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?