Khrushchev, Gorbachev and the Power of Pizza

Khrushchev was the first Soviet leader who tried to humanise the Soviet Union. This huge monolithic state that represented tyranny and state control had been created by Stalin and though Stalin himself brought Khrushchev into his inner circle, it was Khrushchev who later rejected the brutality of the Soviet State.

Khrushchev openly criticised the Stalin era and began a new, more open era of government. Alarm bells had begun to ring in the Kremlin though and by 1964 Khrushchev’s colleagues were not so happy with what he was doing. Brezhnev organised the removal of Khrushchev and soon had taken the top spot for himself.

Brezhnev remained in power till his old age and when he died in 1982 a group of old men successively took over, Andropov 1982-84, then Chernenko 1984-85 and then in 1985 came a younger man, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Gorbachev felt reforms were necessary and began two initiatives, Perestroika (restructuring) and Glasnost (Openness). He dealt with the issues of war in Afghanistan and the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl. His determination to bring in elected bodies such as the Congress of People’s Deputies and further democratisation of the Soviet Union seemed only to undermine his position. He once dismissed Boris Yeltsin from the Communist party but was forced to deal with him again when he was elected President of Russia.

In 1991 an attempted coup by Communist hard liners failed but this seemed to give the political impetus to Yeltsin. Yetsin banned the Communist party that had once rejected him and soon the Soviet Union collapsed underneath Gorbachev.  He gave a television address to announce that the Soviet Union would formally end at midnight on 31st December, 1991.

Image courtesy Wikipedia creative commons.

In retirement Gorbachev created the Gorbachev Foundation with the aims of publishing material on the history of Perestroika and of presenting his ideas and philosophy to the world. Ironically, although Gorbachev was revered outside of the Soviet Union, within the country his fellow citizens accused him of destroying the economy as well as the communist party.

No longer President, Gorbachev needed money to maintain his foundation and his family and so he undertook to begin lecture tours, charging large amounts of money.  He began to suffer the same fate as many of his fellow former soviet citizens, his pension, 4000 roubles per month, given him by the Russian Federation, was not index linked to inflation and by 1994 his pension cheque was worth very little.

The Foundation began to struggle and even the lecture fees were not enough to pay bills and staff wages. In order to stay in Russia Gorbachev needed money, much more money.

McDonald’s opened in Moscow in 1990 and in that same year Pizza Hut opened its Moscow doors. By 1997, Pizza Hut’s international arm was looking for new ways of reaching out to the public. It wanted a global campaign that would play in any country in the world.

What about a TV ad using Mikhail Gorbachev?

Pizza Hut’s advertising people approached Gorbachev but the negotiations took months. Partly, this represented a negotiating tactic: The longer the negotiations drew out, the higher Gorbachev’s talent fee would be. But it also represented real hesitation on Gorbachev’s part.

However it happened, the core idea of the ad remained stable throughout the long process of negotiating and filming it. It would not focus on Gorbachev but on an ordinary Russian family eating at Pizza Hut. It would be shot on location, featuring as many visual references to Russia as possible.

Gorbachev finally assented but with conditions. First, he would have final approval over the script. That was acceptable. Second, he would not eat pizza on film. That disappointed Pizza Hut.

Gorbachev held firm.

A compromise was suggested: A family member would appear in the spot instead. Gorbachev’s granddaughter Anastasia Virganskaya ended up eating the slice. Pizza Hut accepted.

The advertising concept exploited the shock value of having a former world leader appear. But the ad also played on the fact that Gorbachev was far more popular outside Russia than inside it.

Either way, the former leader of the Soviet Union would be advertising pizza. Gorbachev had lost his presidency and in a sense his country, after all the Soviet Union was gone, replaced by the Russian Federation. I wonder if Gorbachev ever thought for a moment about Nicholas II, another man forced to resign his country’s leadership. Perhaps, perhaps not.

Khrushchev ended his days living in a small dacha in Moscow constantly spied on by the KGB. He wrote his memoirs and they were smuggled out to the west although Khrushchev was forced to deny sending them to a western publisher. He died in 1971.

Gorbachev reportedly received a million dollars for the promotion. The badly needed funds enabled him to pay his staff and continue working for reform in Russia.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

A Slice of my Life

I bumped into one of my friends the other day, someone I hadn’t seen for about a month. After a quick chat he said to me that he was looking forward to reading my next post. ‘Have you written a new one yet?’ he asked.

‘A new one?’ I replied. ‘Don’t you read my tag lines? A new post every Saturday!’

‘Yes,’ he said ‘but you can’t do a post every Saturday can you?’

‘Yes’ was the answer,’ a new post every Saturday!’

‘Every Saturday? But how do you think of things to write about?’

Well, actually I’m not sure. At least I’m not a newspaper columnist, having to write something new every day, that would be hard but now I think of it, writing a new post every week is pretty difficult too. Luckily, I’m free to write about almost anything, I’m not limited like someone who writes a cycling blog for instance, who must find a new cycling topic to write about every week. I do tend to stick to books, classic films and tell anecdotes about myself but sometimes I rabbit on about Watergate, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Formula One racing, the Apollo missions and basically, everything under the sun.

While on holiday earlier this year -did I mention I went to France for five weeks?- I pumped out numerous blog posts but now I’m back home and back into the old routine my stack of draft posts is beginning to dwindle. Anyway, the other day I was reading a post by a fellow blogger, one in which he went from a slice of pizza, to a day in his life, a ‘slice’ of his life, if you will. That was so enjoyable I thought I might try it myself.

Picture courtesy Oliver’s

I’m not a great pizza fan but come to think of it, I did have a pizza the other week. Liz and I went to Oliver’s, a small eatery not far from a pub we drink in so it was nice to start off our night there. Oliver’s is a small place and I can imagine that in a previous life it was just a takeaway but the present owners have added a few tables, some pleasant lighting and decor and a small but tasty menu.

Liz and I always share a pizza for starters. We usually have the Siciliana pizza which comes with olives, capers, onions, cheese and anchovies. Now I don’t care for anchovies so we tend to swap that topping for something else. It’s a really nice pizza and as we are sharing we don’t get too stuffed. The main course is one that most people have as a starter; it’s a sharing board with meatballs, spicy potatoes, olives, cheese, some cold meats, and this really lovely olive oil bread. Wonderful! The other thing about this place is that they don’t have a drinks license so you have to take your own, which brings the bill down considerably and we always decant some wine from our French collection and take it along. (Did I mention we spent five weeks in France during the summer?) The staff at Oliver’s are very friendly too, making our visit there just a lovely experience, and not only that, the place is only a stone’s throw from the Victoria pub where they serve an outstanding pint of lager.

A meal out and a few beers is the perfect way to forget about work and blog posts and relax for a while.

A big headache for me lately is editing the video I shot while in France this year. (Did I mention we went to Fra- oh never mind!) Video editing is very satisfying, especially for a wannabe movie director like me but it is very time-consuming and there is so much you have to keep in your head. You have to hold the big picture up there in your mind while you sort out the bits and pieces that go to make that big picture.

The other day I finished my edit and began the upload to YouTube. The first few tries were a failure as my laptop timed out then went in to a sort of meltdown and had to be re started. Laptops are a little like a woman, fine if you give them the attention they need but if you think you can go in the other room and watch ‘Lost in Space’ -which is currently being re-shown on the freeview Horror channel at the moment- while they are working: Forget it!

After a number of false starts I finally got my upload sorted. My plan of action was to get the video uploaded then add some fine tuning and some music by using You-tube’s built-in video editor. At first I thought an element of brain fade had caused a minor meltdown within me (could do with another night out at Oliver’s perhaps) because for the life of me I couldn’t find the video editor or even how to access it. After some research I found that I couldn’t access it because the YouTube Video Editor is no more! As John Cleese might say, it has ceased to be, it is an ex-video editor, it is pushing up video daisies because, alas, YouTube decided they were going to dispense with the video editor.

Some other evening activity this week involved that great modern British custom, going down to the pub quiz. I do enjoy a good pub quiz and the Lytham and St Annes area there are quite a few quizzes to be found. A lot of them are the highbrow variety where the pub quizzers appear to have been bussed in from surrounding areas. They give you quite a glare if you happen to be manhandling a mobile phone and look like you are looking up the answers. As it happens our ancient mobiles are non smartphones so we are not guilty, although I have to admit I did once text my brother to ask ‘who plays Purdey in the New Avengers?’ (One point if you got Joanna Lumley.)

Questions in these kind of quizzes are on the lines of: Pudong, meaning “east bank”, is the financial district of which city? (One point if you answered Shanghai.) Bonus point if you know the husband and wife star of the movie ‘The lady From Shanghai!’ (One point each for Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.) We went to one pub quiz a few years back in which the quiz master, a retired schoolteacher, asked to check each quiz paper after each round. He then put the team names on a ladder with current leaders at the top and those bringing up the rear at the bottom. Needless to say, not being well up in the districts of Shanghai, Liz and I, who quiz as The Lovers, were at the bottom of the ladder.

Anyway, this week’s quiz was at the Blossoms pub and the quiz was not of the highbrow variety but more of the fun variety. Lots of familiar film, TV and music stars in the picture round for me and a good cryptic word round which Liz excels at. After liaising with a young couple sitting close by we were able to come through as the winners after a round which alternated disco era music questions with 2012 chart hits. Great quiz and plenty of spot prizes for those who drew out raffle tickets and some great music. In fact they played the sort of tracks that you realise were not only brilliant but you haven’t heard for a while. One particular favourite was ‘Mind Blowing Decisions, by Heatwave, a fabulous track from 1978.

Next mind-blowing decision: Might as well delete that upload then and start the fine tuning of my video on my old laptop. As I wait for it to crank up I start thinking about food. What shall we have for tea tonight? Pizza? Nah, don’t think so. Come to think of it, we haven’t visited the Greek place for a while. Just fancy some Calamari for starters and maybe a little Moussaka with some salad . . OK, put that edit on hold for a while . .


Floating in Space can be ordered from amazon as a Kindle download or as a traditional paperback by clicking here. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.