Unearthing the true meaning of tea money

Unearthing the true meaning of tea money

Thanks to readers for their entertaining comments and emails on last week's PostScript concerning the delights of drinking tea. There were assorted inspiring tales of eccentric tea ladies, quirky tea-time habits and important song lyrics I had overlooked.

I was also reprimanded for not mentioning "tea money", something I'll attempt to address immediately.

About 10 years ago an Australian newspaper colleague had an interesting encounter with the thesakit, or "cigarette police" as they are not so fondly referred to in Bangkok. After getting off a train at Nana BTS station he lit a cigarette and headed towards a bank on Sukhumvit. He soon became aware that a uniformed gentleman was following him and, suspecting the motives, looked for a litter bin where he could dispose of the cigarette.

In the absence of bins, when he reached the bank he resorted to stubbing his cigarette into the dirt of a large potted plant before heding inside. After making his transaction he came out of the bank only to be greeted by the diligent official waving the rogue cigarette stub at him. The Aussie was informed he must pay a 2,000 baht fine for littering forthwith.

The journalist's explanation that there weren't any litter bins fell on deaf ears and they walked back to a pavement booth where there were several other officials. The negotiations continued for a while. but took an unusual turn when one official suddenly announced "we like green tea". Now that was a far cry from a 2,000 baht fine, so the Aussie nipped into a nearby 7-11 and returned with four bottles of cold green tea which he handed over to the officials. It was smiles all round. Case closed.

So now we know where the expression to pay "tea money" comes from.

Binnie's brew

A lady I should have mentioned last week was the multi-talented Binnie Hale, an English actress singer and dancer who in the 1930s did much to popularise tea drinking in Britain. She could perform anything from music hall songs to serious operatic numbers and in the stage version of No, No Nanette she sung the iconic Tea For Two.

Then in 1937 Binnie recorded A Nice Cup Of Tea, which became popular during the war. It featured creative lyrics from AP Herbert including "the public benefactor of the universe for me/is the genius who thought of pouring water onto tea." You can hear her singing it on YouTube. Binnie incidentally is a nickname for Beatrice.

This song was much later adapted by Brook Bond to promote their "D" (Dividend) brew of tea with F1 star Jackie Stewart and his wife Helen courageously warbling, "My idea of heaven is a nice cup of D."

Monkey business

Brook Bond arguably had the most entertaining TV tea ads. Promoted as "the tea you can really taste," the ads featured the voices of Stanley Baker and Peter Sellers, but the real stars were the chimpanzees.

One of the more memorable ads had a 007 soundtrack with a chimp from the "British Secret Tea Service", dressed in a smart white jacket and black bow-tie announcing in a no nonsense fashion, "My name is Bond, Brook Bond."

In another ad, a weary chimp who has fallen off his bike in the Tour de France asks in a strong northern accent "Avez vous un cuppa?"

Dancing donkeys

Other brands came up with their own promotions and "Yoo-hoo Typhoo" was a popular catchphrase around Britain in the 1960s.

Typhoo had a big hit with You can only get an 'oo' in Typhoo. The most entertaining featured Sue Pollard lying on the beach, sipping a cup of Typhoo and being serenaded by dancing donkeys singing a version of Una Paloma Blanca. The donkey dance steps are brilliant. The ads were often more entertaining than the actual programmes.

Tetleys were also quite active, using popular songs like Lovely Day and Windmills of Your Mind. The latter's lyrics were adapted by Tetley into, "Like a teabag made by Tetley/ Like the stirring of a spoon/Like your first cup in the morning/Or supped beneath the moon." Sheer poetry. But none could quite match those playful chimps.

Storm in a tea bag

In his diaries, US President Ronald Reagan recalled an awkward tea bag moment which occurred when Prince Charles visited the White House in 1981. The prince was served the American way with the tea bag still in the cup. The president noticed that although the prince kept picking up the cup, he never actually drank any tea. Mr Reagan eventually realised that the prince was not used to a tea bag in his royal cuppa. Prince Charles later admitted, "I didn't know what to do with the little bag."

Utter madness

It would be remiss not to mention the most famous tea drinker of all time, the Mad Hatter and his memorable tea party in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. However, Alice was not impressed, as the following exchange might suggest: "Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice earnestly. "I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone, "So I can't take more".

The Hatter would go on to recite "Twinkle, twinkle little bat" and later join the Hare in stuffing the Doormouse into a tea pot. Now, that's what you call a real tea party.

Contact PostScript via email at oldcrutch@hotmail.com

Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

Email : oldcrutch@gmail.com

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