Bubblegum Future

When I was nine or ten I used to go to Jenkins Gym in Manners St, Wellington on Saturday mornings with a friend. I hated it but I suspect our respective fathers thought we needed toughening up. The good bit was that after the long trolley bus trip home (no being ferried around by parents in those days), we would splurge out on lollies at the local dairy. One thing I remember enjoying was Bell Boy bubble gum and its waxy wrappers with crudely drawn pictures of such things as sporting heroes, explorers, strange but true facts, and a space future series. Well, it turns out that a little-known Te Papa collection highlight is 24 of the space wrappers, enough to indulge in some nostalgia for how the future was once envisaged.

Anglo American Chewing Gum Ltd., c. 1960. Printed waxed paper. Gift of Joyce Megget, 2006. Te Papa.

I always find it interesting how the future is imagined within the technological horizon and aesthetics of its own time. Take the space suits in the wrapper above. They seem to me like they might be made out of that not-so-space-age material, rubber.

Anglo American Chewing Gum Ltd., c.1960. Printed waxed paper. Gift of Joyce Megget, 2006. Te Papa.

Or in some cases the space suits make their wearers look like pixies who’ve sprung from a Rupert comic strip, or like those buzzy-bee type wooden dolls.

Anglo American Chewing Gum Ltd., c.1960. Printed waxed paper. Gift of Joyce Megget, 2006. Te Papa.

And delivering mail is imagined to need its own solution, as though people would still be writing letters to communicate.

Anglo American Chewing Gum Ltd., c.1960. Printed waxed paper. Gift of Joyce Megget, 2006. Te Papa.

I like some of the fantastical imaginings though. The power ships here look like nothing else. (Those are the spherical things. Heaven knows what those funny leg bits are and where their rocket motors sit.) And the stretcher capsule in the wrapper further above is a barely meaningful swirl of colour and shapes.

See here to view all 41 wrappers that Te Papa has.

Anglo American Chewing Gum company

If you are wondering about the Anglo American brand, it was acquired as the Anglo American Chewing Gum company in 1929 by an English confectionary company famous for their toffees, Mackintosh. This enabled them to pre-empt any US chewing gum incursions into the UK. Mackintosh had a strong presence in New Zealand in the 1960s, so that’s why we had their sub-brand of bubblegum.

Anglo American Chewing Gum Ltd., c.1960. Printed waxed paper. Gift of Joyce Megget, 2006. Te Papa.

Wrappers like these are sought after by collectors today and in the UK the soccer themed wrappers attract a lot of attention.  A quick look on eBay reveals mint condition sets of ‘Transport Through the Ages’, World of Wonders’, ‘Men of Progress’ and so on, but no space series. These sets are all dated as 1960, and Te Papa’s wrappers are probably about that too, but it would be good to hear from anyone who can shed some light on the exact date of our ones – or indeed of any further information or recollections.

Dr Who

I’d like to end with another example of ‘future nostalgia’ from almost exactly the same period. It’s the original 1963 Dr Who title sequence. I remember first seeing this at a friend’s house. TV was an expensive novelty in the early 1960s and since his father owned an electrical goods store they were one of the first households in the neighbourhood to have a TV set. A group of us would call in after school to watch in black and white the likes of Robin Hood, William Tell, Supercar (Thunderbirds precursor), and Dr Who. The series scared me deeply. There was that metallic, inhuman voice of the Daleks and their horrible ray gun that made the scene flash into negative when someone received the EX-TERM-IN-ATE treatment. I think the most frightening thing about the Daleks was that they had no emotion, no possibility at all of mercy or remorse. The mesmerising opening titles filled me with dread of the horrors to come, but I could never turn away.

This title sequence was technically very cutting edge at its time, with the visuals created by using ‘howlaround’ video feedback (created when you point a video camera at a monitor playing its own signal). The music was constructed laboriously from single notes, recorded on tape and slowed down or sped up and spliced over and over. With no multi-track recorders in the day, the final result was created by recording several tape machines playing these sections of spliced tape at once. The clip above is the full length version, and it gets quite trippy towards the end (note how ‘Doctor WHO’ transforms into ‘Doctor OHO’). As it happens, the year this title sequence was first seen is the same that Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert were fired from Harvard University for, in effect, their investigations into the hallucinogenics LSD and psilocybin. Co-incidence?

– Athol McCredie, Curator of Photography

3 Responses

  1. Sharman Buckle

    Loved the blog. Brought back so many memories………………the waxy wrappings, the graphics on the wrappings, the non descript gum itself
    Sharman

    Reply
  2. Olwen Mason

    Very interesting and really took me back.

    Reply
  3. Gaby

    I think this is a great post Athol, what I really enjoy is the personal reference! I think it is fantastic to give a personal context (like the story you shared) to objects within a collection; it makes the item so much more intriguing and hints at a shared history. Puke Ariki in New Plymouth had a fantastic idea in the middle of last year of having visitors and staff write small removable labels for different items within their displayed collection. The quick to read stickers gave a small insight into a personal memory or experience with the object, which for me added a context that was not presented in the museum label.

    Reply

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