When illustrator Josh Cleland and I were designing our “It’s the taste” home page header, we were of course paying homage to the classic PG Tips TV commercials from the 1970s. In particular, the ad that’s been my favourite, Mr. Shifter. Yesterday, Choppers, the last surviving chimpanzee from that 1971 commercial died.

We’d originally planned to include all three chimp characters from the commercial; Mr. Shifter, his son (“Do you know the piano’s on my foot?”) and Ada, who offers them a cup of PG:

Josh drew spectacular artwork for all three apes, including Ada, but when push came to shove, we couldn’t make the composition work with Ada included, so we included her in a photograph on the table by the stairs instead. Here’s Josh’s early sketches of Ada, played by female chimpanzee Choppers.

Initial sketches for Ada by Josh Cleland.

Louie, the chimpanzee who played Mr. Shifter died at Twycross Zoo in July 2013 and yesterday the beautiful Choppers died there too. She was the last surviving PG Tips chimpanzee.

Choppers and the PG Tips commercials generally gave a lot of people a lot of pleasure for a lot of years. Today it’s widely accepted that using the chimpanzees in those commercials damaged them. So much contact with humans left them unable to relate well to other chimpanzees. I think that if people involved at the time could’ve predicted the effects, they would’ve used them. It’s easy to look back knowing what we do now and judge, but we shouldn’t.

Primate care issues aside, I still believe that those PG Tips commercials are some of the best TV advertisements ever and I hope one day they’ll star chimpanzees hamming it up again. Next time though, it should be CGI apes dropping pianos and riding bikes and drinking tea.

Choppers, I’m brewing a cup of PG Tips and thinking about you.


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