Much-loved British heavyweight boxer Henry Cooper died this week.
Unborn in 1963, the year he nearly defeated Cassius Clay (the Brits love near-winners much more than winners), I remember him mostly for the curious Brut TV commercials he did in the 1970s that helped usher in the world of male product aisles in supermarkets and spornographic advertising we know today.
‘Enery’s ‘omely features and working class man’s man status, along with the ironic play on Brut/brute (‘nothing beats the great smell of Brut!’), guaranteed that there was nothing poofy about men using cologne as more than just an aftershave — ‘splash it on all ovah!’
Or even bubble bath.
Which was an important statement for one of the first mass market male colognes to make at a time when such vanities were generally still frowned upon in the rather pongy UK. In the Dick Emery, Are You Being Served? 1970s it was inconceivable that ‘enery could be ‘omo.
But the ‘omosocial reassurance that something isn’t ‘omo can look a lot like ‘omosexuality sometimes.
Here’s one with for Brut deodorant with the happily married Henry having a sweaty workout, shower and towel-flicking sesh with muscular young footballer Kevin Keegan. Which is manly man’s man stuff, but with a surprisingly pronounced (intergenerational) homoerotic subtext. The fact I still vividly remember it from my youth suggests that the sub-text was there all along, and not just something the filthy-minded 21st Century has projected on the past.
‘The deodorant with muscle’. It even seems like they’re about to kiss at one point. But then, in the 1970s footballers did this to one another after scoring. Because again, it was inconceivable that they could be ‘omo.
Encouraged by his success with Kevin, Henry then tries his new, irresistible cologne on cute young motorcyclist, Barry Sheene, who is wearing just a towel, and a helmet of hair. Things seem to be going well for Henry – Barry even rubs his nipple enthusiastically at one point. But then, suddenly, Henry’s ‘opes are dashed by the sudden appearance of Barry’s wife. You can see his face fall.