Roadside advertising is a pain to the beholder and its proliferation along suburban avenues has become unsightly and a serious distraction. On the other hand, our major highways – once one is out of the metropolis – are mercifully free of it.
But Vic Pierson reminds me that for 50 years (up until 1963), in the US, one firm provided an amusing innovation along that country’s interminable trunk roads – the Burma Shave roadside ads.
The product was a brushless shaving cream and the ads took the form of short verses whose lines were displayed, one at a time, some distance apart.
Here are some samples of the verses – each ended with “Burma Shave!”
Was stiff and coarse
And that’s what caused
His fifth divorce
He had the ring
He had the flat
But she felt his chin
And that was that
Within this vale
Of toil and sin
Your head grows bald
But not your chin
Henry the eighth
Prince of friskers
Lost five wives
But kept his whiskers
Vic says about 600 verses appeared.
Burma Shave later used its ads (see below) to draw attention to road safety.
A century ago there were many pocket-sized magazines specialising in short stories, essays and poetry. The advent of the “wireless” and, finally, television, put paid to them – much to the frustration of thousands of talented writers.
But they’re coming back thanks to handy-sized tablets such as Kindle and iPad.
A reader tells me of a proposed US congressional act – The Persons With No Abilities Act of 2013 – that he thinks South Africa should adopt holus-bolus.
He might be kidding, of course, but I instantly liked the idea. Yet, when I considered it more deeply, I realised all that the Americans propose doing is to formalise a policy South Africa has tacitly pursued for years.