Brian Jackson The Man from Del Monte

Interviewed on 5th December, 2013.
Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 22.23.44
I recorded this interview with Brian Jackson, the Man from Del Monte, in December 2013, right before my wife and I had our second child. I then seem to have lost over of my life to helping look after our baby, so this interview has been extremely delayed in being published! To all fans of the fantastic Del Monte TV commercials, I hope you enjoy this interview with a charming and fascinating actor.

I’ve got lots of happy memories watching the Del Monte commercials and watching Brian travel across the globe, tasting fruit juice with local fruit growers hanging on his every nod. They really are classic commercials and it was great to learn a bit more about the man behind the fedora.

The video clip below is from the YouTube channel called TheManfromDelMonte.

Podcast links



I’m sitting here with Brian Jackson, a man with a wealth of acting experience and who many of our Retromash listeners will know as the iconic Man from Del Monte. Hello Brian, how are you sir?

Yes, Hi Michael. How are you?

I’m very well thank you.

Jolly good.

I just want to say I really appreciate you being here with us and letting us interview you, so thank you very much indeed. If I may I’d like to jump right in and ask you how did you become the Man from Del Monte? Was there an audition process? Or how did it all start?

delmonte08It’s a bit of a mystery actually. I’ll never know the real answer. All I know is that my agent at the time, Marjorie Armstrong, was known as a personal manager, when they really did manage actors’ careers, and she called me and said, I’ll never forget this, she didn’t say “I’ll never forget this”, but she said, “Oh there’s some awful advertising people wanting to see you, Brian”. She was a bit posh but lovely with it. She handled ten actors and twelve actresses and just personally managed them, not one of these big agencies where they have everybody. And I said well that sounds interesting Marjorie what’s it about. “Oh it’s something to do with a drink. I’ve told them you might not be interested.” I thought…”Marjorie?”. Because I hadn’t been with her very long. Commercial people pay a lot of money for appearing to do nothing. And the next thing is she said “Well, I’ve said you may not be interested but would you like to go and see them?”. And I said yes please call them back. So to cut a long story to the quick she said she “I’ll arrange an interview”. So I went along to McCann Ericson, Howland Street and I thought it was a bit strange because usually there was a group of about three or four other actors waiting to go in because there’s a slowness in the audition pace and you have to wait and then you’re shown in, you do your bit, you’re asked the questions, you do another, whatever. But there was no-one there. It was just me. I later found out that the casting people were at their wit’s end because the people from Del Monte and the owners, Nabisco Foods from America, a giant, had been to London previously looking for the man that they wanted to do the Del Monte products. And they’d been to New York and they’d been to Los Angeles doing castings and they’d come back and the casting director was at her wit’s end and talked to another casting director, her friend, and said “I’m at my wit’s end. I can’t find this person that they want, because they’ve got such a specific description of him”. So this casting director who was the appointed one said to the friend who was a Thames Television casting director, whom I’d just worked for, said, “Well it sounds as though you need someone like Brian Jackson”. So that’s how I got it. I walked into this audition, that’s why I was the only one there because they called me specifically. And then there’s a small studio in Howland Street where McCann Ericson used to be and the next thing is that I’m shown in this room and there’s about 20 people there which is unheard of. Normally there’s the cameraman, or something like that, or the casting director or the assistant, maybe a client, or maybe two clients, and that’s usually the lot. But here there were about 15 to 20 people! And I thought, “This is very strange.” One of the curious questions was, “Would you mind being made famous?”. I made a joke of it and said, “Well how much are you paying?”. So that was the end of it. So it wasn’t an ordeal, it wasn’t something competitive. It was just something that fell into my lap, which nearly didn’t get there because of dear Marjorie saying originally, “I told them you may not be interested.” And that was really it.

And you were the first ever Man from Del Monte is that right?

No no no. What happened was, Nabisco Foods, the owners. By the way Nabisco Foods is owned by R.J. Reynolds one of the giant internationals, certainly in the States and North America, who own that, who own that, who own that, and way down the line is Del Monte Foods International and they’re split up into various franchises around the world. And they had set the tone at, they’d spent something like a million dollars on forming psychological outlines or description of the entity they wanted to place between the product and the purchaser. And their research told them that the purchaser, the main purchaser of their particular goods, Del Monte goods, products, were female, the vast majority were female, and they wanted an entity or something to come between the product and the purchaser that could be trusted and looked as though it could be trusted. And the analyses, or the people doing the analysis or project, came up with, well it’s male, he is caucasian, because he had to be accepted in the Orient, in Asia, and America, to all the ethnic minorities, because it was a worldwide campaign. But they came up with white, cosmopolitan. He has to be of a certain age. Over 40, possibly over 50, and have quiet authority, so that a purchaser, ladies in the supermarket, could trust that person, and that was the brief. And apparently I fitted this without even knowing it.

I believe you spent 6 years in that role?

Well they were shown longer than that. They were shown for about 7 years.

Can you remember how many adverts?

Yes. 25. 26. But the point about was… you asked another question.

Were you the first Man from Del Monte?

Oh the first one, no I wasn’t the first one. The first one was an American. And their analysis of that, or the reaction, the audience research was that he was too sinister. When I saw it, when they showed it to me, I must say it looked like a Mafioso come in to the farm, the fruit farm, and the orchards and saying ok, and he did he looked quite sinister. So they wanted to get away from that completely. And this is why the Del Monte commercials went down big in Japan, Italy, all over the world, except America. There’s a bit of jealousy going on between the production companies. But that’s another story.

What was actually involved in the role? What was the schedule like when making an advert?

delmonte02It was very easy. The contract was that I was to do 5 commercials a year, but exclusivity was the beautiful baby that my lawyer did the contract, not Marjorie, so she threw up her hands saying, “Oh there are two attorneys coming from San Francisco to do your contract. Do you know? I’m terrified of these people”. So my lawyer, a lovely guy called John Elford, did the contract. He was used to doing music contracts and singing artists, lots of names. But he did a beautiful contract.

And was there ever actually any speaking in your roles in the adverts or would you call it relatively easy acting or was it a challenge recording in those hot exotic locations?

It was not hard to act something where you just wander along and pick up a peach, or look at a pear or a pineapple or a banana or some Canadian corn or a tomato, and look at it and say, “Hmm”, just nod. But I wasn’t conscious of nodding or putting my finger saying yes. But no, but the answer is no, he never spoke. It was always related speech. And this is the beauty of the concept of it, was that it could go into any country in the world in any language, because the related speech was the clever bit. It was always the pilot, the driver, or the farmer who said “The Man from Del Monte says Yes”. He never said Yes. But sometimes he said No, in some of the commercials. But then, then when it was ripe… but anyway you’d have to look at all the commercials. But they were all great.

You didn’t spend rehearing your nod then?

(laughs) No, no. It was just something that happened. In fact the first one I did was an orange one, orange juice in Florida, and the director was a rather strange man who never spoke to me, even at the fitting, the wardrobe fitting, and then when we got to Florida, the fruit farm. And he never spoke to me. He always relayed his desires through the first assistant. And I thought well this is very very strange. This was the beautiful one arriving in a white Grumman sea plane. Have you seen that one? It is a lovely looking thing. A beautiful plane. And getting out of this plane landing in the hacienda or the farm house the orange grove grower is there pensive, waiting, wondering, tension rising. The Man from Del Monte is going to taste, going to squeeze an orange, going to taste the juice, and it’s all critical. And then I just squeeze the quarter of the orange, put it in the glass, tasted it, and I did something. I don’t know what I did, I just approved to the guy. Cut. And there’s a conference going on, and the first assistant came and said he wants, Fred, Joe, whatever he was called, dreadful director because he never spoke to me, he never spoke to anyone. And he said oh will you not do that finger pointing thing. And I said well yeh did I? And he said well yes you did, you took a sip and then you went, with your index finger, and I don’t want you to do that, he doesn’t want you to do that. So right, take two. So we run it again. He came back. And I did it again, subconsciously. Because as I’m doing this with this glass, I take a sip of this and I go, hmm, and the index finger just came out, as you can see, I know you’re recording the sound, but you can see the glass in hand and the index finger comes out going a nod of approval. And he said no I just want, he just wants you to do the nod. And I said did I nod? And that was it. It became part of it. It was not necessary because sometimes the fingers, but usually even when I was slicing a banana, with the piece of banana on the edge of the blade of a very sharp knife, even the index finger just automatically, because it’s the act that’s a subconscious thing. So it wasn’t a rehearsed or thought up thing, or a directed thing, it just happened. It relates to acting because if you go to Stanislavsky or any of the decent things, any of the decent schools, I never went to a drama school, I was never taught in my life, I just did it, they would, they teach you this inner self, you believe it, and whatever emotion comes out that’s it, it’s correct. And it’s right, it’s correct. So that little thing, that nod, that finger, lots of instances in all the commercials was just accepted. There’s a story attached because later, a couple of years after, I was doing a tomato or a banana commercial for an Italian director who didn’t speak English, which was a bit difficult, and then through the interpreter and the first assistant who spoke English, it was the interpreter I think, he said now you do your thing. And I was completely baffled, I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. And I said to the translator, what do you mean ‘thing’? And he said, well you know what you do when you approve it. And I said yeh ok. And he said well do it, do your thing. So that was that.

delmonte09So were those your hands actually slicing the bananas and slicing the pineapples?

Yeah, sure. But if you see the, what is it, the man, Major somebody in Kentucky Fried? Major Sanders?

Colonel Sanders

Colonel Sanders. Right. Did I promote him? Demoted! I demoted him. I was in the Navy myself so I don’t know about these Army things. If you see those hands spreading, in the TV commercials, spreading, sprinkling herbs and cutting tomatoes, they’re mine. The ones in Del Monte yeh, they’re mine. Except for one. Where they wanted to do a packed shot and I wasn’t around. Somebody else’s hands came in. But I don’t know which one it was. I think it was one of the three pineapple ones I did.

It’s not your hands in the Kentucky Fried Chicken adverts though? You didn’t mean that?

Yes. Sorry didn’t I make that clear?

Oh right fantastic.

Fame you see. Even my hands are famous!

Were most of the locations in Florida or did you travel wider afield?

There were, Marble Arch would you believe, one of them. That was a Del Monte drink. A rather comic one with guardsmen and London bobbies, combing their feet in the water, in the ponds at Marble Arch. Another one was in Henley-on-Thames, at a regatta. South Africa, in Hottentot Land. If you ever get the chance to go to South Africa, Cape Colony, go to Hottentot Land. It is, oh it is absolutely wonderful. It’s got mountain lions, god knows what. I was swimming one day, they have lots of little lakes and large ponds, and I was swimming one day in one of these, up in the mountains, highlands, the northern highlands of Cape Province, in the area, it’s Hottentot Land where the Hotten Tots used to go, used to be, and they still are really in the area, and I was swimming, I had finished for the day or something, and I was swimming in one of these small lakes, and lots of rocks and trees, and I thought there’s somebody watching me and it was a mountain lion. Yeh, just sitting there, just watching me, and I thought hmm they don’t swim do they? (laughs). But yes that was a great place, that was wonderfully exotic. And then Kenya, went there three times, and there’s an area called Thika. There was a book, that was very popular at the time, called The Flame Trees of Thika and we were just north of there. A vast plantation of pineapples. Went there three times. First time, it’s very red soil, looks beautiful, very photogenic, and the pineapples, the pineapple commercial. And the first time the monsoons that hadn’t been there for three years suddenly arrived the day after we started, so that got washed out. We had to go back and do it, because the red wonderful soil turned red mud. And what was it.

South America?

No, not South America. Florida, Canada, Italy, did several in Italy.

And were you well looked after when you had to go to these locations?

Well thanks to John Elford, my lawyer, and his contract, everything was first class, including travel, including travel for my wife. If I had to be away for more than seven days she could travel also first class, but she never got that chance, unfortunately, for various reasons. But everything was first class. I was spoilt, baby!

Now, in your role you had to dress completely in white. Were there ever any annoying stains from the oranges or while you were having your lunch on a break between filming?

No, and that’s not correct, they weren’t all white, they were cream. And they were different. If you see them, stop frame, you’ll see that most of the suits were different. They were mostly cream. There was only one that was white. I think that was an Italian one, that was white silk. All the shirts were cream silk or white silk. And the Panama hats were all different if you really look at them, according to whether it was an Italian Del Monte shoot or Canadian Del Monte or English or whatever. In one I was even wearing an old school tie, I think it was an old, not an old Etonian, I can’t remember the tie. But no they were different. But what I’ve just spoken about, the rains, the monsoons that arrived in Kenya, they splashed everywhere, and of course before that the dust rose and I had to be carried from the make up tent to the platform where we were filming so that I wouldn’t get red dust on my, because it was everywhere, it blew up in the air. No. Squeezing orange juice, I remember squeezing a piece of orange and it squirted in my eye, you know how juice squirts sometimes, right in my eye, and I turned to the camera and did the classic, which would be perfect for outtakes or It’ll Be Alright On The Night. But Del Monte will never allow any of those outtakes, because it holds their product in disrepute, the same way you never see any Del Monte commercials in the 100 Best Commercials. You never see it. They won’t allow their… to be competitive. And that’s why you never see them. I remember my sister phoning saying oh I’m watching the… and they’re down to number 20 so yours must be in the last 20. And I said well I did a lot, which one. And they got down to the last 10, and then the final one, the best one, and it’s got to be that, it’s got to be a Del Monte commercial. No, it was Guinness, the wonderful horses, the waves. Terrific commercial. And she was saying you’re not in the 100 Best Commercials? No, because they would say no. And that’s why they would never allow, there were loads of things for outtakes but no.

You mentioned how it was a really big advert successful all round the world, were you recognised in the streets in other countries or in the UK at all?

Never. Never, never, never. I was once being measured for something on something other on TV I was doing. And the guy was taking my inside leg measurement and as he was doing it he said, “We are the Man from Del Monte are we not sir?”. That was the only time I was recognised, and a young lady ran across the road, I was walking down Regent Street doing whatever, and this young lady came screaming across the road saying, “It’s him, it’s him, it’s him!”. And she came up to me and she’s shouting abuses back to her boyfriend across the road who was ambling, stopping all traffic because he was a man mountain, boom, boom, boom, and said “Ah you stupid… I told you it was him. You are him aren’t you?”. I never knew what she was talking about it, they never actually said anything. And I just stood and watched these people argue and the girl said, “Nah, I told my effing Mum, she won’t know what she missed. It’s him.” And I sort of slowly walked away from them arguing but I never knew what she thought. The guy measuring, that’s the only one who… friends of course said nice things. And the reason, the reason is because you expected, you associated the man arriving, he always arrived in a helicopter, a Grumman seaplane, a classic Mercedes, or a wonderful Ferrari or something that was really unusual, you didn’t expect to see him in Starbucks or walking down the street. And I remember buying a car once and my wife was there and there was a yellow car I fancied, and the guy said I’ve seen his face. I know him. She said yes he’s the Man from Del Monte. And he said, oh my god. But there you are that’s the thing, it’s association with… and I’m a jobbing actor as opposed to a star, who is saying yes, who is approving a product, whereas I’m a jobbing actor acting a character selling a product in a commercial, and that’s the difference. And the thing about getting stars and names, it’s a proven fact now, and this is why you get very few names now expect in very odd commercials where they’ve stopped using names because people remember the actors but they don’t remember the product.

Is it a time in your life, working as the Man from Del Monte, that you look back on with happy memories?

Oh it changed our lives. Yeah, oh it changed our lives. I mean, everything changed. It changed my acting life in that for quite a few years after that nobody wanted to, I had done hundreds of televisions up to that point, even though I was, before that I was the Allied Carpet commercial man and did that, I had a three year contract with that, but that was just for the UK. But casting directories were like, “No, no, no we don’t him he’s too well known as the Man from Del Monte.” So my television acting roles just disappeared, and anyway I was busy with my studios as well and I was also doing consultancy work for Encyclopedia Britannica, their educational division, film division.

You touched upon your earlier acting work and you do have a wealth of acting experience working in amazing movies and programmes like a Carry On movie, Revenge of the Pink Panther, The Avengers, The New Avengers, Eastenders even. Have you got any highlights or special memories from those amazing experiences in the past?

delmonte05It’s curious you should use the word amazing, because they’re not amazing when you’re a working actor, it’s a job. And you just do it. The next script arrives and the agent phones and says oh we’ve got so and so, do you fancy it? There was a time when scripts arrived to the agency or to myself and you approved it. And if you approved it you’d say yeh I’ll do this or is the money right, how much are they paying? It’s a commercial thing. You do the part for the money. That’s a jobbing actor.

Were there any interesting memories though working with stars such as Peter Sellers?

You’ll have to read my book!

I will!

Peter Sellers, I had a scene with him, a short scene. He was a nice guy. Yeh, he was a nice guy. I thought he was a bit, he had a weird sense of humour I thought, but I didn’t have lunch with him or drinks with him or anything like that, because quite often you might shoot your scene, your dialogue, and the person you’re talking to is not there, they’re in Latin America doing something else.

Would you recommend a life in acting if any aspiring young actors are out there thinking about it?

Definitely no.

Why not?

delmonte04Oh god. It’s an attractive job. The media, with all good respect to your good self, and I think you’re part of the media, paints a picture that it’s wonderful and it’s all parties and first nights. It’s not. It’s bloody hard work. Often getting up at half past three or four o’clock in the morning, getting to the place, sitting in a chair, waiting around for hours, and they might get to your scene at 4 o’clock in the afternoon by which time you’re absolutely fed up to the teeth. Sometimes, as it did in Heroes of Telemark, I sat in a hotel in Poole in Dorset for a week and I did one long shot. I went to Morocco years ago, to do a film, spent another week doing, I did a shot on a battlement, and when I actually saw it I was in long shot and all you could hear was [high pitched shouting]. And that was it. So it is not the glamour, for a jobbing actor, it’s alright if you hit the high spots and become a name or a star, I mean that’s another world. But me, the mast majority…there’s something like, in the UK alone 70,000 registered actors with Equity, plus others who are not, and at any one time something like 70-80% are not employed. It’s probably the worst job in the world if you are looking to earn a living. Don’t do it.

When you’re waiting around, hanging around on the set, what do you do with yourself?

Hopefully learn the next script that you’re doing, or read or write. That’s it.

You performed in many different areas in your life. You’ve performed on the stage, and in musicals in the past, TV, movies and adverts of course. What differences acting-wise are there in these different media and you have got any preference?

Well, you’ve not mentioned the one I really love and that’s radio. I’ve done a lot of radio plays. The beauty about radio is first of all you don’t have to learn the lines! And secondly is that you paint with your voice. To the ear and the imagination of your listener. And they can draw the background in their own mind. That’s wonderful. I love radio drama. There’s no preference. Filming is a bit of a pain. The waiting around. Endless. You get paid more. Stage is the most fulfilling of all of them because you go on, particularly with a new play, or even with an old play… Duncan in the ‘Scottish play’, excuse me, the superstition of not mentioning ‘that’ word, and although it’s been played thousands of times, worldwide probably many thousands of time, but you still do it your way and create it your way. And from the beginning of the run to right to the end you’re always thinking of nuances and differences. You don’t get that with film or television. Particularly television today, I’ve just done a Doctors, and you get absolutely no time, you’ve got to know your lines, there and then, and you’ve got to do it, and if you get a chance to do a second take it’s probably a technical reason why, but they print often the first take. That’s it. They move on to the next. And when you look at Eastenders and all the popular ones, Coronation Street, Holby City. Holby City and I think the Saturday night one, Casualty, they get a little more time. But generally the soaps that are on two or three times a week they get no chance, they just shoot it and if you’re good at that giving them a performance of sorts, it doesn’t matter about the intensity or the meaning and that’s why some of it is so… well they need a little more time to rehearse is the kindest way, thing to say. So filming is ok. I’ve been on set with, sometimes, and they’ve shot it over and over again, takes 30 or 40 takes, not for me, but on the other side, until they get perfection. So it’s a perfectionist’s art, the good films. Stage is the best thing to do, but not well paid. Commercials are great, but they can do you damage.

How did you get started in acting? You mentioned earlier that you didn’t attend drama school at all.

No, well I’d always been keen on, well I went in the Navy, Fleet Air Arm, I was an air crew cameraman, Fleet Air Arm, photographer and did a long degree course actually, Royal Navy School of Photography. So I’m qualified, highly qualified as a photographer which is part of my business interests which I developed and then, but I was always keen on, as an amateur actor. And I used to go to the local, the local rep called me in to play bits and pieces and things like that when they wanted an extra detective or a vicar or something like that. I did quite a lot of that with the local rep and I thought “I love this” and the local dramatical societies. And I thought they were great. Loved it. So one day I thought I’m going to spend, I was nearly 30, and I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life regretting never having tried, so I tried. I came to London, I found out there was an open audition, which they don’t do these days, which they should these companies, the National Theatre, all these companies who take public money or government money or lottery money should have open auditions. Open auditions mean advertise and anybody comes, you just write in or call in. But no it’s not so. It’s completely wrong that the National should get millions and millions of ratepayers’ money and taxpayers’ money and lottery money and yet they don’t hold what they call open auditions. The same with the Globe Theatre. Glorious theatres, beautiful. They don’t hold open auditions. Now, you know, this is crazy. I went to an open audition at The Old Vic and I was taken on and I played a part straight away, because, well I don’t know why, but there you go.

delmonte06And you’re still acting just now. Would you ever plan on retiring at all?

Sorry, say that again?

That will be a no then.

That will be a no, but I tell you, this business… you don’t retire from this business, it retires you! I tell you.

And how does Brian Jackson relax in his spare time, if you have any?

How do you spell it? (laughs) I don’t know. I’m always doing something. Always doing something. Straight up, I do not seem to have any time. I never about relaxing. I’m always on about the next thing that I’m doing. And I’m still working. But like I said, the business retires you. If the phone stops ringing, you know you’re retired, and they’re ain’t nothing you can do about it.

Ok now we’ve reached the part of the show that we call the Five Fast Facts.

No.1 – What is your favourite drink?
Rum. I’ve not got a favourite drink as such. That’s a lie. I love a good wine, particularly from Languedoc region in France, I love Riojas, good full bodied from Spain, I love South African wines, Chilean wines, I love my Glenmorangie and my single malt, brandies. When I’m in the mood I have Campari, which I love, and Pastiche in France. I love all these drinks. But if I had to say a single drink I’d be torn between hot chocolate and Rum.

No.2 – What is your favourite meal?
Yes, that’s no problem. Steak and kidney pie and mash potatoes.

No.3 – What is your favourite movie?
Impossible. Impossible question. There’s so many fantastic films, no, no. Dr Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, the epics.

No.4 – What is your favourite song?
No, I love singing. And I go to all the musicals, here in the West End, and when I’ve been in America, on Broadway I’ll go to see a musical, or in Russia I go to Moscow, which I do frequently. No favourite song. I can’t think of one.

No.5 – What is your favourite travel destination?
Yes, I have. Very definitely, the one coming home.

Brian, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you and on behalf of all our listeners I’d like to say thank you very much indeed.

You are very welcome.


Huge thanks to Brian Jackson for taking the time to appear on the podcast, being an amazing guest and for letting me into his home.

You can find more about Brian Jackson here.

Music – Happy Chiptune by Soniau
Voiceovers by Spike Real