Remembering when Tennent’s put models on their cans: Tennent’s ‘Lager Lovelies’ explained

For 26 years generations of pin-up models were the face of Tennent’s

Glasgow in the 1970’s was an entirely different city to the one we inhabit now - one with an entirely different culture, and this can be seen no more clearly than Tennent’s old ‘lager lovelies’.

It’s hard to deny the effectiveness of the marketing Tennent’s employed - but the story behind the lager lovelies isn’t as simple as some greasy 70s boardroom executive spitting out the order to slap pictures of scantily-clad women over puffs of cigar smoke. The marketing team at the Glasgow lager firm at the time actually stumbled upon the incredible commercial and financial success that would secure Tennent’s as the lager of choice for Scots for decades to come.

In the late fifties, about a decade before the launch of the lager lovelies, Tennent’s chiefs came up with the novel idea of creating a series of twenty special can designs. Each displayed an image of a different girl under the heading ‘Housewives’ Choice’ accompanied by a recipe which used beer as an ingredient - this gives you an idea of how women were viewed at the time. The new designs caused a stir - but were just a splash in the water compared to what would come.

Lager Lovelies: Tennent's model Penny featured on several cans showing her at different times of the day - one of which was banned by the New York authorities. Picture: Donald McLeod/TSPL

A few years later, Tennent’s launched their next major marketing drive in 1962, the Scottish Series and English Series. These featured beautiful landscapes and cityscapes from up and down the British mainland and were primarily exported to overseas squaddies who might be hankering for a wee taste of hame. While also a novel idea at the time - it didn’t quite have the impact the beer firm were hoping for.

That being said - there was a buzz around one of the models, Ann Johansen, who had proved very popular as a model in both the Housewives’ Choice and English Series marketing campaigns. Seeing how popular Johansen was, Tennent’s decided to shine the spotlight on her, giving Ann her own can, making her Scotland’s first ‘Lager Lovely’ - quite the title.

Now Tennent’s golden girl, Ann was tasked with posing as a pin-up girl for the shoots - and in classic Glaswegian style, the first photoshoot was in the back of one of Tennent’s own service vans. It was only when the photo went to print that (almost too coincidentally) the first three crucial letters from ‘service van’ on the side of the vehicle were cut off - now reading ‘VICE VAN’.

A promotional campaign for the 1984 Tennent's Sixes competition. Picture: Contributed

Rather than scrapping it and going back out for another shoot (it’s not as if the firms own service vans were a highly in-demand shooting location), the executives decided on pushing on with production anyway - adding one crucial word into the caption - changing it from ‘Testing our new van’ to ‘Testing our new service van’.

Regardless of this mistake, or maybe in part due to the mistake, Ann’s incredible good looks made the cans a massive hit commercially, with stalwart Tennent’s dectractors now picking up some tins on account of its cover star - and by the late sixties Ann Johansen had become a household pin-up - but that was only the beginning of the campaign.

Ann stepped away from the role as she settled down and began preparing for a family, paving the way for Tennent’s to launch the marketing campaign in earnest in the late sixties - employing five new young models in 1969 like a drunk version of Charlie’s Angels. Three of the models were local to Glasgow, and soon began to be recognised in the street, and constantly the young women would hear one remark from Glasgow’s ‘patter merchants’: “Awright, hen, ah had ma hauns roon’ you last night”.

Over the next 15 years, Tennent’s roster of glamour models constantly shiftedl. Every couple of years there were new poses or new Lovelies for Scotland’s lager fans to gawp at in between swigs of the luke-warm amber liquid. Some enthusiasts (now more likely to go by the title ‘creeps’ or ‘alcoholics’) even took to collecting the tins, with some of the rarest pin-up cans being known to change hands for thousands of pounds.

Regardless of what we may think now of the practice, what did the ladies themselves think of their time in the campaign? Lorraine Davidson, a former Miss Scotland, and 1982 can girl, was full of praise for her old employer: “It was probably the best contract to get in terms of Scottish modelling.

“They took me to the Bahamas to shoot a TV commercial and I got paid something like £600 a day while I was there.”

Likewise, June Lake, a Tennent’s model from 1986-88, enjoyed a similar experience: “Some folk used to say: ‘Aren’t you being exploited?’ But compared to the Miss UK contest I entered, which was a real cattle-market, Tennent’s really looked after me. I was flown around in the company plane and paid vulgar amounts of money to have a fantastic time.”

'Penny at noon', showing Penny in her swimsuit was banned by the New York authorities. Picture: Donald MacLeod/TSPL

Given these two lager lovelies positive experience, it begs the question - can we see this now as empowering? Despite the lavish lifestyle both models got to live, looking back with a modern lens the empowerment angle seems unlikely given how far we think we’ve come, but it’s easy to forget newspaper like The Sun had page three girls up until 2015 - with the Daily Star only covering up their models in 2019.

In the 1980s, despite the prolific popularity of the campaign, the tide began to slowly turn against the phenomenon, and in 1991 - as Tennent’s entered their twelfth Lovelies series - the decision was made to make it their final run, and pull the plug.

It’s funny to think now, that in its 26 year run, a generation of lager drinkers grew up on the stuff and that when they think of Tennent’s now, they won’t think of the iconic red T on an amber can - but of their favourite pin-up model staring back at them from the can.