By the time ITV Digital shut down in 2002, the Monkey character had become a popular figure, with people so desperate to get their hands on the woolly wonder that knitting patterns were being exchanged on the internet.
Its creator, ad agency Mother, gave the rights to the character to Comic Relief, an anti-poverty charity set up and supported by celebrities from Johnny Depp to Woody Allen and Ricky Gervais. The move was a bid to avoid a lengthy custody battle with ITV Digital administrators.
That left Monkey essentially intellectual property with its own independent career. The character was reunited with Al (comedian Johnny Vegas) last year to star in ads for Unilever's PG Tips.
"It was very brave of the client; never before has a brand mascot changed brands," said Ed Warren, a strategist at Mother working on Unilever. "It was a leap of faith, but we were all completely convinced of its rightness. We were also making a cheeky nod to the heritage of the chimps." Monkey replaced another set of primates that had starred in PG Tips ads since 1956. Trained chimpanzees dressed as humans were featured in a campaign Guinness World Records lists as the longest-running of all time.
Six months after Unilever's first Monkey and Al ads, research showed that more than 70% of respondents identified the characters with PG Tips.
Monkey is making his cinema debut in "A Tale of Two Continents," a five-minute short for PG Tips. The film is a light-hearted romp through the history of tea. "What the world needed was a hero," opens the voice-over for the trailer. "What the world got was a monkey." Monkey, who is credited as both writer and director of the film, announces his intention to "change the world one cup at a time."
Unilever will give away a 10-minute DVD version of the film on packs later in the year. "The movie is not a flash in the pan," Mr. Warren said. "The great thing about the creative vehicle is the warmth and love he generates, which gives us growing confidence to take him into unexpected and audacious areas."