Sweet food memories from a 1970s childhood

Forget Proust’s madeleines – nothing brings back nostalgia more than the sweets of our childhood. I was a child of the 1970s and, like most children then, my funds were limited, so we’d carefully calculate the sugary value of sweets. 

Sweet food memories from a 1970s childhood

You could get about six chews for a penny: Black Jacks, Fruit Salads, Jelly Snakes, Milk Bottles and Pink Shrimps; or splash out 2p on a fancy Curlywurly or hefty Mars Bar. Like little Ciceros we’d debate their relative merits in the playground: which lasted longer, weighed more, or tasted the best… decisions, decisions.

Spangles advert from days of rationing after the WWII

If you were a bit older you might buy a packet of individually wrapped sweets like Spangles (discontinued in 1984) – like Tunes but without the menthol. I thought these were for fuddy-duddies, despite flavours such as fizzy orangeade, lemonade and old english (butterscotch, liquorice, barley sugar and something like granny’s perfume). I was too impatient to suck them, so I’d swiftly crunch my way through a packet. Thank heavens for NHS dentists. I was more into buttery, chewy Mackintosh’s Toffos. I think I was drawn to the memorable tagline “A man’s gotta chew what a man’s gotta chew”.

You’d actively watch TV adverts in the 70s. Television was rationed for us and there were only three channels, so adverts were an important part of TV time to be savoured. Another favourite sweet of mine (possibly because it was impossible to share), the jaw-busting Texan bar (1972-1981) had unPC adverts featuring a Clint Eastwood-type who’d escape certain death from Mexicans/Indians thanks to the time it took to chew his chocolate bar: “Sure is a mighty chew” was the sign off. School playgrounds rang with such catchphrases: “Watch out, there’s a Humphrey about!” (milk advert); “Would you risk it for a Swisskit?”  (chocolate covered muesli bar); “Everyone’s a fruit and nut case” (Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut); “Rimsky Korsakov! It’s frothy man” (Cresta fizzy drinks, sung by a very cool sunglasses-wearing polar bear). What we would have given for a pair of sunglasses in those days…

1970s ice lollies

The 1970s were memorable for strikes, three-day weeks and random powercuts leading to exciting evenings illuminated by flickering candles. Heaven for budding pyromaniacs – I was allowed to light the candles. We may have had winters of discontent, but the summers were brilliant… hot, sunny and long. The summer of 1976 is scorched into my mind. Lawns turned brown, flowers died and kids’ thoughts turned to ice lollies. Adults ate choc ices, my older brothers ordered Orange Fruties, I’d have a Lemonade Sparkle (it was the only lolly you couldn’t suck the juice from) and my younger sisters would have Funny Faces (cue cries of “You’ve got a Funny Face”). 

Some sweets arrived and failed to take hold – the Aztec bar took on the Mars Bar and was half a penny cheaper, but couldn’t outsell the established classic. Similarly the Super Mousse (fronted by a moose in a cape) took on Milky Way but ultimately failed. I remember the Cabana bar, which combined coconut, caramel and glacé cherries, but I can’t remember ever buying one – glacé cherries made me feel queasy and I didn’t understand the advert.

As you got older you looked for more than sugar from your sweets. You’d show off with Cider Barrel ice lollies (“You can’t cycle home, you’ve had two Cider Barrels…”), then you might pretend you liked Cadbury’s Old Jamaica (“I can definitely feel the rum kicking in”) and before you knew it you were emulating your hero Georgie Best and bingeing on cans of Shandy Bass (made with REAL BEER). Where did it all go wrong? All too soon, it was the 80s, and my taste buds had developed enough to move my interest from sweets to beer (well, lager, I was “following the bear..”)…

Here’s our adult re-creation of a Cider Barrel ice lolly – perfect for the sunny weekend coming!

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