Rinso Washing Powder: A Bachelor Grey (c1943)

Rinso Washing Powder: A Bachelor Grey (c1943)
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Narrating the life of bachelor Henry, this cartoon-style advertisement for Rinso washing powder shows how this miraculous laundry product can turn anyone’s life around!

Henry is a bachelor who lives alone in a small apartment. He has a ‘lady help’ who does his cooking and cleaning but will not wash his clothes. Henry is a ‘natty dresser’. But because he can’t get the laundry to call around anymore, he is forced to do the washing himself. However, rubbing and scrubbing wears out his clothes, towels, shirts and linen until finally his temper wears out too! Henry’s outburst prompts his ‘lady help’ to bring him home a packet of Rinso washing powder and show him how to get things clean, possible ‘even if you haven’t got a laundry in your flat’.

The narrator says ‘it’s marvellous what you can get from a packet of Rinso’ – Henry’s lady help finally gets him as a husband and they continue on to have many children. All the while the wife, who now takes on the extra washing, never complains because of Rinso.

Summary by Poppy De Souza

A Bachelor Gray is a self-contained narrative in which the main character’s life is introduced, his troubles shown, and then how the product (Rinso washing powder) solves all his problems, getting him a wife along the way. This story format can be seen in a number of other early Rinso advertisements including Then Came Happiness (1931) for Rinso soap powder, Rinso Washing Powder : Fairy Story Comes True (1935) and Rinso Laundry Powder : Hilda and Hugh Jones (1940). The creation of fictional characters and familiar situations aided in the identification of the consumer with the advertised product.

The narrator in this cinema advertisement hints at the Second World War rationing of food and clothing – implemented to manage food shortages and decrease consumption. While our animated hero, Henry, is a ‘natty dresser’, the aside from the narrator ‘pre-coupon, of course’ is a reference to the coupon system of rationing between 1942 and 1948. The second aside is the narrator’s comment that Henry can’t get the laundry to call these days (‘you know how it is’) also implies a cost that many citizens could not afford. The impact of the Second World War on ordinary Australian families can be seen in advertisements such as this one and Don’t Cry Dear Lady (1941), an advertisement for Tandaco prepared stuffing which reduces the need for fresh ingredients at a time when they were difficult to come by.

Traditional gender roles are also reinforced in this advertisement, although the beginning of the ad offers a view of life for a bachelor who does his own laundry. By the end of the ad, however, the family unit has been created and the ‘lady help’ becomes the wife who thrives in the domestic realm, more than happy to do all the extra washing that comes with creating a family. The male is depicted as the ‘strong, overpowering hero’ and the woman as the ‘lady help’ (whether she’s a wife or the actual hired help). In fact, it is interesting that Henry’s outburst of temper is the trigger that sparks his lady help’s interest in him. It is only after he has yelled at her and told her he’s had enough, that she goes out and buys a packet of Rinso ostensibly to win his heart!

Note: The small section of voice-over missing at the end of this advertisement comes from the source print held by the NFSA.

Notes by Poppy De Souza

Education Notes

This narrated clip shows a humorous, animated cinema advertisement for Rinso washing powder in which a series of cartoons is used to describe a bachelor, Henry, who is ‘a bit of a fusspot’ and a ‘natty dresser’ but is unable to do his washing. When his ‘lady help’ criticises his efforts, he ‘sees red’ and tells her to do it. She instantly falls in love with this new ‘strong, overpowering’ Henry and rushes out to buy a packet of Rinso. Before long the two are married with children. Henry’s wife never complains about the extra washing because Rinso makes it so easy.

Educational value points

  • The clip reflects gender roles prevalent in the 1940s that saw housework as women’s work and men as the breadwinners. For example, Henry, a bachelor, employs a ‘lady help’ and is ineffectual at the washing. The advertisement implies that Henry marries the ‘lady help’ because of her domestic skills, suggesting that domesticity was seen as a wifely attribute, while his wife is shown deriving satisfaction from performing a task such as washing for her family.
  • At the beginning of the clip Henry is described as ‘a bit of a fusspot’ and a ‘natty dresser’, a description that may have been intended to signify effeminacy, but his angry outburst transforms him into a ‘strong, overpowering hero’ with whom the ‘lady help’ can fall in love. The advertisement indicates that once Henry and his ‘lady help’ conform to what were accepted ‘norms’ of masculinity and femininity, they are rewarded with domestic bliss.
  • This advertisement was made in about 1943 and Henry’s ‘pre-coupon’ clothing and inability to get ‘a laundry to call’ would have been recognised by the audience in this period as references to wartime rationing and shortages. Rationing of clothing, which was introduced in 1942 in response to a fall in imports and the demand for service uniforms, lasted until 1948. The need for workers in essential industries largely resulted in the closing down of what were considered non-essential services such as laundering.
  • In the 1940s, when this advertisement was made, many people did not own a washing machine and had to hand-wash clothing and other items, an arduous task that could take most of the day. Doing the washing was considered part of a woman’s domestic duties, and usually took place once a week, traditionally on a Monday.
  • The illustrations in this clip, including those of a round copper tub and a wringer, indicate how washing was done prior to the 1960s, when washing machines became common in households. On wash day clothes were boiled in a copper tub, rubbed on a scrubbing board, perhaps washed again, rinsed in clean water once or twice, wrung out (through a wringer or by hand) and hung out to dry on long lines held up by ‘clothes props’.
  • Advertisements were part of cinema programs from the early days of cinema in the 1890s and often reflected the structures and conventions of feature films or, like this Rinso advertisement, cartoons, communicating their messages in story form. The preference of soap companies for this style of advertising led to their later association with radio and television dramas, and so to the emergence of the term ‘soap opera’ – ‘soap’ because of this funding association and ‘opera’ as an ironic reference to their melodramatic plots.
  • This clip comprises a series of well-executed illustrations by a cartoonist credited in the titles as ‘Hicks’. This sequence of images works like a cartoon strip, with a voice-over in place of speech bubbles and the features of the characters and their reactions exaggerated for comic effect. However, Henry’s outburst, which is depicted as a literal explosion, is animated.
  • Animated advertisements were popular in cinemas and, after 1956, on television, which brought advertisements into the home and therefore to a much wider audience. Animated advertisements promoted a wide range of products, from cars and flysprays to breakfast cereals. A simple animation, such as the one shown in this clip, was relatively inexpensive to make.
  • The advertisement features the Rinso brand of soap powder, introduced into Australia after the First World War. Rinso was manufactured by Unilever from 1918 and was one of the first mass-marketed soap powders, taking the place of soap cut from a bar. Powdered soaps were used exclusively until the introduction of heavy-duty detergents in the late 1940s. Increasing competition from other brands saw sales of Rinso drop during the 1950s and Unilever removed the product from the market in the mid-1970s.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production Company:
J Walter Thompson