2 British Men Come to Land of Bart and Homer as Winners of Promotional Contest

By Jefferson Robbins

© The State Journal-Register, December 9, 1999.

The British send us "I, Claudius" and the Beatles, and what do we give them in return?

"The Simpsons."

Not that they're complaining. The half-hour animated show on the Fox network is so popular in Great Britain that 10,000 people entered a promotional contest to win a trip to Springfield - the Illinois capital, not the fictional city of Bart and Homer.

The winner - Carl Beaumont, a 33-year-old chemical engineer from Yorkshire - spent Wednesday being chauffeured from one supposed Simpsons-related site to another and meeting with city officials and Springfield High School students.

The visit, which brought Beaumont and his friend Richard Hodgson, 30, to Springfield for three days left the two Britons ready for a return trip.

"I think I'll come back again," Beaumont said Wednesday afternoon. "I like what I've seen so far."

The contest was sponsored by 20th Century Fox-UK, a British offshoot of the Fox network. Contestants were asked to phone a hot line and name the U.S. president who hailed from a town called Springfield. Beaumont's entry - his answer was Abraham Lincoln, of course - was picked at random from the pile of correct responses.

"The Simpsons" is hugely popular in England, where it's aired by the British Broadcasting Corp., said Liz Meadows, an account executive with the London advertising firm that ran the Fox promotion.

"It's massive. Every competition that we ever do with The Simpsons' generates huge amounts of entries. It is one of the most popular brands over here, shortly followed by things like 'South Park' and 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' things like that."

For much of Wednesday, officials from the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau shuttled Beaumont and Hodgson around town, emphasizing potential links to "The Simpsons." Homer Simpson eats doughnuts the way other people breathe air, so Mel-O-Cream's plant on Rising Moon Road was a logical starting point.

When comparing British and U.S. doughnuts, Beaumont said, "There's no contest."

As a chaser, the two men quaffed sips of beer labeled Duff, after Homer's favorite brew. Since Homer works at a nuclear power plant, the next stop was City Water, Light and Power's electrical plant at 3100 Stevenson Drive.

The tourists then met Mayor Karen Hasara at the Springfield Fire Department's Station No. 1, 825 E. Capitol Ave., getting a bird's-eye view of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site from the elevated bucket of a fire engine.

Hasara proclaimed Wednesday as "The Simpsons" Day in Springfield, drawing further parallels between the show and her city. For instance, the TV town is just up the road from a burg called Shelbyville. Simpsons shopkeeper Apu runs a store called the Kwik-E-Mart, while the real-world Springfield is home to the Qik-N-EZ chain of convenience stores.

The Simpson family lives at 742 Evergreen Terrace, but Beaumont and Hodgson's tour didn't travel to the local version of that address, a low-income housing development.

When arranging the contest prize, Meadows said, choosing between the 33 cities called Springfield in the United States posed a problem.

"I looked at a few Springfields, two in particular - the one in Illinois and the one in Massachusetts," she said. "There was more sort of opportunity in Illinois because of the doughnut factory and the high school."

Beaumont and Hodgson were accompanied by Bart Simpson himself - actually a foam costume inhabited in turn by Capital Area Career Center students Stephen Johnson, 16, and Alexandra Ingram, 17.

Bart's appearance at the fire station prompted some passers-by to pull their cars over to get a hug from the character. Fans in Great Britain would have the same response, Beaumont said.

"My nieces and nephews are big fans as well," he said. "They were very excited when they heard I was coming here."


Photo 1: Carl Beaumont, left, Bart Simpson and Richard Hodgson tour the Mel-O-Cream Donuts plant Wednesday morning. Beaumont won a Simpson's promotional contest which included a three-day tour of Springfield.

Photo 2: With Bart Simpson looking on, Springfield Mayor Karen Hasara proclaimed Wednesday "The Simpsons" Day and welcomed British contest winners Hodgson, left, and Beaumont to Illinois.

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