Edward Whitehead

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Commander Whitehead posing for a 1963 Schweppes advertisement

Walter Edward Whitehead (1908-1978), also known as Commander Whitehead, was an iconic advertisement representative of Schweppes Tonic Water, playing himself as a suave and cosmopolitan man of taste and distinction in a widely-distributed advertising campaign of the 1950s and 1960s. He was also a successful executive, being head of Schweppes' American operations.

Life and career[edit]

Whitehead was born born 20 May 1908 in Aldershot, England. He served with the Royal Navy in World War II, attaining the rank of Commander.[1]

In 1947, Whitehead was an economic advisor to Sir Stafford Cripps (then Chancellor of the Exchequer), working on training and productivity in British industry. He joined Schweppes in 1950, being responsible for foreign expansion. In 1953, he was made president of Schweppe's American operations,[2] in the same year catching the eye of adman David Oglivy, who was creating advertising for Schweppes. Schweppes had until 1952 been imported from Britain, and was thus an expensive niche product. In 1952 an agreement was signed with Pepsi to bottle Schweppes in America, allowing the price to be cut in half. Oglivy's remit was to convince Americans that the lowering of price was not accompanied by a lowering of quality.[3] Oglivy had just recently created the "Hathaway Man" character for C.F. Hathaway Company, featuring Baron George Wrangell as a sophisticated and talented figure with a mysterious eyepatch[4] and convinced Whitehead (who was at first reluctant}[3] to become an icon with similar snob appeal for Schweppes.[5][1]

Schweppes ad portrays Commander Whitehead as an urbane clubman and successful executive; the ad copy shows his drinkmaking expertise, concluding with a near-Bondian "Don't stir." ("Shaken, not stirred" was James Bond's instruction for mixing his emblematic Vesper cocktail, a sign of his cultivated tastes.) Other ads portray him as a yachtsman, horseman, world traveler, horse racing aficionado, wine connoisseur, and in similar upper-class roles.

Based on Whitehead's mature good looks and world-class beard,[6][3][A] the "Commander Whitehead" character radiated a cultured sophistication and projected a comfortable and understated aura of confident savoir-faire and elegant taste coupled with worldly accomplishment and the aura of old money. The campaign was in heavy rotation for almost 20 years,[3] from the mid 1950s through the 1960s. The term "schweppervescence" (a portmanteau of "Schweppes" and "effervescence") was used in the campaign. (Whitehead actually was a well-rounded and accomplished man, combining his military, executive, and public service achievements with pursuits such as fox hunting, sailing, skiing, and culinary expertise.)[1]

Whithead eventually became a director of Cadbury Schweppes Ltd., Schweppes's British parent company. He also served as chairman of the British Export Marketing Advisory Committee, as a trustee of the International Marketing Institute at Harvard, and on the board of General Cigar Company and Cunard Lines.[1]

In 1961 Queen Elizabeth awarded Whitehead the rank of CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his achievements in exporting British products.[1]

Whitehead was married to Adinah Whitehead; they had two children. He died 16 April 1978, in Petersfield[1]

Works[edit]

  • Whitehead, Edward (1977). How to Live the Good Life: The Commander Tells You How. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0385114967.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Comdr. Edward Whitehead, at 69; Led Schweppes Tonic Campaign". The New York Times. 18 April 1978. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  2. ^ Simmons 1983, p. 116
  3. ^ a b c d Simmons, Douglas A. (1983). Schweppes: The First 200 Years. London: Springwood Books. pp. 144–145. ISBN 0862541042. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  4. ^ Alex Walker (11 November 2015). "How a 5-cent Eye-Patch Created a Million Dollar Story". Medium. Retrieved 27 June 2021.
  5. ^ Tribune News Service (22 July 1999). "Adman David Oglivy, 88 [obituary]". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 26 June 2021.
  6. ^ Luke Honey (18 May 2017). "Commander Schweppes". The Greasy Spoon. Retrieved 27 June 2021. Possibly one of the most splendid beards of the mid-twentieth century is the groomed specimen pictured above, as sported by Commander Schweppes, aka Commander Walter Edward Whitehead...

Notes[edit]

  1. ^
    Whitehead wrote the forward for Marvin Grossworth's book The Art of Growing a Beard (1975, Dover Publications, ISBN 978-0486783130).