Saturday, July 11, 2015

Mr Mercury Returns

Last month I blogged about the number of appearances made by Mercury as a design image within some 1930s magazines I have, and a number of those appearances were of "Mr Mercury" in the National Benzole Mixture adverts. Regular correspondent to Front Free Endpaper, Nick, was immediately at the keyboard to send this delightful addition above and the following explanation:

Being the proud owner of two pre-war Austin cars I liked your recent piece on Mr Mercury. National Benzole really hit the mark with him mainly, as one commentator of the time put it, because he was so "startlingly naked". It was a stroke of advertising genius and the company soon had top graphic illustrators such as Tom Purvis on its books.

But Mr Mercury came about in a curious way. In 1927 National Benzole was experimenting with various puns on the word 'Spirit' - which is what benzole is, basically - and they came up with the slogan "The Spirit with the Devil in it". The advertisement showed a speeding car being urged on by a harmless little demon resembling an elf crossed with a butterfly. It caused a furore, and several mainstream Churches successfully demanded its withdrawal. But National Benzole were not to be beaten and, almost in retaliation it would seem, launched the gloriously naked and unashamed Mr Mercury on an unsuspecting public in 1928. Interestingly there do not seem to have been any complaints this time, certainly not from the Churches!

Although Mr Mercury spent much of his 30-year career either showing off his physique solo, or giving delighted lady motorists a 'start', he had at least one possible dalliance in 1937/38 with an elderly gentleman who has more than a slight twinkle in his eye at the sight of the beautifully lithe young god pressing all the right buttons for him. I attach a copy of that advert from my collection. Despite research I haven't succeeded in discovering the identity of the model for Mr Mercury - possibly he was just drawn as a combination of parts making up the perfect man. And how!

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