If only Poundland had existed in 1960, and if only the company had at that point come up with its wheeze of selling engagement rings for £1.
If the concept of a ring for a quid had been available, as a genuine ‘placeholder’, or as a joke, or as an ironic comment on the commercialisation and commodification of love and romance (not that we did this kind of irony, back in the day), then singer Adam Faith wouldn’t have told the sad story of how he lost his his girlfriend, all because of an engagement ring.
We’re talking of course about the tragic scenario in Green Finger, the song on the B-side of Faith’s 1960 hit Lonely Pup, and a much more potent number than that hit song.
Green Finger is a short, snappy number whose tale of woe is offset by the lively, sparky arrangement by music maestro John Barry. The chirpy strings lead us into the story, delivered in Faith’s trademark cockneyish accent. ‘I bought my girl a diamond ring,’ he tells us, ‘Bigger than the morning star.’
The acid test
The voice and tone suit the persona — working-class, a bit of a lad, stylishly dressed, rather like the character Faith plays later in his career in ITV’s series Budgie. You can just see him, ring tucked away in his inside pocket, anticipating his girl’s delight when he produces this huge bit of bling, which has cost him every penny he has. There’s a hint of a less than happy ending, though, when he warns us that ‘the money didn’t go very far’.
This hapless fellow has spent what seems to him a fortune on a gold ring, a pledge of his love, but what happens when he puts it on his sweetheart’s finger?
Her finger turns green, that’s what. The ring isn’t real gold, it’s fake, with a a high percentage of copper. When the ‘gold’ comes into contact with bodily perspiration, the metals react with the acid to form salts, which are green. Oh dear. His girl is not happy. Next time they meet, she waves her green finger in front of him and tells him it’s over. She doesn’t love him any more.
Only here for De Beers
Poor old Adam has fallen short of expectations, and it would be of little comfort to him to know that the expectation of a decent ring is not an intrinsic human need or desire, an essential part of our psyche. No, it is the creation of US ad agency N W Ayer. In 1938, the agency was hired by the mining company De Beers, who wanted to revive the failing diamond market. And so began one of the most successful campaigns in the history of advertising.
They created a narrative that linked diamonds with love and romance. Young men and women were persuaded that the acquirement of a diamond engagement ring was an intrinsic part of a promise to marry, and that the size and quality of the stone corresponded to the depth of love it represented.
De Beers were very helpful — they were quite prescriptive about how much the ring should cost. At first, a series of adverts embedded the idea that one month’s salary (the man’s, natch) should be spent on the ring.
In the 1980s, two months’ salary was the suggested spend to secure lifelong happiness, or at least a secure future for the little woman, who was encouraged to regard the ring as a symbol not just of love, but of the financial status of her intended, and his ability to look after her.
In Greenfinger, the girl gives Adam back the ring, saying it isn’t ‘real high class’. Hmm. Maybe this doesn’t just refer to the ring.
However, he is desperate to prove her wrong. The colour of her finger is a bit of a giveaway, but he tries to show that the diamond is real by scratching it on the window pane, following the rule that a genuine diamond will cut glass. You can imagine her watching, contempt or pity in her eyes, as he scrapes and scrapes, trying in vain to get the stone to make a mark. No question, he has been duped.
So Adam goes off to the jeweller’s shop to complain. The jeweller laughs at him. ‘Boy, for what you paid, you couldn’t expect any more.’ Then he leans across the counter, and gives a knowing nod. ‘I’ll bet she had a green finger,’ he says, neatly placing Adam in the pantheon of young men with similarly-fingered girlfriends.
All Adam can do is shrug it off and write it down to experience. He warns other boys that if they want to buy a diamond ring, ‘be sure you’ve got a pile of dough’. Warming to his theme, like an everyman’s Polonius, he offers philosophical guidance: ‘Don’t try to be a spender if you haven’t got money to show.’ If you do, mark my words, she’ll show up with a green finger, and she won’t love you any more.
What would his girl have made of Poundland’s offering, a nice little cubic zircona, which bears a strong visual resemblance to diamond, available in gemstones resembling a diamond, ruby or topaz, presented in a plush red velvet case? Would she have been persuaded by the strapline: ‘Because We Promise They’ll Want To Choose Their Own’?
There is a clever neatness to this phrase, which probably won’t have the legs of the resonant A Diamond Is Forever. We may well think that this slogan had something to do with James Bond, but it was coined by copywriter (Mary) Frances Gerety in 1947, one of those late-night thoughts that you jot down and don’t have much faith in.
This line has appeared in every de Beers advert since then, and in 1999 was described by Advertising Age magazine as ‘The Slogan Of The Twentieth Century.’ Props to Frances, eh!
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