Intended for healthcare professionals

Soundings Soundings

Winter draws on

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 31 October 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1261
  1. James Owen Drife
  1. professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, Leeds

    Years ago a snowy haired anatomy lecturer used to make us cringe with his double entendres. Smutty jokes can be funny if they have a touch of wit but once they lose their freshness they are just embarrassing, even to preclinical students.

    That sad old man is gone now but his spirit lives on in the British advertising industry. The latest blitz from behind the admen's bicycle sheds is promoting brown bread, of all things. “Butter me up and I'll go down a treat,” said a poster as I drove to work. As I was supposed to, I felt guilty for imagining sexual undertones but further on the message was more explicit: “Let's play hide the sausage.”

    Our city centres now have wall to wall urological innuendo. Billboards promoting a television show tempted us with “Cox out in Greece.” In the Renault advertisements, Papa and Nicole have given way to: “Size matters. It's what you do with it that counts.” Cigarettes are “longer than John's.” And of course French Connection UK has its initials everywhere.

    If a poster shows a nipple there is an outcry but these slogans are like Rorschach blots. Some people see nothing in them, and the rest of us keep quiet for fear of being accused of seeing sex everywhere. We remember the ridicule heaped on the BBC's old Blue Book, which cited “winter draws on” as the type of joke that could give radio a bad name.

    I like saucy British humour, in its place. Every time I see a chihuahua I remember Max Miller. I sit happily through the dregs of the Carry Onseries on late night television. But the art of innuendo lies in knowing how far to go, and I think bus shelters full of schoolchildren are a nudge too far.

    The young provide an easy excuse for my indignation. The girls in my clinic with unwanted pregnancies are little older than those tittering at the posters, and every week I become more exasperated at the British way of treating sex with fourth form sniggers rather than education.

    But really, I just don't like tat in public places. Do we need billboards at all—even those in good taste? They are ugly, a hazard to road safety, and commercially unnecessary in our television age. Get them down, if you'll pardon the expression.

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