Red Rose Tea
been seen on TV in more than four decades, but it’s one of those unforgettable
classic commercials. I first saw the spot at the tender age of four, and it gave
me nightmares for months. It’s been written about in newspaper articles,
mentioned numerous times on the web and even made the AM Top 30 playlist in
Pittsburgh. But despite its cult status, the commercial has been unavailable for
viewing for years---until now. After a thirty-year search I’ve finally located
my personal Holy Grail- the Red Rose Tea commercial with the Marquis Chimps.
story begins in the 1940s with European acrobat extraordinaire Gene Detroy.
Billed as the “Vagabond Of The Wire,” Detroy earned his living as a
tightrope walker in the English Music Halls and carnivals. To keep him company,
Detroy adopted a pet chimpanzee. When a featured act on the program failed to
show, it was suggested that Detroy go onstage with his chimp. They were a
resounding hit, so it wasn’t long before other chimps were recruited. Detroy
named the new act Marquis and Family, because he thought it
In the 1950s Marquis and Family were the darlings of
England’s Music Halls and top performers in the Parisian nightclubs. Detroy
taught his chimpanzees how to sew, roller skate, punch a time clock, eat with a
knife and fork and many other crowd pleasing tricks. Comedian Danny Kaye
discovered the act on a European tour, and was so impressed that he signed
Detroy and company to appear with him in the Danny Kaye All-Star
International Show on Broadway.
In 1960 the Marquis Chimps, Enoch, Susie, Baron and Hans were signed to appear
in a trio of television commercials for Brooke Bond Foods, makers of Red Rose
Tea. The commercials featured the chimps in parodies of a Wild West shoot out, a
golf match and the most popular, a wild nightclub with a swinging chimp band
singing the praises of Red Rose Tea.
The commercial opens outside of the Savoy Ritz, an after hours club. Wild jazz music permeates the outside air. As we enter the joint we see the
band; a drummer, piano player, bass fiddler and trombonist- all chimpanzees,
nattily dressed in plaid suit coats. A chimp couple dances frenetically on the
dance floor. Cut to the lead
vocalist of this wild, primate quintet who chants, “Eeeee, Yowww Yowww, Red
Rose Tea! Red Rose Tea!” The spot ends with the drummer beating his drumsticks
together, while shouting “Red Rose!”
Later that year The Marquis Chimps appeared in the Three Stooges film Stop!
Look! and Laugh! In 1961 Enoch, Charlie and Candy appeared with Peggy Cass
and Jack Weston in the short-lived ABC TV series The Hathaways. The
chimps made eleven appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and were popular
guests on The Hollywood Palace, Here’s Lucy and The Jack
Benny Show. The Marquis Chimps returned to Broadway in 1963 in a revival of
Kaye’s All Star International Show.
In 1968, WARO Pittsburgh DJ Zeke Jackson played the music
track of the Red Rose Tea commercial on his radio show. In a year when The
Beatles, Cream and The Doors were in the top 30, Jackson received so many
requests for the crazy tune that he and local record producer Paul Mawhinney
pressed and sold one thousand 45 rpm Red Rose Tea records, which quickly sold
out. The disk was released under the GINK label, named after the DJ’s
mother-in-law, and featured the same song on the flip side.
Throughout the 1970s The Marquis Chimps appeared on television, in nightclubs
and even the Ice Capades. In the 1990s the chimps, trained by Dan Westfall, were
regulars in The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies stage show. Westfall, nephew
of original trainer Gene Detroy, now runs a sanctuary for homeless and unwanted
ex- show business primates, its most famous resident being Cheeta the chimpanzee
from the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan film series.
I’ve been a 16mm film collector since 1970, and high on my wanted list was the
Red Rose Tea commercial. For over thirty years I’ve placed ads in film
collector’s periodicals, scoured film lists and checked out every videotape
commercial compilation that I could find for the elusive spot. I just had to see
once again that screaming, singing chimp that gave me nightmares as a tot. I
finally hit the jackpot when I received a trade list in the mail from a fellow
collector. After a fair amount of haggling, we struck a deal. About two weeks
later the film arrived. I opened the package and quickly threaded the small
plastic reel of film thru the projector. When the flickering black and white
image of the Savoy Ritz nightclub filled the screen, I immediately flashed back
to when I was four years old. Only this time I wasn’t scared. A little switch
in the dusty part of my brain clicked on, and suddenly I recalled every
wonderful scene and every magical note of the mini music video. I rewound the
film and played it again. And again.
Since posting about my recent acquisition in a couple of newsgroups, I’ve
received hundreds of emails from people requesting to see once again the
Red Rose Tea commercial. I am more than happy to comply. Enjoy!
Be sure to check out Dan Westfall's C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary and find out how you can obtain an original
painting done by the original Cheeta the Chimpanzee, while helping Dan with his noble
efforts to rescue and care for unwanted ex-show business primates.