In the 1990’s the advert agency HHCL created a string of weird and bizarre soft drinks commercials for soft drink manufacture Britvic that often featured strange, beyond the limit narratives. One in particular featured character actor Peter Geeves portraying the Orange Man. He appears from behind a post box to approach an unsuspecting individual drinking the beverage and then smacks his ears, running off with satirical commentary. Then they rewind the footage and play it again from a different angle, with actor Hugh Dennis and former football, current presenter Ray Wilkins providing hilarious commentary, before ending with the slogan “You know when you’ve been Tango’d”.
The commercial led to a string of copycat violence in school playgrounds in which young children would replicate the commercial without any awareness of what damage it could cause to eardrums. This damage was later proven by surgeons who worked on a patient suffering from ear damage due to this phenomenon. Growing up in the 90’s at a time when the video nasties controversy was still going strong, I was still shocked that a simple television advertisement could draw so much controversy. After reading about it in a newspaper, I boycotted the “ear smack” at school and urged others to do the same, to which the headmaster branded me a hero for helping end the copycat humour at our school.
At the time the commercials debuted back in the early nineties there were plenty of complaints filed to the Independent Television Commission against the makers of the commercial. Due to the depravity it was causing among young children, this lead to the commercial being withdrawn. However, it was soon replaced by an alternate version in which you see the Orange Man kissing the same guy on the chops and running off, still using the same ending.
Soon enough along came another commercial, this time featuring a frightening Orange Scots Man looking for his missing foot. He pursues it and approaches a guy at this corner café after seeing the foot tapped him on the back. The creepy Orange Scots Man then grabs the foot in his mouth and vanishes.
The commercials also uses the same voice over guys from the previous one, along with the same replay techniques, which became a tradition throughout all of these controversial commercials. They clearly used animatronics to create this commercial as well and there doesn’t appear to be a real explanation of why this one was so controversial with the press. It also featured the close up of the character lopsided with the same slogan as it did previously.
The next one in the series featured an old lady running up to this guy at the park carrying an orange balloon and then she explodes! It replays back again, then the commercial ends with the same slogan and with her hat falling over the top half, just leaving “Tango’d” untouched. I remember seeing this one back in my youth and I was quite shocked about it. No surprise, it too ended up banned due to shocking more young children than just myself back in the day.
Another Tango commercial involved a guy in Napoleonic garb whiffing his glove in this other guy’s face. It was quite silly to say the least, but still enjoyable just like all the others that I have mentioned in this article. Finally, the last one in the series was totally shocking. This time the action takes place in a football stadium where the Grim Reaper shocks this supporter, leading to his head flying off his shoulders. Then it rewinds back the footage and plays it again. Due to the graphic nature they had no alternative but to pull it, however it did appear on the 1997 Columbia Pictures VHS release of Robocop 3. I’d also like to mention an often forgotten Tango commercial that featured this Peewee Herman like character at a train platform approaching this woman and shouting “Oranges!” very loud before skating off.
The inspiration for the replay aspect of the commercials came from analyzing events in televised football, while the ear slap aspect was derived from classic slapstick comedies such as The Three Stooges and the 70’s British television comedy show Morecambe and Wise which featured the late comedy duo slapping each others ears as part of their slapstick set pieces each week it aired on ITV. As for actor Peter Geeves, he now runs a distillery with his son and family. Also of note is that the original Tango Orange Man commercial finished in 3rd place among a pool of the greatest television commercials of all-time on English television.
Finally, the legacy of this commercial is still growing thanks to the awesome power of Youtube and retro dedication websites. Here is the video for the original commercial. If you enjoy it, check out the rest on Youtube.