Monday, August 22, 2011

And so the kiwifruit myth continues

I saw in Sunday's NZ Herald that Dame Christine Cole Catley has passed away, aged 88. In the obituary prepared and distributed by NZPA, however, a myth disproved late last year (and discussed by email with Dame Christine at the time) is still perpetuated. Why, I'm not sure. She had a wonderful career covering the real facts in her life, rather than this:

In 1961, while working as an advertising copywriter, she was tasked with renaming the Chinese Gooseberries to appease the American market, which was uncomfortable with the Communist overtones of the fruit's name. As a result, Dame Christine coined the name Kiwi berry, which later evolved to kiwifruit.
This myth sparked off Naming the Delicious Little Ray, which I published online in October last year. The following is from that article:

In March 1960, Grahame Turner had a telephone call from one of the Auckland opposition firms: the Fruitgrowers Federation.
“ … they asked me the position regarding the American market as this organisation is exporting on behalf of growers to Australia and to Great Britain. I told them in no uncertain terms that I considered there was definitely not room for more than one shipper. I don’t think they will ship this season but I am sure they will try and get in on the market should the quantities we send start assuming worthwhile proportions.”

Grahame Turner was right. Stan Conway and the Federation did remain determined to get into a market which, from the results of Turners & Growers’ efforts, seemed to be profitable for the Chinese gooseberry. But they certainly didn’t want their product mistaken for that of their opposition. Roly Earp in his book, wrote:
"Following correspondence, Stan visited the United States in 1961, and made a point of visiting the firm's headquarters taking several trays containing fruit conditioned for eating ... With the prospects of a large order for 1962 Stan was extremely disappointed when the tasting proved unfavourable ...This was a set back for Stan, for the growers, and for the Harry & David staff who had been very confident. In anticipation of a favourable response, the latter had already begun making arrangements for the following year, planning how they would handle the late change and make the necessary alteration to their promotional material at short notice. They had also taken steps to find a new name which it was intended would be exclusive to their own use."
Bolding mine. According to David Yerex and Westbrook Haines:
"Other exporters also tended to look on 'kiwifruit' as the Turners and Growers' name, and to think in terms of finding one for their own use. In 1962 the Fruitgrowers Federation put up a prize of 20 guineas to go to the advertising agency that could provide the best alternative name, and received over 60 suggestions. But in the event there appeared to be nothing that improved on the 'kiwi' label. The Federation did however plump for kiwi 'berry', instead of kiwifruit, and this was adopted for a time by both their UK agents and by Harry & David in the States ... "
Again, bolding mine.

Dame Christine Cole Catley, in an email to me in September this year, said that in the early 1960s she was a copywriter for the Wellington based office of the Catts-Patterson advertising firm. The firm was asked to come up with a list of alternatives to Chinese gooseberry, a name not wanted because of perceived “commie fruit” associations. She came up with “quite a few” possibilities, including kiwi berry. In a further email, she said that as far as she could remember none of the Catts-Patterson clients included those involving fruits, vegetables or any kind of plant. As well, neither before nor after the kiwi berry / kiwifruit naming instance was she asked by the Catts-Patterson firm to do anything for Turners & Growers.

The following may seem to the reader to be a rather long quote to include in this article. But, I do so because it is a chance to see Dame Christine’s own words on this subject. She provides background here as to how she came to be where she was employed in the early 1960s, when the other main instance of a name for the Chinese gooseberry arose.
“My family returned in May 1958 from years overseas. We'd decided to build a house so at once I sought a job as an advertising copywriter, beginning almost at once with Carlton Carruthers Du Chateau & King, in Molesworth St, Wellington. (Lew King was historian Michael King's father but I didn't know Michael until 1971 when he joined my journalism-teaching staff.) This work went well but a former employee (John Blennerhassett who happened to be an old friend of ours) was partly incapacitated and wanted to return from Australia to his old copywriting job with this same firm, so would I mind resigning in his favour? Of course, I said. I was given a handsome testimonial and within a week found another copywriting job, and at a higher salary.

“It's important to have some dates here but unhappily so far I haven't found any. Nor can I remember the name of my next agency employer, whose offices (long gone) were diagonally opposite Stewart Dawsons corner. I hadn't been there long at all when I was headhunted by Catts-Patterson Advertising Agency of Upper Cuba Street. This agency too has long gone.

“I find it really hard to believe that, within only 13 months of becoming a copywriter, and with my third employer, I became involved in thinking up another name for chinese gooseberries. That's why I've said all along that this must have occurred (for involved I most definitely was) in the early 1960s, probably 1961. It definitely happened at Catts-Pattersons, however.

“I am writing my autobiography, with three books planned. It's a kind of overview of social change in NZ over my lifetime. Book One will be published next year, taking me just past the Tangiwai disaster. Book Two will encompass our time working overseas, advertising copywriting, being TV critic etc for The Dominion etc, and teaching journalism at Wellington Polytechnic ... probably ending around the mid-1970s. So that's the book which will have the kiwifruit reference, and before long I'll be able to make a serious start on going through my huge accumulation of relevant but unsorted papers, clippings, diary and journal entries. There I hope I will find a date!

“Have I said clearly that the name of the Fruitgrowers' Federation was never mentioned to me? My two bosses -- and Lisa, I'd really appreciate your mentioning their names, George Lewis and Arthur King, in the hope that families/friends might have something to add, as surely this was just the kind of work-anecdote that would be passed around and some more detail might emerge -- never at any time said to me that Turners & Growers were clients. I don't know now whether I was told, "Turners & Growers want us to come up with possible names..." or "We've been asked to come up with possible names because Turners & Growers want to export...".

“Also please note that whoever it was who approached my firm came back later to them a SECOND time with the news, passed on to me, that "Mrs Turner liked kiwiberry but when a botanist was consulted he'd said it was a fruit, not a berry." TWO contacts! We were all pleased and that was that, except that I told the story stressing my carelessness in not thinking to get a botanist involved. "A cautionary tale," I told students. "Always check such things."

“I must take up the matter in my Book Two because many people have heard that I was the one who came up with "kiwi". I will do my best to convey everyone's views, and will be happy to let interested people have a preview, and get back to me. Similarly, Lisa, I'd love to see your finished piece. It's just occurred to me that Carlton Carruthers may still have staff records and could tell me when I left them, so I'll ask them. But I think it's only a faint possibility that I was working for three agencies within a space of 13 months ... A mystery indeed, but to me the questions are WHO asked Catts-Patterson for help, when, and why.”
After she wrote this, Dame Christine contacted me on 14 October and said that The Kiwifruit Story’s description of the 1962 “20 guineas” competition does closely match her recollections – although there is still the matter of no mention made at the time, as she remembers, regarding the Fruitgrowers Federation, or the prize itself.

Turners & Growers had come up with, and decided on the "kiwifruit" name in mid-1959, the process clearly documented at the time. But, in the light of the obituary this month, so it seems, the Cole Catley myth concerning her part in creating the famous trade name appears likely to continue.


  1. Oh no, not the Delicious Little Ray again. That single post nearly did my head in with research.

  2. Apparently, Andrew, it still wasn't enough. Unfortunately. Don't worry, I shan't ask you to read it all again ...

  3. I was an employee of Catts-Patterson, late 1959 (Sept) to 1964. My first job out of school.
    Mention is made of, to quote "whose offices (long gone) were diagonally opposite Stewart Dawsons corner".
    She is referring to Catts-Patterson Advtg. who were on the top floor of the "CML" bldg. before relocating to the Cuba Mall, above "La Normandie" restaurant.
    John Skinner