Redtops: Tabloids, Chicks & (What Else?) the Royal Wedding

Stockbridge, Mass: St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Sedgwick Window 8/23/10

          From good friend Leon Gettler comes a Sun (London) article, ‘Charles Toothpaste Shock’.  (Punctuation as in original.)  Its first paragraph reads:

 PRINCE Charles depended on key aide Michael Fawcett to squeeze his toothpaste, it emerged last night.

 Emerged?  From the tube?  The royal wedding:  How long, oh Lord, how long!

           It has probably not occurred to more generous readers to ask, ‘So, why did you look at the story?’  The truth is, I have a weakness for ‘the redtops’.

           ‘Redtops’ are British tabloids many of which have a fire-engine red masthead.  As with this story, they mix Rupert Murdoch (3 parts), Benny Hill (1 part) with a sprinkling of real news – see the last ‘grafs.

           The Sun’s red top brought to mind the twangy voices of Lee (‘the coffee-drinking nighthawk’) Moore and Sidney (‘Hardrock’) Gunter, whose names signal ancestors from the Scottish-English border country – not London.  They intoned about ‘red tops’ but of a very different feather.

           They were fine country musicians who alternated on AM’s 50,000 watt clear channel WWVA’s all-night show in the 1950s.  From Colorado to Newfoundland, from the Arctic Circle to the Tropic of Cancer, you could hear them playing ‘mountain music’ by Hawkshaw Hawkins, Doc Williams & the Border Riders, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, and so many others.

           Between each song – and I do mean each – would be a thirty- to forty-five second ad for the hour’s sponsor – guitar instruction books, table cloths with ‘genuine reproductions of the Last Supper’ and, most memorably, Redtop Chicks.  (Love Google!  Couldn’t believe I could find verification of those memories.)

          The ads were done to a strict formula.  (I long suspected (probably wrongly) they were memorized, since reading wasn’t a particular strength of the mountain musicians of my childhood.)  The Redtop Chicks ad ended:

                    So, order yours today.

                   [Voice drops]  No sex or breed guaranteed.

                    [Voice normal] Send your cash, check or money order to:

                    [Louder] Chicks.  That’s C-H-I-C-K-S.

                    [Voice normal] Care of dubya dubya VEE eh in Wheeling WEST Virginia.

           Lee or Hardrock would repeat the address – syllable for syllable – with a notable uptake on ‘WEST Virginia’ because it cued the next song.

           A musical education had a high psychic price in the 50s.  Almost as high as the royal wedding’s….