‘Boet and Swaer’ grew out of East Cape roots

David Macgregor

WHEN veteran actor Ian Roberts was first cast in a television advert for oil in the late 1980s he had no idea it would run for 18 years and become a South African classic.

Asked during rehearsals in Hotazel to come up with ideas for the grizzled Kalahari mechanic he was playing, the Fort Beaufort-born actor thought about his rural Eastern Cape roots and famous Castrol characters Boet and Swaer – of “a can of the best” fame – were born.

“I said: ‘Ja boet, the dam is so dry the bass are giving each other mouth to mouth swaer’ and it all came from there,” he chuckled.

Speaking in the same “Lower Albany” hillbilly twang he learnt growing up on a Kat Valley citrus farm, Roberts yesterday recalled how the 1988 advert he originally did with Norman Anstey grew in the new South Africa to include Malefatse “Fats” Bookholane from Port Elizabeth.

He told how the PE city slicker and the Fort Beaufort farm boy used to chat away in Xhosa between shooting of the iconic adverts.

In total, 18 different adverts were shot over the years as the campaign “evolved with the country” and only ended when BP bought out Castrol.

Roberts said even though urban people thought their country cousins were all “dumb and thick”, the advert – set in rural Kalahari – showed they were actually “bloody clever”.

“I am very proud of the adverts, there was a lot of creativity … we never stuck to the script.”

His association with the African outback did not end for this man of many talents when the plug was pulled on the cult adverts.

When he is not making movies, Roberts can be found jamming guitar and singing with his popular band Radio Kalahari Orkes – which he hopes to bring to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown next year. Roberts, who has a holiday home on the Sunshine Coast, regularly visits his mom, Lynn, who retired to Port Alfred.

A born storyteller, Roberts has appeared in more than 40 movies and almost as many stage productions.

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