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Former US president Ronald Reagan honoured with statue in London

Ronald Reagan

You may well ask what has that got to do with Colston's. Well we received today an article from Old Colstonian Richard Lewis (Mortlake House, 1956-64) about a phone call he received from the White House when Ronald Reagan was president and so it seems appropriate to publish it today:

Ronald Reagan and a pint of Mansfield (or how I got a call from the White House one Christmas Eve)

In 1982, Mansfield Brewery re-launched its lager, which carried the name “Marksman” and I, as Group Marketing Director of the brewery, was the main operator behind this exercise. Marksman had had limited success up to this point, its sales lagged somewhat behind the norm and the reasons were not difficult to discern. The product itself was brewed using a top-fermenting yeast, the same one as used for Mansfield Bitter, and as a result the lager had a significant bitter-like character to it. It was also presented in its draught and canned forms in a rather pedestrian fashion. Not only that, but there was virtually no promotion or advertising behind the product

This was all very different from the rest of the market where competitive lagers such as Heineken, Carling Black Label, Hofmeister, Carlsberg and so on were brands very much in tune with what the lager drinking market wanted at that time, and heavily promoted to boot. So, Marksman was re-launched, with a new product (a product that incidentally won two Brewing Society awards for Best Lager), a new design for the bar mounting and the can, and a really innovative poster advertising campaign.

As a result sales rocketed and the brewery’s profits saw the benefit. The reason I am telling you all this is to explain how the decision was arrived at in 1983 to take a leaf out of the Marksman book and promote Mansfield Bitter with a poster advertising campaign of its own.

Our advertising agency, Cogent Elliot, came up with the idea that our proposition about Mansfield Bitter should be that many significant figures in the history of the planet had contributed a great deal, but that their lives lacked real fulfilment, because they had never tasted Mansfield. Some of their suggested figures included the caveman who discovered the secret of fire, and the dinosaurs (“They may have ruled the earth for millions of years, but they never had a pint of Mansfield”). However, the one that really made us sit up and take notice was the one featuring the President of the United States of America, one ex-film star Ronald Reagan.

The copy line on his advert ran ”He may be leader of the most powerful nation on earth, but he’s never had a pint of Mansfield”, together with a close up picture of the great man. I put the idea to the Group Managing Director John Hings, who was concerned about it and asked all of the same questions that I had asked of Cogent Elliot, boiling down to “could we get away with it?” When John put the notion to Group Chairman Robin Chadburn, he, inevitably, asked all the same questions all over again.

Well, Cogent Elliot had already done their homework and checked with the White House in Washington DC. Their contact was Fred Fielding, a counsel to the President, and his response was “I can neither prevent nor condone what you are planning to do”. The salient point here was that young Ron was merely being used, in the context of the overall theme of the campaign, as someone with a significant amount of clout, but whose life was incomplete because he had never had a pint of Mansfield. He was not being used, in any way, to endorse our beer, or act as a spokesman for it.

However, that is not the way that the media, bless ‘em, saw it when the poster eventually made it onto the streets of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire. There was keen interest in the Midlands counties and I think I may have done an interview for ATV amongst battling to field any number of press enquiries from newspapers, magazines and radio on both sides of the Atlantic. We had no PR Agency at that point to do this work, so it was all down to yours truly. One of the more memorable interviews I did over the phone was with Time Magazine, which, when the article appeared, described me as “wily Lewis”. “Wily” indeed!

Not only did the media get their knickers in a knot, so did the American public, in a big way. There were questions being asked and aired in public along the lines of “What in darnation is our President doing advertising Limey suds?” (Limey suds means British beer, of course). All of these people, the USA equivalent of “disgusted of Bagshot”, had, of course, missed the point entirely, their esteemed President was merely being used to exemplify the proposition for our wonderful beer. It was, I have to admit, something of an uphill struggle to get this point across to Hank, Chuck and Dolores in Kansas!

So, very quickly, Mansfield Brewery and its Marketing Director attained some sort of notoriety across both the USA and little old Britain, a situation that was to lead in due course to our Sales Director Dennis Foster taking up the opportunity for marketing Mansfield Bitter in that great country across the Pond. That initiative, to be truthful, was not a great success, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

However, more was to come in relation to President Reagan. It just so happened that the man who had, to all intents and purposes, given us the green light to go ahead and run the campaign, Fred Fielding, was a friend of the lady who operated the London office of Time Magazine as Managing Director. On one of his trips to London, Fred and this lady had dinner and the subject of the President and Mansfield Bitter cropped up in the conversation. As a result they went, after dinner, round the late night off licences in central London looking for a few cans of Mansfield so that Fred Fielding could take them back to the White House and have a little joke with the President, and at his expense. It will come as no surprise to you that they found no Mansfield whatsoever, as this was at a time when Brewery policy was to try and keep our lovely beer close to home and under our watchful eye in the counties local to Nottinghamshire.

A day or two later I got a call from Fred Fielding’s dinner companion to ask if I could send some cans of Mansfield Bitter across to Fred so he could carry out his little jape with young Ron. As you might imagine, I was aghast at this suggestion, as it completely compromised the integrity of our advertising campaign. We were saying that the President had never had a pint of Mansfield, and here was someone suggesting that it was OK to send some across to the White House and put the President in danger of supping some of our stuff!

I declined the opportunity to send the cans across, but then I got mightily leant on by the lady, she accusing me of not showing any gratitude towards the man, Fred Fielding, who had made possible our advertising campaign etc etc. I was duly beaten into submission, but I came up with a cunning solution. Yes, I would have the cans sent across, but each one would carry a seal on the top of it, on this seal were to be printed the following words ”Not to be consumed by the President of the United States, signed Richard Lewis, Marketing Director, Mansfield Brewery”. I was sure that this would do the trick, Fred could have his fun, and the President, being a man of his word and a great respecter of authority would never let a drop of our amber liquid pass his lips, and our advertising proposition remained intact!

And so the deed was done, and all went quiet on the Western Front. That is, until a couple of months later. It was Christmas Eve, virtually everybody else had gone home and I was sitting there, in my office at Mandora, the Brewery’s soft drinks subsidiary, (I was in a new job by this time) sobering up a little after a couple of drinks down the pub at lunchtime.

The phone rings and it is one of the security chaps in the gatehouse, as our delectable receptionist Jill has gone home for the holiday,
“Mr Lewis?”
“I have the White House on the line for you”
Oh yes, thinks I, I wonder who this joker could be, one of my esteemed colleagues perhaps phoning from the pub?
“OK, put them on the line”.

The call is put through and there is absolutely no doubt that this is a long distance call, with all the attendant hissing and crackling.
“Mr Lewis?”
“This is the White House calling” she says in a very genuine American sounding accent. “Wow”, methinks, “This is real!”
” I’m putting you through to Mr Hammerstein”. I say Hammerstein, because, to my everlasting regret and embarrassment, I cannot remember his actual name.

Friend Hammerstein comes on the dog and bone and introduces himself as someone who works in Fred Fielding’s team. Now everything is beginning to make sense and I start to wonder how I would cope with a life sentence on Alcatraz. He asks me if I sent some beer to his boss, and, as quick as a flash, and in some desperation, I ask if the President has drunk it. He says no, so that is a big relief, the cans are still sitting in Fred Fielding’s office apparently. Phew!

He then asks me the question “Do you want to talk about it?”
This is marketing code for “Do I see the fact there are four cans of Mansfield Bitter on a sideboard in the White House as a big PR opportunity for me and the Brewery?”
“Absolutely not!” I reply, as there is nothing I would do to compromise the integrity of our advertising campaign, what is the use of having a President who has actually drunk your beer?
Hammerstein’s reply was “Neither do we”.

He goes on to explain that there has been some significant discomfort in the corridors of power about the reaction in the USA to our little adverting activity and that they wished it had never happened, “Have a merry Christmas Mr Lewis” says Hammerstein and I have a warm, wonderful feeling that Alcatraz will have to do without me for another year, at least.

“And a very merry Christmas to you” says I, and with that I packed up my briefcase to go home and tell my wife and kids about a most unexpected phone call from the other side of the world.

Richard Lewis

Old Colstonian, Mortlake House, 1956-64.

You can read more about the statue by following the following link to the story in today's Guardian or if your political persuasions are slightly different you could read about the same topic in The Telegraph.