Saturday, July 23, 2011

My Fantasy Girlfriend - Valerie Leon, the Hai Karate girl

Way back at the dawn of my consciousness - the early 1970s, that would be - there was a strange obsession in the UK with cheap aftershave. Brut 33, Blue Stratos, Old Spice, Denim, and a few others - all similarly pungent, similarly unclassy - were engaged in a vicious battle for market share. But only at Christmas time. I don't think many people actually wore this stuff, but it was for a while a standard Christmas gift for men. I almost certainly bought some for my father or my brother once or twice; and - karmic retribution! - I was myself an ungrateful recipient of the stuff a few times in my early teens.

And it was all down to the power of advertising. These were disgusting products. People, I'm sure, even at the time, used to joke about how bad they were. But the TV commercials for them were great. Perhaps, subsconsciously, we were buying this rubbish out of gratitude for the entertainment provided, or in hopeful anticipation that if we could keep the companies in business, we'd be rewarded with another rousing commercial at the end of the following year.

The most rousing - the most arousing - of them all were the ads for the Hai Karate brand. The concept was a precursor to the hugely successful Lynx/Axe range of grooming products that seem to have come to dominate the lower end of the market over this past twenty or so years: i.e., this stuff had a magical, fatal power over women - as soon as they caught a whiff of it, they would be enslaved, obsessed, unable to keep their hands off you. It's a potent fantasy, right enough. It's just a pity you have to shell out so much moolah and make yourself smell weird to achieve this effect.

Hai Karate's unique marketing gimmick was that each pack included an illustrated 'self defence guide' - to help you ward off the unwanted attentions of lust-crazed women. The slogan was: Be careful how you use it.

Valerie Leon was a British glamour girl of the '60s and '70s. She had numerous small roles on TV during that period, as well as being the token crumpet in a number of the Carry On films, and appearing as one of James Bond's ephemeral bedmates at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me, and as a scantily-clad Egyptian princess in Hammer's Blood From The Mummy's Tomb.

However, for Englishmen of my generation, she is remembered first and foremost as 'the Hai Karate girl': for six or seven years, she was the face of the brand, the unstoppable sex bomb who - in a variety of scenarios in the annual succession of pre-Christmas ad campaigns - would throw herself at some unwary nerd who had slapped on some of the fragrance without reading the warning label first. The ads were more slapstick than sex: the weedy guy assailed by the relentless vamp would attempt to protect himself using the martial arts skills supposedly taught by the package insert, but panic and ineptitude undid him - he'd just strike spastic poses and inadvertently demolish everything around him. The slinky Ms Leon never had to resort to physical violence to subdue her prey (he always managed to incapacitate himself!), although there was an air of power and menace and determination about her that suggested she would be capable of it, if necessary. She definitely had something of the intimidating-yet-provoking kickass allure of The Avengers' Emma Peel.

I have fretted before that Mrs Peel - and other powerful/threatening/dominating/unattainable women of that ilk, such as the smouldering Hai Karate glamourpuss - does not perhaps provide an ideal template of desirable womanhood for a young boy still only dimly aware of the mysteries of sex (actually, that description probably still fits me alarmingly well today!). Those raunchy Christmas TV ads were, I now realise, setting me up for a lifetime of broken hearts (if not broken bones).

This is the only one of those famous ads I've been able to find on YouTube this morning (although the nurse's uniform is a nice erotic bonus!).

[Ms Leon, I'm glad to discover, is still alive and well, and still strikingly beautiful in her sixties. Check out this career summary and interview, and her own website.]

1 comment:

Cliff said...

Nice post, thanks! Here's a little more on her wider career and bio: