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The Guinness Clock

by Tony Franks-Buckley

It was the brainchild of the Guinness Advertising Manager Martin Pick, who had trained as an engineer before he entered the world of advertising. The Clock was designed by the firm of Lewitt Him and took five months for clockmakers Baume and Co Ltd. of Hatton Garden to construct. Standing 25 feet high, the Clock's internal mechanism was highly elaborate and included nine reversible electric motors and three synchronous clocks.

 

No clock of comparable complexity had been made in England for 300 years. Every fifteen minutes the crowds were spellbound by the four and a half minute routine featuring well known characters from Guinness advertisements which everybody knew at the time. The 'Guinness animals' were the creation of artist John Gilroy of S.H.Benson's advertising agency. He produced a series of colourful and amusing posters in which different zoo animals made off with their keeper's Guinness! (The zoo keeper was actually a caricature of Gilroy himself.)

 

The menagerie included a sealion (balancing a glass of Guinness on its nose), an ostrich (who had just swallowed a glass of Guinness whole), a pelican, bear, lion, tortoise, kangaroo, crocodile and even an upside-down kinkajou. The most famous of all, however, was the Guinness toucan who retained the public's affection from his debut in 1935 right up to his final retirement in 1982. Guinness also made use of characters from Lewis Carroll's book 'Alice in Wonderland' in its advertising in the 1930s-50s. We might think it unheard of now to use characters from a children's book to advertise beer, but at the time it was quite acceptable. This explains why the Mad Hatter, with his fishing rod, appears on the Guinness Festival Clock, along with the zoo keeper, toucans and other Guinness animals.

 

The original Guinness Clock proved so popular that Guinness received enquiries from a number of local authorities, department stores and exhibition promoters who all wanted to borrow it for display. This inspired the building of slightly smaller 'travelling versions' of the clock, the first two of which were ready by September 1952. One went to Morecambe loaded on a Guinness trailer to be installed at Happy Mount Park as the main feature of the town's illuminations. It remained there until October 21st and was seen by thousands of people, young and old, as they walked through the park. Next it appeared in the fifth floor exhibition hall of John Lewis store in Manchester where, although it had to be dismantled to negotiate the stairs and the centre well, it was back in working order within three days. The other clock went to Southend's Western Esplanade as part of the seaside town corporation's illuminations. In all weathers and at all times people gathered to see the clock go through its routine. From Southend it went to Park Royal, where it stayed for a short time before moving on to Berwick-on-Tweed, where it stood in front of the town hall for the Christmas festivities. In all eight travelling Guinness Clocks and one miniature (5ft high) version were constructed, and they were seen at many places including Paignton, Barry Island, Folkestone, South Shields, Leamington Spa, the Isle of Sheppey, Chester, Warrington, Brighton, New Brighton, Southsea, Bristol, Great Yarmouth and Butlin's Holiday Camp, Ayr, Scotland (illustrated).

The clocks toured seaside towns for seven years or more and also made appearances at trade fairs, carnivals, agricultural shows and in department stores. One went to the USA on loan for two years, and two went to Ireland.

 

On June 9th 1959 another Guinness Clock appeared called the Guinness Time Piece (pictured left), which also became known as the Guinness Clock. This was an even more elaborate mechanical contraption, built in three sections, weighing four tons, and mounted on the back of a trailer for easy transportation. It was designed by John Lansdell and Willy Szoomanski and manufactured by F.B.Elcom Ltd.

 

As with the original Guinness Clocks, every quarter of an hour brought a frenzied burst of activity from an assortment of Guinness animals and their keeper accompanied by fairground music. In the centre a revolving stage with four set pieces showed Guinness in every season of the year and to the right in front of the caravan the ever-harassed keeper is chased by various animals from door to door. At first the keeper has the bottle of Guinness, then a few moments later, they all reappear, now running in the other direction, with the brown bear in front with the bottle being chased by the keeper. It was first exhibited at the Guinness Bicentenary Garden Party that summer then set off on its travels via Battersea Pleasure Gardens where it stayed for a fortnight. Since the Clocks' mechanism could easily be affected by wind, it was necessary to have an electrician standing by. He would also be responsible for counting the visitors to the clock.

Changing times were soon to doom these travelling mechanical wonders. Guinness no longer used the animals in its advertisements, and spare parts for the clocks became difficult to obtain. They were finally withdrawn in October 1966 and sent for scrap - a sad end to a much-loved and unique form of Guinness advertising.