R Whites was established in 1845 by Robert and Mary White, who sold home-brewed ginger beer from a barrow in Camberwell. But it took another 128 years for the name ‘R Whites’ to become a household name, thanks to a man in striped pyjamas.
The ‘Secret Lemonade Drinker’ advertising campaign was born in 1973 when actor Julian Chagrin (a presenter on the children’s television show Vision On) tip-toed down the stairs in the middle of the night in his pyjamas, opened the fridge door, grabbed a bottle of R Whites lemonade and burst into the title song – just before his wife caught him at it.
“I’m a secret lemonade drinker, I’ve been trying to give it up but it’s one of those nights”, he sang (or rather Ross McManus – the real-life father of Elvis Costello – sang) in a specially-written song that wasn’t cringemakingly bad, and managed to mention the product name 20 times in as many seconds.
McManus and his then-teenage son played an even bigger part in another ad for R Whites, playing guitar and singing backing vocals for Julian Chagrin who was seen fronting a band called The Thirst.
Chagrin gave up the part of the Secret Lemonade Drinker after just a few ads and was replaced by Julian Dutton.
The ad was remade in the 90s and featured Jimmy Greaves, John McEnroe, Ronnie Corbett and Nicholas Parsons, amongst others.