Produced continuously from 1842 until 1998, Beecham’s Pills claimed to cure ‘bilious and nervous disorders’ – conditions we would now more plainly describe as constipation and indigestion. A compound of aloe, ginger and soap, Beecham’s Pills were effectively a mild laxative, but an extraordinarily successful one, aided by the Beecham Company’s relentless approach to advertising. In 1890, for instance, the company was spending £95,000 on advertising a year (the equivalent of £50 million in modern terms).
In 1894, Beecham’s commissioned a poem in praise of the pills by William McGonagall (1825-1902), a wildly popular Scottish poet and public figure who is reckoned by some to have been the worst poet who ever lived. McGonagall’s poem (the uncompromisingly titled ‘Beecham’s Pills’) runs in part:
They are admitted to be worth a guinea a box
For bilious and nervous disorders, also smallpox,
And dizziness and drowsiness, also cold chills,
And for such diseases nothing else can equal Beecham’s Pills