Whither Joan Sprat?

The nursery rhyme goes, "Jack Sprat could eat no fat; His wife could eat no lean; And so betwixt the two of them; They licked the platter clean."

Things that stay with you: in the early eighties, the Beef Council of Canada, or whatever the industry marketing group was called at the time, ran a series of advertisements on television, seeking to rehabilitate beef's image. It's hard to believe that beef's image would need to be rehabilitated, but thinking back to the advertisements, it's clear what the marketers were thinking.

As I remember, their on-screen spokesman was Jack Sprat, a young and lively man who danced onto the set in a top-hat, coat and tales to a big chorus-line number. "Jack Sprat!" the singers exclaimed. "Could eat no fat", and this was okay because beef was now leaner (but not meaner), and thus Jack was a happy boy, and you should be too if you loved beef but wanted to have a healthier diet with less fat in it.

I'm not sure if the commercials did the trick in rehabilitating beef's image, except for the fact that this was the last advertisement I ever remember seeing from the Beef Council, and there's no shortage of people buying beef in stores. Also, I still remember this advertisement, even though it's around forty years later.

But as I look back at it now, I have to ask: where's Jack's wife? She's very much absent from these commercials as Jack carries on with the chorus line singers. Was there a divorce? Has she mysteriously disappeared to go somewhere, nobody's quite sure where? Where did you hide the body, Jack?

The third verse of the nursery rhyme, incidentally, goes, "Jack Sprat was wheeling; his wife by the ditch; the barrow turned over; and in she did pitch."

As an aside, Jack's wife really does get short shrift here, as evidenced by the fact that I had to look things up in order to find out that her name was Joan. And, in doing my quick research, I've discovered that, as with all nursery rhymes, the Jack Sprat poem is much more than just about a young man with an allergy to lipids: see here.

And, no, I'm not making this up. The ad exists and, thanks to the miracle of YouTube (doing a search after I wrote the above; so I misremembered the tophat, coat and tails when he instead adopted a Rick Ashley look), can be found here:

blog comments powered by Disqus