News & Notes

How did an instant mashed potatoes mix inspire outsider art?


Health advocates marvel how often Americans take the most nutritious part of the potato—the skin—peel it off and discard it and then either fry the rest in oil or boil out all the vitamins before mashing with a 1/4 stick of butter.

The Brit advertising characters, the Smash Martian robots, conversely took things one step further. They would mock humans for even attempting to mash their potatoes from scratch when they could easily partake in the time-saving, out-of-this-world, technological advancement of Cadbury’s Smash instant mash. The catchphrase “For Mash Get Smash” is an iconic advertising slogan in the UK.

Around the TV ad campaign’s height of popularity in the mid 1970’s, workers from the Halewood Body and Assembly plant near Liverpool, England, began making their own miniature Martians entirely from components of the Ford Escort cars that were being manufactured at the plant. Press clippings from March 1976 indicate that while bosses at the plant didn’t condone the pilfering of parts, they grudgingly admired the ingenuity of their production line staff.

I’ve just added a second Halewood Smash Martian to my robot collection, and as you can see the two are very different. What I love most about these outsider pop-artworks is their cool metallic colors. Once assembled, the factory workers would send their little robot-man through the paint conveyor for a professional Ford Escort powder coating. In the case of these robots, velvet purple and metallic blue.

(In researching this “Note,” I came across a story that a blue 1975 Ford Escort once owned by Pope John Paul II sold for $690,000. The cost of my little blue martian…not so much…but not cheap, as the bidding was surprising fierce from Smash collectors across the pond.)

The Mad Scientist


Market investors have read a great deal recently about a low-price growth stock, SodaStream. Even the New Yorker magazine detailed this make-your-own-soda machine company’s efforts to run a commercial in this year’s Superbowl. Their stylish, modern kitchen appliance can be found in Bed, Bath and Beyond, and Samsung is even designing refrigerators incorporated with them.

Of course every American schoolboy once knew that if you wanted to make a home-brewed carbonated drink, it required no more than to drop a Fizzies tablet in a glass of water. Fizzies, first developed in the 1950’s, was eventually acquired by the pharmaceutical giant, Warner Lambert, which by 1971 was producing seven flavors. In that year, colorful package illustrations depicted a Wizard, Witch, Zulu Warrior, Genie and Magician among others.

This is my newest find and my favorite Fizzies character: The Mad Scientist. It is exactly who you were, when topping off a bubbly “imitation cherry” Fizzies drink with a splat of Reddi-wip.

(The original Fizzies ad character, a smiling tablet, appeared in Meet Mr. Product and two Fizzies packets are on view in Ad Boy)

A Collector of Cat Food Tins


Labels, a short story by Louis de Bernières is about a man who finds himself drawn towards collecting cat food labels and then finds it escalating into an obsession. He cannot draw himself away from these labels regardless of the effect it has on his job, wallet, marriage and other relationships in his life. But in the end his collection becomes his salvation, as one man’s hoard of pet food might be another gourmand’s pâté. It is a quirky story, beautifully told—part O’Henry and part Twilight Zone.

Labels also comes bound as two beautifully illustrated diminutive editions— the first, a limited edition of books signed by the author in 1993 and the second published in 2001.