It is an iconic moment in movie history. When John Mills and Co finally arrive in the bar in Alexandria and get their mitts around the ice-cold glass of lager anticipated throughout the whole of Ice Cold in Alex. Just before Anthony Quayle gets hauled off as a PoW, rather than a spy, with the words: “All against the desert – the greater enemy.”
You can’t say they didn’t deserve it. Ducking and diving about the desert avoiding the Afrika Korps, wandering into minefields and quicksand, replacing the suspension on Katy, their Austin K2 ambulance, and hand cranking her up an escarpment in reverse. Well you would work up a thirst wouldn’t you?
The bar scenes were filmed at Elstree Studios some weeks after they returned from location. Real lager was used so that it looked right and the cast got a bit squiffy after knocking back glass after glass before getting the right shot. No wonder Sylvia Syms is staring at John Mills so soppily – definitely a case of beer goggles.
The point is that they really were drinking Carlsberg. When Carlsberg used the scene in their telly ads in the 1980s, it wasn’t media wizardry that put their logo on the ice-beaded glass — it was your actual 1950s product placement. (To be fair, they were only retaliating after Holsten had used clips of ICiA in an earlier advertising campaign.)
Sylvia Syms explained that the Danish beer had been chosen because they couldn’t possibly be seen to be drinking German lager, even though the beer referred to in the original novel was the Teutonic sounding Rhinegold.
The irony is that the Carlsberg trademark was a swastika for many years because of Carl Jacobsen’s interest in antiquity. With its additional four dots, it was a widely used symbol of prosperity and good fortune, at least if you were riding behind the panzers picking up the best bits of European artwork.
The swastika was in use up until World War II when it was quietly dropped, possibly because a division of jackbooted lawyers were massing on the Danish border threatening to sue over breach of intellectual copyright and infringement of their image rights.
This caused dismay in the Carlsberg marketing department who saw their strongest brand profile to help them break into the lucrative German beer market slipping from their hands.
Hired image consultants tried to rescue the situation by putting in a bid to use the lightning runes of the Schutzstaffel, but Himmler was holding out for a corporate sponsorship deal with IG Farben.
One last rearguard action was attempted when an advertising campaign was devised based on focus group research in Nuremberg, but the Carlsberg board vetoed the idea at the blue-sky creative stage. The storyboards featuring “If Carlsberg did antisemitism…” was the one and only example of the use of the strapline until it was resurrected in the 21st century.
The reason for this was never explained and the only clues are to be found in the company’s early history. Jacob Jacobsen had wanted to use the six-pointed Star of David for his bottles of export lager (supposedly because it was an old brewing symbol) but this trademark was already owned by Wm. Younger and Co.
In its place, he chose the twelve-pointed star with an inner star which bears more than a passing resemblance to the all-seeing eye symbol of the Illuminati and the New World Order.
And that’s the real reason why John Mills and Sylvia Syms were drinking Carlsberg in an Alexandrian bar. It was a secret sign to the shadowy powers behind the throne. It’s just that we haven’t worked out the significance of the way the sizes of the heads on the beer changes between takes. Surely not simple continuity errors, but something far more sinister.
Because if Carlsberg did conspiracy theories…