Sunday, 15 September 2019

Swansea's Guinness Clock

The Guinness Clock at the Slip in Swansea in July 1958.
 It's strange, the things that stick in your mind from younger days. 

One of my earliest memories of childhood life in Swansea is, apart from the Mumbles Railway, the Guinness Clock which once stood near the footbridge at the Slip. It was opposite Victoria Park and just around the corner from another long-forgotten local timepiece, the municipal floral clock.

The Guinness Clocks - or to give them their proper name, The Guinness Festival Clocks - originated with the 1951 Festival of Britain. The exhibition was intended to show Britain at its best and form an antidote to post-war gloom.

The clock was exhibited at Battersea and was the idea of Guinness advertising manager, Martin Pick. He designed it to entertain the public as well as, of course, advertise his company's product. Ir became Guinness's contribution to the Festival.

Construction was by Lewitt Him and took five months for clockmakers Baume and co. of Hatton Garden to construct the 25-foot high machine. The original Guinness Clock proved very popular with the public and Guinness received enquiries from a number of local authorities and exhibition promoters who all wanted to borrow it for display.

This prompted the construction of slightly smaller travelling versions of the clock - the first two of which were ready by September 1952. Others followed, mainly for display at seaside towns, including the one which found its way to Swansea.

Every 15 minutes the gathering crowd were entertained by the four and a half minute routine featuring well known characters from the various Guinness adverts. These included a series of animals which were created by artist John Gilroy of S. H. Benson's advertising agency. He produced a series of colourful posters in which different zoo animals made off with their keeper's Guinness!

The menagerie included a variety of animals, the most famous of which was the Guinness toucan which became something of an advertising icon from 1935 until his final retirement in 1982. Guinness also made use of characters from Alice in Wonderland in its advertising in the 1930s to 1950s.

It may be somewhat unacceptable now to use characters from a children's book to advertise beer, but at the time it was perfectly normal. This explains why the Mad Hatter with his fishing rod appears on the Guinness Festival Clock, along with the zookeeper, toucans and other Guinness animals.

Changing times spelled the end for the clocks. Guinness stopped using animals in its advertisements and spare parts for the clocks became difficult to obtain. They were finally withdrawn in October 1966 and sent for scrap - a sad end to a unique form of advertising.

There is, however, one clock still in existence - a miniature version at the Guinness Museum in Dublin.
(Main article first published in the South Wales Evening Post, Monday December 1 2003.)

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