Introducing…the Swedish Bikini Team

They might be as Swedish as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but they have been flying the blue and yellow colours for more than fifteen years. This week's Introducing... gets up close and personal with the Swedish Bikini Team

Who are they and why are they famous?

The Swedish Bikini Team stepped out of the sea and into the limelight in 1991. Once accurately described as ‘vixens of beerdom’, the swimwear Swedes quickly skedaddled off the scene and were last spotted dancing to rock music in a cottage in Lapland just a few months after their breakthrough.

There are about fifty possible follow-up questions but let’s start with this one: What the hell are you babbling on about?

Right. Well phrased, sir. Let’s put it this way: the Swedish Bikini Team’s exit from the world stage was facilitated by the fact that it had never really existed in the first place.

Well, that makes it clear as sausage water, as they say in these parts.

Bear with me a moment. The thing is, Sweden does not have, nor has it ever had, a bikini team. Now that’s not to say that there is no such thing as a bikini team. The USA, for example, has plenty of them. There’s the west coast Kwicherbichen team (say it aloud, you may find it amusing). Then there’s the Cajun Spice team from Louisiana, as well as a couple of combos in Florida. But all of these bearers of beachwear have ready access to a commodity that Sweden sadly lacks.

What? Mescaline?

No, you incorrigible clodhopper, I meant the sun.

Oh right. So who were these Scandinavian lovelies then?

Firstly, it is interesting to note that not a single flailing Nordic limb was to be found among the Swedish Bikini Team’s ranks. The girls, all of them American, were hired to help market Old Milwaukee beer. Platinum blonde Swedish strand maidens were considered a perfect complement to the brewer’s slogan: ‘It doesn’t get any better than this’.

What doesn’t?

Life. Life, that is, for a group of young men spending time together in the great outdoors. In the ads, the underdressed pseudo-Swedes would always arrive on the scene, perhaps by parachute, just in time to counteract the onset of tedium.

And then they’d sit all down for coffee and a bun and discuss the pros and cons of turbo-charged Keynesianism?

What? No, they’d all dance, drink beer and perhaps entertain the notion of entering into transatlantic trysts. For the young men at whom the campaign was aimed, it just didn’t get any better than that.

But imagine if they could have had all of the above as well as a unionized job, generous children’s allowance and a secure state pension. Surely it doesn’t get any better than that?

Stop it, you’re being difficult. This campaign had nothing to do with the differing worldviews of wealthy nations. It was about fun, sex and beer, all done in a manner intended to parody more po-faced beer commercials in which cameras lingered shamelessly on the female form without the slightest sense of fun.

And how was the campaign received?

It was incredibly popular to start with. The Swedish Bikini Team became so well-known that they appeared in a couple of episodes of Married… With Children before accepting Playboy’s invitation to shed their famed blue and yellow bikinis.

Cripes. They’d come a long way from the mind of an advertising guru. What made them go from major league and widely loved to itsy bitsy and teenie weenie?

Following complaints from some female employees, a lawyer took exception to the brewer’s bevy of bikini girls and accused the makers of Old Milwaukee of creating a working climate that was conducive to sexual harassment. In the words of Patrick Scullin, one of the campaign’s creators, the Swedish Bikini Team came to represent “the politically incorrect evil that lurks in our loins”.

Let me guess the next bit: Old Milwaukee backed slowly out of the room, whistled a happy tune and pretended never to have rubbed the lamp that first unleashed the beast.

Something like that, yes. Coming as it did at a time of some high profile sexual harassment lawsuits, the allegations caused the manufacturer to lose its bottle. As broadcasters and beer-makers began distancing themselves from the flashing of flesh, the surrogate Swedes didn’t stand a polka dot’s chance in hell of starring in a new campaign.

So what became of them?

A final ad spot for Old Milwaukee featured the usual flannel-trousered youths frying fish and proclaiming that it didn’t get any better than this. Except this time it really didn’t. The buxom blondes were not in Kansas any more. Instead they had returned to their faraway land, never to set foot on American shores again.

And nobody ever found the bikinis in the vaults of history and tried them on for size?

Now that you mention it, a replica team emerged some years back to carry on the noble legacy. The new Swedish Bikini Team even took the innovative step of involving actual Swedish women. The revitalized vamps went on to star in the Bond-meets-Charlie’s-Angels feature film Never Say Never Mind.

It doesn’t get better than that.

Well, actually, it does. Very little has been heard from them since. Perhaps they, like the originals, have been banished to a Lapp cottage.

So is this an appropriate moment to make a Lapp dancing joke?