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17 May 2018updated 30 Jun 2021 11:51am

A celebration of 70 years of Walkers trying to sell you crisps in truly bizarre ways

From Frank Spencer to Gary Lineker, and Gary Lineker, and Gary Lineker.

By Ed Jefferson

2018 marks 70 years since Walkers, a butcher’s firm from Leicester, decided to beat post-war rationing by slicing potatoes instead of meat, and ended up creating the most popular brand of crisps in the UK. And while there have been dozen of variations of flavour and tweaks to the recipe, they’re still basically just the same old crisps.

Yet what has changed is how they’ve tried to sell them to us. Here are some of the high/lowlights in crisp marketing history:

1979 An ersatz Frank Spencer queuing in a canteen gets into a fight with an old lady and causes a sausage to land in a man’s coffee

“Eat our crisps and risk minor health and safety incidents.” Sure.

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The early 1980s strange events in the school changing rooms

Don’t worry, nothing that dark, it just turned out that eating crisps could send you into a slightly psychedelic version of the original Grange Hill title sequence, as though that was something anyone’s ever wanted to happen to them.

1983 Probably not very acceptable even in the 80s

The owner of a tea stall attempts to con a Chinese man into buying a packet of “So So Crisps” instead of Walkers Crisps. The irritated customer then does kung fu on the stall until it collapses. Because he’s Chinese? Or something?

Probably don’t revive this one for the anniversary celebrations.

1985 – The One Ronnie

Lineker wasn’t the first celebrity to take the crisp pound – here Ronnie Barker plays a man who won a million pounds on the bingo: the only change to his lifestyle? He eats loads more crisps.

If you’ve got a million pounds, why wouldn’t you spend it on delicious crisps?

1985 Gary Lineker’s first ad

He officially became the ‘face’ of Walkers Crisps in 1995, but it wasn’t the first ad he’d appeared in. His crisp addiction apparently in the early stages, we don’t yet get to see him stealing from children – instead a smiling Lineker just reads the annoyingly not-quite-rhyming slogan “Don’t you insist on Walkers Crisps?”.

It is not clear if this advert is canon in the Linekerverse.

1990 Five Go Fat-Shaming

Somewhere between Enid Blyton and The Goonies, this sees some kids on a countryside adventure inexplicably suggesting unbelievable explanations for why Walkers Crisps taste nice (“they found the formula on buried parchment”, claims one child with a particularly tenuous grasp of culinary history.)

The largest child – who is inevitably called ‘Tank’ – offers the non-sequitur “I had one hundred packets in a day once,” for which he is roundly mocked because this is apparently not at all unbelievable.

Spend your crisp money elsewhere Tank, you don’t need to put up with this kind of abuse.

1995 Gary Lineker’s first PROPER ad

In which he finally demonstrates the stealing-crisps- from-a-child skill that brought him fame in, at last count, about 38,000 different adverts for Walkers.

2002 Gary Lineker is David Seaman’s mum now


2006 The obesity crisis forces Gary Lineker to stop stealing crisps

Amid ongoing controversy about a former top sporting figure flogging junk food and Walkers trying to claim that a new recipe meant crisps weren’t that bad for you now, honest, they also switched up the ads. Rather than thieving from children, Lineker informed them that crisps are actually just as good for you as that other well-known health food: a slice of white bread.

2007 – So instead he accidentally mocks flood victims

2007 saw Lineker (backed by some farmers) singing “mud, mud, glorious mud” before explaining that Britain’s rubbish weather made it the ideal place to grow potatoes. Which was brilliant timing, because it turned out that summer the weather was rubbish! So rubbish that it caused among the worst floods in the country’s history, which killed 13 people and caused £6.5bn worth of damage. The launch of the ad was postponed.

2016 Gary Lineker goes on the internet and waves around pictures of Fred West

But forget television. Old media is dead! The only way to get people to like crisps in the 21st century is through interactive social media #cyberengagement! For instance, you could let people tweet selfies at you, then use computer magic to have their faces appear in a video with Gary Lineker.

Except of course, this is the internet, so people immediately started tweeting pictures of, eg Fred West and Rolf Harris for Gary to wave about, which the (apparently unmoderated) system Walkers merrily incorporated into videos before tweeting them back out into the world for everyone to “enjoy”.

Whoever made the 1948 decision to switch from meat to crisps probably didn’t anticipate that particular problem.

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