Only Gorgeous: Maxol, Bottler, and the Liberation of the Nippers

Ireland, in 1985, was, of course, a giddy and utopian place. Where endless streams of laughter flowed through a sun-dappled wonderland of enchantment. The movings at Ballinspittle? Oooh! The foundings of the Progressive Democrats? Yay! But Marian apparitions and super-sexy Desmond O’Malley were not the only things setting young hearts racing.

Forget Mandela. Forget “The Birmingham Six”. Half a decade earlier, beings of a very different order were crying out for justice and liberation. Small and boggle-eyed beings. Fluffy and cheap-looking beings. Nippers.

Cruelly enslaved by their cigar-chomping, fat cat, petroleum-bastard masters their plaintive squeaks for release captivated a nation. Here’s their first appearance:

There was something so frazzled and anxious and sad about the nippers (not to mention Brendan Grace). They were simultaneously desirable collectible objects, and tragic entities who needed us to lead them out of bondage. And we did. In our thousands. Here’s Tom Noonan, Chief Executive of The Maxol Group (Boo!):

The promotional campaign was launched in late 1985 and was timed to take advantage of the build up to Christmas in that year. The advertisements were an instant success. The campaign unashamedly targeted the children of motorists, who subsequently begged, bothered and cajoled their parents into collecting the nipper stamps at Maxol stations. Approximately 400,000 nippers were freed by the end of the campaign and a star was born.

Nippers, like many living things denied their dignity and freedom, took refuge in stimulants. In their case, 7-UP.

Note the loose use of the term “treasure” there. Rugs, cutlery, photo albums. Even for mid-80s Ireland this was a bit on the shit-biscuits side. Having said that, there are some gems that I would happily beat a nipper to death for.

Digital nipper watches.

Analogue nipper t-shirts.

While Brendan Grace is still a findable object (if you’re so inclined), these wonders have long since disappeared into a promotional ephemera black hole. Just to clarify, Brendan Grace can still be viewed, touched (probably) and held (ooer), but nipper watches and t-shirts now exist only as glorious memories…and pixellated JPEGs. Life sucks balls.

And what of the nippers themselves? As Maxol’s ad campaign developed, an extraterrestrial point of origin was hinted at.

Hang on. So…they were coming to Earth, in hijacked NASA Space Shuttles, and willingly allowing Maxol (and their stooge, Bottler) to hold them captive? Then carrying placards begging us to release them from this “torment”? I liberated a nipper. Most of my friends liberated nippers. We were passionate about the cause. On mature reflection, I think we were had (our best instincts cynically exploited). If I still had my nipper I’d punch it hard in its manipulative little leporine face.

We’re left with questions. Does anyone still have a nipper? Does anyone have one of those impossibly groovy nipper T-shirts (or, even, a comfy Maxol rug)? Did anyone ever go to see the (genuinely not made up) “Bottler in Nipperland” panto? What ever became of almost half a million freed nippers? Where did they go?

(by fústar)

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17 thoughts on “Only Gorgeous: Maxol, Bottler, and the Liberation of the Nippers

  1. Kirstie says:

    Wanted a Nipper sooooooo bad. SO bad. My da had an Esso card from work. No dice. No way would he go to Maxol. No Nipper for me. Didn’t they then stoop to Caulibabies – a horrid Irishification of Cabbage Patch Kids? No, not making it up.

    • Anna Carey says:

      The Cauli-dollies (for such was their moniker) were available through Supervalu! Or some other supermarket. All I remember is that I couldn’t have one because we went to Superquinn in Northside Shopping Centre and all my school friends, who lived in Santry, went to Supervalu (or whatever it was) and were laden down with Cauli-dollies. The horror, the horror.

      • Kirstie says:

        There you are. My mother went to Quinnsworth. Denied a Cauli-dolly too; bloody parents.

      • fústar says:

        As if Cabbage Patch Kids weren’t freaky and upsetting enough. Manky Supervalu knock-offs? I think I’m going to cry. And crawl under the bed. I feel for you, Kirstie. I had the classic nipper. Floppy ears, carrot, squeaker, extremely agitated expression and demeanour. Once acquired, it soon lost its appeal. Where is it now? Filth-encrusted and eking out a meagre life on a dump, probably. Gazing moist-eyed at a picture of a young me. Or else planning my death.

  2. Kirstie says:

    Oh planning your death, definitely.

    • fústar says:

      That (gut-wrenching) scene in Toy Story 2 made me dig out all of my old soft toys from the parents’ attic, clean them up and give them to niece and nephew. I thought of the nipper then. I wondered what he was at.

  3. nlgbbbblth says:

    1980s Ireland – the petrol merchants trying to out-do each other in a ceremonial promotion death-battle. Nippers, beach balls, calculator digital watches. And tankards. Bloody tankards.

  4. fústar says:

    Just found evidence of mass liberation of nippers at Dublin Zoo (Easter, 1985). From the Indo.

    Zoo Nipper Breakout

  5. Peter says:

    Ah the memories.
    My parents had a shop and we sold maxol petrol. I remember the tokens being treated like money. I had a nipper and he is probably still somewhere at home. 3 house moves later he might never be found. The maxol token stuff was always pure shite. Golf balls, parasols, umbrellas, dunlop bags (I had one) Ah the 80’s 🙂

    • fústar says:

      Peter. Drop whatever you’re doing and go get him. I know it’s late. But this is really important. Grew up in the city centre, so we tended to walk everywhere. Damn legs! Didn’t earn you any tokens. I wanted all that shite.

  6. Rosie says:

    We didn’t have a car so I never had a nipper of my own, but there was a pink one in the naíonra that used to hand out our lunches. “Cé leis é seo?” he’d squeak, holding aloft a He-Man lunchbox with a bread and margarine sandwich and a leaky little thermos of MiWadi rattling around inside, and I’d turn crimson with the excitement and the hunger and whisper “is liomsa é” and then cry a little bit because I was very shy.

    The End.

  7. Maxol says:

    Unfortunately, Maxol Nippers are not back but It is, however, nice to see that they are still fondly remembered 25 years later. Of course there was such a huge buzz around them back then that we’re not totally surprised.

    And as for the mention of being willing to do ‘physical harm to a nipper in order to get a digital watch’, with comments like that flying around, it’s no wonder that so many of them remain in hiding.

    But on a serious note, thanks to all the nipper fans out there and be sure to check out for other bits of nipper nostalgia and plenty of recent sightings.

  8. fústar says:

    Thanks for the comment, “Maxol”. Any chance of borrowing a surviving Nipper for the purposes of a post? I promise it shall be returned utterly unharmed. Also – though I have insufficient nipper stamps, I’d really like one of those watches…

  9. Maxol says:

    We’ll see if any of our nippers is happy for a brief change of scenary and we’ll be in touch regarding travel arrangments…..the maxol watches alas are like real treasure now and unless someone has uncovers a hidden stash, they may be gone for good.

  10. […] contents. And oh, what glories were contained therein. So glorious that I now feel kind of bad for previously referring to the Nipper-enslaving Maxol executives of the 1980s as “cigar-chomping, fat cat, […]

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