-pads, the ladies really did love a man who loved Gold Blend.
That was then. In recent years, the nice people at Nestl attached their wagon to girl power, or, more precisely, the brand of self-mocking post-feminism which teetered on high heels through Bridget Jones, Ally McBeal, and the transsexual cocktail comedy, Sex and the City. Apparently, a recent Gold Blend ad featured a feisty single woman trying to trap a man, though the fact that the ad is not instantly memorable shows how ineffective it was.
And now, romance is back. From this weekend, Nestl will be introducing a new Gold Blend couple. This time, though, they are a year into their relationship and looking to their favourite coffee to prolong, or revive, the thrum of infatuation. It might work, but it seems unlikely. The original Gold Blend couple operated in unsophisticated times. In 1987, it was just about possible to imply that a slightly more expensive brand of instant coffee was a badge of sophistication, but that was before the Starbucks revolution. These days, where instant is offered in a social situation, it is best served with an apology.
In fact, looking back, the success of Gold Blend seems like an anachronism. At the same time as Tony and Sharon were mentally undressing each other with such innuendo-heavy lines as, ahem, "we’ve had coffee together", David Lynch was employing weird poetry to describe the pleasures of a good cup of joe in Twin Peaks. Agent Cooper, whose days were punctuated by "damn fine" cups of coffee, famously remarked that he preferred it served "black as midnight on a moonless night". On another memorable occasion, Cooper told his Dictaphone: "Last night I dreamed I was eating a large, tasteless gumdrop, and awoke to discover I was chewing on one of my foam disposable earplugs. Perhaps I should consider moderating my night-time coffee consumption."
The coffee which Cooper was describing was the pre-Starbucks blend, which was served in diners from a glass jug, and still is, across great tracts of the midwest. This is the coffee which is memorialised in trucking songs, which are infinitely more romantic and philosophical than the sultry pouting of the Gold Blend couple could ever aspire to be. In trucking songs, the road is the journey of life with coffee as its fuel. The line "Pour me another cup of coffee, for it is the best in the land", from Truck Driving Man, may seem bland, but it is infused with more longing, affection and suppressed lust than was ever evinced by smooth Tony and big-haired Sharon.
The roots of the coffee revolution can also be seen in the 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die, where Bond, played by Roger Moore, employs a La Pavoni espresso machine to make a cappuccino for M. After much fussing with the froth, M takes hold of the coffee, looks at the chrome barrels, glass valves and strange nozzles of the La Pavoni, and mutters something like "is that all it does?" The joke is squandered by Moore, whose acting style does not support the operation of light machinery, but the point is that M - who supplies Bond with his daft gadgets - can’t believe that a machine of such sophistication is required for a simple cup of coffee. M, I fancy, would be a Mellow Birds man.
Of course, even such a simple scene is open to interpretation, and the novelist Jeanette Winterson saw it as an example of gender reversal. Bond, she notes, is making the cappuccino as a diversion, while Moneypenny shuts an Italian lady in the wardrobe, away from M’s prying eyes. To Winterson, Bond is "playing the dizzy blonde" while Moneypenny is quick-thinking and controlled. "There’s Bond, louche and tousled in his dressing gown, here’s Moneypenny buttoned up to the neck with an iron hair-do ... Bond’s not the helpless male here - he’s a girl who’s trying to distract his boss with a cup of coffee, while figuring out how to get the lover out of the house. With his floppy blond hair falling in his eyes, and his games with a magnetic teaspoon, all he needs is a pair of kitten heels, and he’s Marilyn Monroe."
There can, I think, be no greater tribute to the transformative powers of a good cup of coffee. The drug which was chewed in the Ethiopian highlands, and imbibed by the Sufi mystics to inspire their spinning ceremonies and take them closer to God, has the power to turn The Saint into Norma Jeane. But Gold Blend? I’d rather drink pish.