Another joint post from those two characters out of a latter day ‘Just William’ novel. Barry Ward and Ronnie Hughes rejoice in the sweets of the 1960s in north Liverpool.
Well, last week’s discovery that food in the 1960s was actually quite good sparked off lots of interest on here and on Twitter. And while we were getting that one ready Barry started to reminisce about the sweets we ate (by the ton) back then.
“I was also a lover of sweets, and some favourites from the sixties were bars of 5 Boys milk chocolate, Fry’s Five Centres and of course the ones you could only get out of jars at the ‘Travellers Rest’, near the school, such as cinder toffee, pear drops, sherbert liquourice, gob-stoppers, and treacle toffee.”
So there obviously had to be this separate ‘Sweets of the 60s’ post.
And whilst scouring the internet for images to illustrate our words I immediately found this gem:
Spangles, though were the quintessential 60s sweet. Considered by me and all my friends to be as staple a part of our diets as potatoes and milk. Basically just boiled sweets but in an assortment of fruity ‘flavours’ that I suspect had never bothered a fruit tree. Some nights though, when presented with your packet of sweets after tea (this really happened) you’d find you had the wrong kind of Spangles:
“Apart from the fruit flavoured ones, weren’t there some that tasted like cough medicine ?”
And get that strap line? I have no memory of dirt in sweets ever being being a problem at all.
But thinking about this nightly gift of a packet of sweets: after our tea, and after something like apple pie and custard; you have to remember that on the way home from school we’d ALREADY been to a sweetshop, much like the one illustrated at the top. In our case, as Barry says, this was the ‘Traveller’s Rest’, conveniently situated, for them and us, just outside our junior school.
Mostly we wouldn’t buy ‘posh’ sweets from here, but loose ones, things where you could get, say, four for a penny (we’re in the old money here) like Trebor Fruits, Black Jack Chews and various flavours of ‘bubbly’ chewing gum.
“Don’t forget the dire warnings from adults about swallowing gob-stoppers (“you’ll choke to death!”) and especially chewing gum (It’ll wrap round your heart !”).
A variation on straightforward bubble gum was Football Cards. Each sealed pack contained a slither of pink chewie and a coloured photograph of a player. Everyone wanted to collect the set. But since you couldn’t see who you were going to get ’til you opened it, everyone had loads of swops. So my abiding memory of the ‘Travellers Rest’ is loads of chewing chomping kids going through their collections of football cards, saying ‘Gorrit, gorrit…’ until they found one they didn’t have and could swop for one of their own doubles.
Each card would have a lazily written paragraph of football clichés about each player on the back. So Roger, here may have been a ‘wily inside forward’ or, more likely ‘a reliable poacher.’
“When you think about it, the marketing for bubble-gum was fantastic, because once you’d started collecting the football cards, you had to have the complete set. As well as the football cards, I’m sure I had complete or near-complete sets of Flags of the World, The American Civil War and of course War Of The Worlds. All quite educational. Of course the manufacturers would only produce a limited number of certain cards which meant you had to keep on buying chewie to complete a set.”
The chocolate bar everyone mentions from the 60s, and earlier (and Barry duly did) is Fry’s ‘5 Boys.’ Nice though, from my memory, perfectly ordinary milk chocolate and no better than any of the Cadbury’s alternatives. But intriguing because the back of the wrapper and the chocolate itself contained bizarre Edwardian looking images of said ‘5 Boys’ going from ‘Desperation’ to eventual ‘Realisation’ over tasting the chocolate and realising that yes, it was Fry’s. It felt like eating a little piece of history. And we were. The bar was withdrawn in 1975 and has been mourned, certainly by me and Sarah (though I didn’t of course know her then) ever since.
“My favourites (after 5 Boys’) were the 5 Centre, especially after around 1967 when they brought out a milk chocolate version. I think by this time they’d dispensed with the coffee flavour in favour of strawberry…but I may be wrong.”
“My nan would give me sweets and 2 comics (The Beano and The Victor) when we visited on Sundays, and I can remember having to give up sweets for Lent one year. The sweets were kept in a tin for the 40 days of Lent, and then eaten in a frenzy on Easter Sunday, with the inevitable consequences.”
‘Posh sweets’ were most celebrated at Christmas when Selection Boxes would be expected to turn up in the pillow case at the bottom of your bed.
“Boxes of Chocolates were popular too, as you can see from the above illustration. A useful fallback for dads on their wives’ birthdays , anniversaries or, again, Christmas (I don’t think the commercialisation of Valentines Day had begun then). Again clever marketing, especially ‘The Lady Loves Milk Tray’ TV adverts. But there were always some horrible ones left over, the nougat ones with nutty bits in our house. George Harrison’s ‘Savoy Truffle’ on The White Album namechecks some of the worst, as well as saying you’ll have to have all your teeth pulled out.”
I could go on and on and on. But one thing I wanted to bring you in this post was the ‘Galaxy Dark Room Test.’ Launching their competitor to brand leader Cadbury’s, Galaxy had this ludicrous TV advert:
Scene, a block of flats, from a distance, at night with room lights going out one after the other. Cue plummy but suggestive voice “The lights are going out all over Britain. Everyone’s doing the Galaxy dark-room test!” In fact, of course, they’re tasting Galaxy and ‘a competitor’s’ chocolate in the dark so they can clearly taste the superiority of Galaxy. I remember us staging ‘the test’ in our house!
Sadly a thorough scout of the internet has failed to find this gem. (What is YouTube for?) But I’m sure it happened.
But thinking of George Harrison’s dire warnings, how were our teeth faring with all these sweets and chocolate? Barry again:
“No wonder I’ve got loads of fillings. Though having said that, none of my daughters or their friends have ever had a filling. And they never went without sweets. I heard somewhere that in those days the dentists got paid by the NHS, so much per filling or extraction. And I suspect that one of the most detested people in Maghull, Mr Marshall, the dentist on the corner of Sefton Lane – who’d fixed himself up with a monopoly of dental checking in our school, made a fortune from unnecessary fillings.”
‘Surely not?’ I thought. Though I too hated Mr Marshall and the yellow dental appointment cards when they were handed out at school. ‘Surely no responsible professional would carry out medical procedures that weren’t needed?’
How wrong I was. Because over on the Dentist Forum (yes, there is one, I checked) you’ll find this discussion about the Drill and fill mentality of the 1960s. Including this frightening news:
“What he fails to mention is the over treatment by dentists to anyone who is now aged around 50 or 60 will have suffered in their younger years. Many of this age group had the drill, drill and more drilling treatment. It wasn’t unusual as a child to visit the dentist for a check up in the 1960s and be told “that’s 10 fillings you need”. If many of this age group had only visited a dentist occasionally in their childhood, perhaps only when in pain, they would have had less unnecessary treatment and their teeth might be in better shape now.
So what does this mean? It means that most people in this specific age group need dentists now more than any other age group to repair their teeth. And what do they get … rationing. The damage was done in the 1960s, you can’t go back and change history.”
There follows a discussion, and this between dentists you’ll remember, that set my teeth on edge but entirely changed my opinion about the gaps and fillings inside my mouth. It’s not me or the sweets that are to blame. It’s Mr Marshall! Because don’t forget, by the time he starts his drilling, we’ve only had our ‘big teeth’ for two or three years.
So, thus vindicated, let’s end with a few more illustrations of sixties favourites.
Well, there you are. Now don’t eat them all at once, or you’ll make yourself sick!
And if you like this, no doubt coming soon could be be ‘Ice cream and lemonade in the 1960s’ ‘Comics of the 1960s’ – and who knows what else is lurking in our memories!