Thursday, 5 July 2018

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT - Captain Rainbow vs the Green Demon!

Welcome once again dear fiends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Well, the temperatures are still rising, wearing shorts has become a full-time occupation, and the fridge can't make ice fast enough... I really must repair that stuck thermostat in here! Anyhow, it's rather warm and sunny outside too, and during this heatwave we've been exploring the world of the vintage ice lolly. Now then, last time we went back the early 1970s and discovered how leading British lolly merchants Lyons Maid struck gold, or at least a rich vein of pocket money, by inventing assorted cartoony characters for their lollies.

Breaking with the tradition that the name told you the flavour, lollies launched in 1973 such as Captain Cody, Jelly Terror and Freckles sold mostly on the little characters on the wrappers. And after the initial wave, more were to follow. Clearly Lyons Maid were onto to something as other companies began to following their footsteps. One of their big rivals had been Midland Counties, an ice cream maker who had been going since 1898, but in the early '70s got taken over by Lyons Maid. However the company continued to compete with its new owners in the chiller cabinets for several years after. But of course, Lyons Maid's real rivals, Walls, were picking up on the character concept too. Unsurprisingly perhaps, both companies too launched a range of lollies based on home-spun characters.

Now Midland Counties clearly had clocked that the youth market liked their music, and hence we had two lollies aimed at the Top of the Pops crowd, with Pop Stick appearing to be the lolly for '70s teenboppers everywhere. This move that was countered by Walls with the Superstar lolly, which seems to be aimed at the older crowd with a more glam rock feel to it. Likewise Billion Dollar Lolly and Cavalier seemed to be competing on an aspirational tip - with the former appealing to basic notions of wealth, with its gangster-like American tycoon being almost a satire on vulgar commercialism. Whereas the Cavalier proudly recall our own history, appealing to romantic notions of aristocracy. Although quite what pineapple has to do with the Royalist cause I'm not sure. Possibly the pineapple  still had a lingering reputation as something exotic and for rich folks back in the early '70s.

Lyons Maid's Red Devil got not just one but two competitors, in the shape of the Green Demon from Midland Counties and the Little Imp from Walls. Well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! And further characters were to follow too in the next few years. Midland Counties' Chocopotamus continued a long line of food products having animal mascots, although it has to be said few were as nattily dressed and quite as prone to outbreaks of jazz hands. Certainly he made Jelly Jumbo from Walls look positively dour. But on the other non-jazz hand, the Ice Warrior lolly took the cheeky move of nicking the name of one of the telly Timelord's recurring foes and creating a new monster around it. Perhaps they aiming to take a slice from the Doctor Who market so successfully exploited by Walls' Daleks Death Ray. Certainly Midland Counties had form for this type of caper - they had launched a lolly called Rocket which was a carbon copy of Walls' Skyray. Although in fairness, Lyons Maid also did a Skyray-alike called Zoom. The Great Ice Lolly Wars were often fought dirty...

Meanwhile back at Lyons Maid HQ, in 1975 they were refining the concept, and they were clearly now looking things that appealed directly to kids. Now in 1974, ITV had decided to air the third season of the 1960s Batman TV series - which so far had not been aired at all in the UK - and the result was a new wave of Bat-mania. Also after a humble beginning in 1972, by the mid-70s Marvel UK was in full flow, reprinting the adventures of Spiderman, the Hulk and the Avengers on a weekly basis. Therefore it was perhaps unsurprising that one of the first new lollies for 1975 had a superhero theme. This icy treat was called Captain Rainbow, and yes, I appreciate how camp he sounds now. Launching in March 1975, for the price of 6p the Captain offered lemonade and strawberry ice, with banana kreem and a choc dip. Sadly the Captain didn't fly for long, whether this was down to having an unusual cocktail of flavours or being three colours short of spectrum we do not know... 

Also big in Britain in the early 1970s were a legion of imported US cop shows, such as Cannon and McCloud, with Kojak in particular (which began aired in the UK in 1974) becoming a hit with the kids due to his penchant of eating lollies (but sadly just the regular non-iced versions) and being bald. And so, deftly spotting a bandwagon gathering speed, in September 1975 Lyons Maid launched Crime Squad, half blackcurrant and half mixed fruits flavour ice on the usual stick. Crime Squad also had an added gimmick too. Now back then nearly all lollies came on wooden sticks, and often had jokes printed on them. However Crime Squad had a rare plastic stick which had a stencil on it which revealed a secret code. Which was just as well, as survivors from the '70s report that flavour of the lolly itself was less than impressive. Arch rival Walls did something similar but instead tried to tap into the hip world of international espionage with the Superspy lolly. Whether the juices in it were shaken or stirred, history does not record, but declassified documents suggest it didn't have a fancy code breaking stick gimmick. 
However plastic sticks were not the only advances being made in cold snack technology, and new gimmicks and branding concepts were just around the corner. A particularly spooky corner in fact, as kids love nothing better than monsters do they?

NEXT TIME - Taste the lolly of Dracula! 

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