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I was canned; Carol Smillie on how she missed being a Tennent's Lager girl.

Byline: LESLEY ROBERTS

IT HAS taken 15 years for Carol Smillie to reveal her most embarrassing secret... she got canned as a Tennent's girl.

Carol admits she never got over being rejected as a Lager Lovely.

"There have been many things written about me since I made the big time," says the TV star.

"Many things I have confessed to but the one thing I have to get off my chest is that I was the can girl who got away."

Carol makes her tongue-in-cheek confession in a fascinating BBC documentary about the Lager Lovelies to be screened next week.

She was a model in the late 80s when brewery firm Tennents were recruiting a fresh line-up of 'can girls'.

The idea of carrying pictures of scantily-clad women on the side of tins was rapidly approaching its sell-by date. So the chosen few would become the last of nearly 40 years of Lager Lovelies.

Today, those cans are worth thousands of pounds to collectors and some even reside in a university's archive

Carol was among a select group of promotions girls invited to the top-secret auditions. But while her glamorous friends landed a place on the sides of the cans, Carol was the only one who did not make the last round.

"The last girls who went on the cans were my really close friends," says Carol. "Not just in modelling terms but in personal terms, too. I socialised with them, we went out everywhere together, and I was the one who didn't get on the cans - which was kind of rotten at the time."

While her pals - Karen Thomson, Linda Renton, Fiona Taylor and Natalie Walker - all became Lager Lovelies, Carol lost out.

They quickly became known - by their first names only - all over the country.

But Carol had to make do with some stints as a hospitality girl at the annual Tennent's Sixes indoor football tournament, while she waited for her big break. However, she did escape the humiliation of joining a Tennent's Girls dance troup.

They were so bad, the choreographer resigned twice.

Bill Nolan, former head of public relations at Tennents, says: "They were lovely looking girls and they could disco dance. But you couldn't put them on a stage and expect them to follow steps. They were falling into one another. They danced like boards."

Carol was also spared the trauma of posing with monster-sized cans of lager in one of Glasgow's busiest streets on a blustery day.

The wind blew the girls into the middle of the road, dodging cars and buses, while clutching cardboard tins and dressed in swimsuits.

"The photographers thought it would be a good idea for the girls to pick up the cans," says Bill Nolan.

"It was a good idea - till the wind caught them."

Not that Carol avoided embarrassing photo shoots altogether. Life as a Glasgow model wasn't easy, whether or not you were a Tennent's girl.

"Modelling in those times was real dodgy stuff if you looked at it now," she says. I look at all my old modelling pictures and wonder how my father didn't have a heart attack.

"The Page Three thing was not as unacceptable as it is now.

"I started as a game show hostess and that's frowned upon today. But at the time, I didn't think anything about it.

"It was a natural progression from modelling. You pouted, stuck your lips out, stuck your bum out and that was perceived as glamorous.

"Now you look like a bit of an old slapper."

More than 40 women appeared on the Tennent's cans and, at the height of their fame, the Tennent's girls were real celebrities, even featuring in adverts alongside Morecambe and Wise.

They jetted off to sunshine locations for exotic photo shoots, stayed in the best hotels and travelled in chauffeur-driven limousines.

Even though they're all a bit older and wiser now, the girls who graced the cans have few regrets.

"It was a good contract to get," says former Miss Scotland, Lorraine Davidson.

"It was probably the best contract to get in terms of Scottish modelling, because of the exposure and the pay.

"They took me off to the Bahamas to shoot a TV commercial and I got paid something like pounds 600 a day while I was there.

"I came back and bought a sports car with cash."

Englishwoman Ann Johansen, who was the first Tennent's girl in 1962, is now 67 and has six grandchildren. She spends her free time helping out at the local Sunday school.

It a far cry from the images of her as a young woman, wrapped in a towel and stepping coyly into a bath that appeared on the cans.

"Some of the pictures were quite risque for the time," she says. "They wouldn't be by today's standards but they were then. It was a miracle I lasted for three series of cans. I was a mum and I was getting older - I think I had a very good run."

Nostalgia surrounding the Lager Lovelies has never been greater than it is now. The Scottish Brewing Archive at Glasgow University stores a collection of the cans in a temperature-controlled vault.

Collectors like Stephen Curry are prepared to pay thousands for an early series of cans.

He says: "I used to see the cans lying about in the streets and I thought: 'What wonderful objects.'

"They were just beautiful shiny objects with lovely pictures. They were almost like jewels scattered around on the ground.

"My favourite is an English-series can of Ann in Trafalgar Square. That's the Ming vase of Tennent's Lager Lovelies for collectors."

Those who harbour a secret desire to see the return of the 'can girls' are likely to be disappointed.

Mark Hunter, the man who finally killed them off, insists the decision wasn't taken lightly.

He says: "Because of the place the girls held in Tennent's history, I was asked to do a full board paper with all the risks and all the up-sides associated with it.

"So we interviewed a lot of men and a lot of women in Scotland. About 85 per cent of them weren't really that bothered.

"But we had about 15 per cent of the male population who said: 'Keep the girls but make them topless.'

"We knew then it was time for the company to move on."

It seems Carol Smillie has missed her chance for ever.

EX:S - Lager Lovelies, January 15, 10.35pm on BBC1
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 6, 2002
Words:1082
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