It was enough to shatter any entente cordiale between Hanley’s Piccadilly and Paris’s Champs Élysées.
An advertising campaign launched by Air France in 1993 had Potteries folk choking on their oatcakes. The airline had come up with a poster, tempting Brits to sample the delights of the French capital.
It showed an elegant candle-lit restaurant in Paris…and compared the place with a greasy spoon café in Stoke-on-Trent.
Both were ‘just an hour and 25 minutes away’, read the advertising patter. Presumably referring to the travel time from London, although they didn’t offer direct flights to Hanley.
The Air France campaign prompted The Sentinel to dispatch columnist John Abberley and photographer Dave Trumble to Paris to check out the competition.
They arrived back with images of rubbish-strewn streets, dark and dingy watering holes, and the pièce de résistance – a snap of a grotty, graffiti-scrawled café.
That image formed the centrepiece of a counter advertising campaign. We turned the tables on the airline by featuring one of the less salubrious eateries in the district of Barbes.
To show Stoke-on-Trent’s culinary offer, our poster pictured a young couple savouring the gourmet food at the Moat House in Etruria.
The copy read: “Springtime in Paris, France, just an hour and 25 minutes away…So is Stoke-on-Trent (and we’ve got superior tableware). You can’t beat a break in the Potteries.”
Sentinel readers could even cut out and keep their poster, which was printed on the front page. Copies were also distributed through business and tourist networks, with some sent to Air France itself, the French Embassy and the Mayor of Paris.
Sean Dooley, the then editor of the newspaper, said: “We might not be the most fashionable city in the world, and we do have our blackspots. But where doesn’t?
“We wanted to show there are areas of Paris we just wouldn’t tolerate in the Potteries. And we wanted to give Air France a well deserved kick in the fuselage.
“It’s one thing to have a sense of humour – but here we’re talking about a deliberately distorted image that could damage a lot of hard work building up our tourism business.”
Abbo, never normally short of an opinion in his columns, was similarly blunt in his assessment.
In a Sentinel colour piece, he wrote: “Take a short taxi ride from the smart pavement cafes of the Champs Élysées. and you see the springtime sun of Paris shining on streets of dirt and squalor.
“Even on a flying visit, you can find places in the French capital of today which would have been condemned and swept away years ago if they were in Stoke-on-Trent.”
As he and his travelling companion Dave were given a tour of the area, their taxi driver admitted never having heard of Stoke-on-Trent.
“Neither had two other taxi drivers we used,” added John. “One of them thought from our strange talk that we were from Yugoslavia.
“The only consolation was that all three had heard of Stanley Matthews. And they knew that an Englishman named Wedgwood made pottery.”
Touché Air France.