At the peak of their popularity in the 1970s, Tennent’s Lager Lovelies inhabited a very different country to the considerably more politically-correct Caledonia of today.
Looking back, it’s easy to label it a “more innocent time”, but was it, really? This was an era of massive gender inequality; racial tensions and football hooliganism. A sexist Britain where attractive young ladies were almost universally described as ‘a bit of alright’; where Pan’s People provocatively pranced about in their delicates to Marc Bolan on Top of the Pops, and one where the notion of striking a female colleague’s backside was deemed socially-acceptable, or, worse yet, an act of flattery.
It’s little wonder then that slapping glossy pictures of buxom beauties on to the side of tins of lager - traditionally the beverage of choice for those with the XY pair of chromosomes - turned out to be such an incredible commercial and financial success.
In the late fifties, Tennent’s chiefs came up with the novel idea of creating a series of twenty special can designs. Each displayed an image of a different girl under the heading ‘Housewives’ Choice’, accompanied by a recipe which used beer as an ingredient. The new designs caused a stir.
Tennent’s launched their next major marketing drive in 1962, the Scottish Series and English Series. These featured beautiful landscapes and cityscapes from up and down the British mainland and were primarily exported to overseas squaddies who might be hankering for a wee taste of hame.
Neither series took off in quite the way Tennent’s had hoped, but one of their models, simply known as Ann, who had starred in both the Housewives’ Choice and English Series had proved so popular that she was soon to feature on a can all on her own. Ann, full name Ann Johansen, was the first ever Tennent’s ‘Lager Lovely’.
The lone Lovely
Ann’s solo career as Tennent’s golden girl didn’t get quite off to the best of starts, however.
Having posed provocatively for a shoot inside one of Tennent’s own service vans, an eagle-eyed employee in charge of proofing spotted that the print template had cropped off three crucial letters from the vehicle and that it now read ‘VICE VAN’. Incredibly, Tennent’s execs pushed ahead regardless and ordered the production of thousands of the new cans for their export market, choosing only to alter the caption slightly from ‘Testing our new van’ to ‘Testing our new service van’.
Ann proved to be a massive hit, and her cans eventually made it on to the home market. In the late sixties, non-Tennent’s drinkers were beginning to pick up the brand on account of its cover star. The Wellpark firm was on to a winner, Ann Johansen was a household pin-up, and there was much more to come.
The Lager Lovelies are born
The late sixties witnessed the true launch of the Lager Lovelies brand as, Ann, now in her thirties and planning a family, made way for five younger models in 1969.
Three of these girls were local and began to be recognised in the street. This gave rise to a new wise-crack whenever one of them was spotted: “Awright, hen, ah had ma hauns roon’ you last night”. Such a remark in 2017 might see you etched on to the Sex Offenders Register, but in the early seventies it was all just a bit of banter, apparently.
Over the next 15 years, Tennent’s roster of voluptuous glamour girls never stayed still. Every couple of years there were new poses or new Lovelies for Scotland’s beer-swigging males to gawp at and even collect. The Lovelies developed such a loyal following that today the rarest tins have been known to change hands for thousands of pounds.
But what of the ladies themselves, what was it really like to be one of the Tennent’s Lager Lovelies?
Lorraine Davidson, a former Miss Scotland, and 1982 can girl, was full of praise for her old employer: “It was probably the best contract to get in terms of Scottish modelling.
“They took me to the Bahamas to shoot a TV commercial and I got paid something like £600 a day while I was there.”
Likewise, June Lake, a Tennent’s model from 1986-88, enjoyed a similar experience: “Some folk used to say: ‘Aren’t you being exploited?’ But compared to the Miss UK contest I entered, which was a real cattle-market, Tennent’s really looked after me. I was flown around in the company plane and paid vulgar amounts of money to have a fantastic time.”
Into the 1980s and, despite their popularity with a significant portion of the population, the tide was slowly turning against the Lager Lovelies phenomenon, and in 1991, with Tennent’s into their twelfth Lovelies series, the decision was made to pull the plug on the 26-year-old marketing gimmick.
For a generation of Scottish beer lovers it was truly the end of an era.