After long deliberations and “some experiment in rehearsal”, the producers of Last Tango in Halifax have opted to use a well-known brand name margarine in a much awaited key scene. Director Mike Smillers said: “We were pretty sure we weren’t going to use butter, even as an ‘homage’ to the French original. Someone bought 200 grams of salted Lurpak to the read through, but we ended up using it for sandwiches.”
The cast did experiment with lard in an early rehearsal. Co Star Anne Reid told the TV Times: “There was a lot going for the lard lobby. Very northern and down to earth, and no strain on the production budget. And luckily neither of us is a vegetarian. But after Dinner Ladies, I was uncomfortable with it, frankly, and so was Derek, eventually.”
Ms Reid continued: “Then there was talk of using one of these olive oil based spreads, because of the link with healthy diets and longer-living older Mediterranean folk. So we tried it a couple of times, but it wasn’t up to snuff. Nice on toast, mind. Of course we had to use a fresh spreading knife, each time.
“We also looked at the stuff advertised by Carol Vordemann, and she did, I have to say capture Derek’s imagination. Benecol is supposed to be great-tasting, and it lowers cholesterol, so there would be a double benefit. Carol came on set for a day, bless her, but it didn’t work out, despite Derek giving his utmost. Let’s face it, this is meant to be Halifax. We had to say to ourselves, this is an unremarkable northern community. What would this lovely old couple use in real life? In the end we plumped for Stork, course we did. I mean it’s traditional, apart from anything else. My mother baked with it, and my father loved it.”
The BBC then had to face product placement issues. “We have tight guidelines on this” said the BBC’s Head of Spreads, Janet Smivvers. “Last Tango’s popularity is such that we could have triggered a Delia Smith event, with millions of viewers using the ingredient as a result of seeing it on TV. The BBC must act responsibly and it is not allowed to advertise. We tried to get the production to refer simply to generic “margarine” in the dialogue, but they argued it was implausible. In the end we compromised. Product placement is always a matter of negotiation, especially where this product was placed. It was always going to be an uphill struggle.”