Friday, 31 August 2018

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Dying for a Sit Down


Last week we learnt the strange tale of the cursed bottles in a pub in Alnwick, however they are not the only seemingly innocent but actually very sinister items to be found lurking in a British bar-room. Take for example the Busby Stoop Inn  in North Yorkshire, a pub whose very name is steeped in death!

In 1702, Thomas Busby murdered his father-in-law Daniel Auty. However this was no ordinary family squabble, for Busby and Auty ran a small criminal empire between them, whose main operation was coining - that is the forging of currency. They were based in the small North Yorkshire village of Kirby Wiske, and it said they had disagreed over Busby's relationship with Auty's daughter. He was arrested, tried and condemned to death by hanging. After his execution his corpse was suspended in chains from a gibbet erected at the lonely crossroads at the Sandhutton crossroads. This notorious criminal and his execution were long remembered. In 1859, the English antiquarian and poet, Yorkshire historian, William Grainge wrote:
The bones of the poor wretch who had committed murder were hung to fester in the sunshine and blow in the tempest until they fell piecemeal to earth and tradition yet tells tales of night wanderers being terrified when passing this dreaded spot.
Now by the crossroads, which now forms a junction of the A61 and A167, was an inn. According to one version of the legend, it was here that Busby was arrested, while another variant proposed that he was taken into the inn for a final drink before his execution. It has long been said that Busby's ghost haunts the place. However there is a more famous, and more sinister, legend. For it is said that Busby had sat in a particular chair in that inn and consequently a terrible curse was laid upon it. In the version where Busby was allowed a final tipple, legend claims he proclaimed "May sudden death come to anyone who dare sit in my chair". And indeed it is said that anyone who sits in this particular chair will suffer the same fate as Busby i.e. a sudden and untimely death shortly afterwards. The legend of the death chair became so famous that the pub eventually took the name The Busby Stoop Inn - a stoop being the post the gibbet hung from.


And indeed the chair appears to have been rather lethal. For there are many tales told about those who have dared to sit in the chair and paid a terrible price. In 1894, a chimney sweep who sat in the chair was said to have been found the following morning hanging beside Busby's gibbet post. During the Second World War, it was claimed that Canadian men from the nearby Skipton-on-Swale dared each other to sit on the chair, and those that did never returned from the missions they were sent on. 

In 1967, two Royal Air Force pilots sat in the chair, and then when driving home from the pub, crashed into a tree and were killed. A handful of years later, a builder was dared to to sit in the infamous chair, and just hours later, he fell to his death from a roof. Around the same time it is claimed that a cleaner had accidentally sat down upon the cursed chair after stumbling into it while mopping the floor. This time death came in the form of a brain tumour.

Eventually in 1978, the current landlord Tony Earnshaw decided enough was enough and moved the chair out of the public's way and placed it in the cellar. However a delivery man was curious as to why a chair was among the beer barrels and sat in it. He was killed minutes later in a crash a few miles down the road. And so the chair was donated to the Thirsk Museum where it remains to this very day. But the chair is now suspended from the ceiling to prevent any more incautious folks from trying to sit in it. 

However experts have cast doubt on the legend of the chair, for when it was examined by historian Dr Adam Bowett, he found something peculiar about it. Apparently its spindles were machine-turned, whereas in the 17th century, chair spindles were made usually with a pole lathe. Therefore he concluded the chair was probably made after 1840, at least 138 years after Busby's death. However as the stories related above all come from after 1840, while we could discount a link to Thomas Busby, we perhaps should not be so quick to discount the curse. Certainly no one has proposed taking the chair gone again so folks can sit in it again. Perhaps it is best to err on the side of caution...


Wednesday, 29 August 2018

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT - Horror Bags Giveaways Galore (Part II)


Hello dear fiends and welcome back to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat, a place where your collection of old crisp packets are history - and not in a Mum's just binned them way! This week we are continuing our exploration of the legendary snacks that went cruch in the night, the Horror Bags range from Smiths Crisps. Flourishing for a few marvellous spooky years in the mid 1970s, Horror Bags were a smash hit, and spawned an eerie empire of their own macabre mail order merchandise which you could only get your grubby little mitts on by sending in empty packets (and a smidge of pocket money sometimes). And what was on offer was very good indeed! Last time we looked at the standard stuff - the expected cards, t-shirts and bags, but this time we are looking at the more outre items that were only a mere 28 days for delivery away!  

The Grizzly Growler

Now the 1970s was not only the home decade of Horror Bags but also the golden age of the 7 inch single, and so it perhaps not surprising that records were a common free gift back then. Now obviously slabs of vinyl weren't quite cheap enough to just give away, but that was why the flexi disc was invented. For those of you blessed with enough youth not to remember the days when vinyl was king, a flexi disc was a floppy circle of plastic that had a groove printed on it, and essentially were an ultra-light weight, and hence also ultra-cheap, way of making a single. Now Horror Bags actually did two of these. Or rather it would seem the same disc was released twice. As far as I can tell, one version was a flexi that proclaimed it featured the sound of bats, and was somewhat confusing marketed as the Grizzly Growler mask. Yes, I know bats don't growl. 


To add further bewilderment, the mask wasn't a mask but an admittedly rather nice cardboard print of a snarling vampire which glowed in the dark. And just to muddy the waters even further, the flexi disc that came with it was also reissued later sans the non-mask. However the fun does not end there, for at least one version, if not both judging from some arrows on the packaging, featured the novel innovation that you didn't even need a record player to enjoy this spooky sonics. For each sleeve came with a tiny stylus built-in, so that you could spin the disc yourself by whirling the flexi around with your fingers. Yes, by all accounts it did sound as horrible as you imagine... 


Rather easier on the ears, were a couple of ranges of novelty items that were heavily promoted with tie-ins with popular British comics. In April 1976, if you were to pick up a copy of long running weekly humour comic Whoopee! you could get hold of a Horror Bags Gripper! And what in the name of Frank Windsor was a Gripper I hear you cry? Well, it was a spring-loaded clip, in the shape of a creepy claw, a spooky skull or a bitey version of the Horror Bags Dracula, that well, gripped things.


I am not sure what exactly they were meant to grip - there was vague talk of using them as ad hoc decorations or bookmarks, but personally I suspect much Gripper action involved minor attacks on the flesh of younger siblings, classmates and family pets. And if you didn't get the free one with Whoopee! you could get the full set of three by sending in 3 empty bags and the princely sum of 10p! Bargain! 


In a similar vein, and promoted in a similar fashion were the Creepy Clutchers! These were little printed plastic cards featuring versions of famous monsters on them, with a slot in them so they could be employed as once again as bookmarks and decorations. And while they presently no real risk of nipping any passing target, they were far more impressive visually, with lovely painted renditions of iconic creatures from the horror movies. And, as you can see below, several were clearly based on the old Universal monsters. There were six in the range - Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, Frankenstein's Monster, a Vampire Bat, and a Witch (although an ad I found does show an alternate design featuring a skeletal ghoul). 


However the wrinkle here was that the offer was for a trio of these Creepy Clutchers, for 3 bags plus 10p. So then, if you wanted the entire set, you had to eat more Horror Bags in order to send off twice! And to promote this offer, you got one free with an issue of another long-running comedy comic Buster



But as creepy and cool as all this swag was, they weren't the best that Horror Bags had to offer! Next time we will take a look at the very coolest mail-order merch that came direct from Dracula's Castle! Or at least the one located suspiciously close to Smiths HQ...  

Sunday, 26 August 2018

HYPNOGORIA - The Nameless Horror of Berkeley Square Part II


This episode we continue our investigation of Victorian London's most notorious haunted house and finally uncover the truth about the Nameless Horror of Berkeley Square!



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Friday, 24 August 2018

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Dying for a Drink


For centuries the local pub has played an important part in British society. Much like churches, pubs have long been important social hubs in communities, and so it is not surprising that the traditional British boozer frequently serves up a generous helping of local folklore alongside the usual fine ales and good food. Most old pubs worth their salt can boast of having served some famous (or infamous) patron at some point, have at least one ghost, and even their names may tie into local legend and history. Obviously much of this lore is the kind of tale that can be enjoyed over a pint and a packet for crisps, but there are some very dark and curious tales lurking behind the bar room banter. 

Take for example an ancient watering hole in the North of England. The Northumbrian market town of Alnwick is steeped in history, and its castle has appeared in many films and TV shows. However on Narrowgate, not far from Alnwick Castle, there is an old pub which is believed to date back to the 1600s at least. For most of its life this bar was known as Ye Olde Cross Pub. Historians believe its name comes from an actual cross on the front wall of this old inn, thought to be a cross of the de Vescis, the former Norman Lords of Alnwick, and was probably looted from the castle at some point. 


However what the pub is famous for is the weird display in one of its windows - a quartet of ancient and filthy bottles. Ye Olde Cross actually closed down in the 2000s but when it reopened in late 2014, the pub was renamed after its long-standing local nickname - The Dirty Bottles. And naturally there is a strange tale behind this most odd window dressing. Over 200 years ago, in 1725, the  innkeeper dropped dead of a heart attack after moving the bottles. According to the old tale, his wife proclaimed that anyone else doing so would likewise die. And so the bottles lay touched for years, gathering dust and cobwebs. 

At some point, the bottles were safely sealed away behind another interior window, but whether this was for historical purposes or to just to keep patrons with wandering hands safe from the curse I do not know. However it should come as no surprise that this old pub also boasts of having a ghost as well as a death curse. For allegedly the ghost of  the unlucky landlord is reputed to still haunt the pub, reportedly rattling glasses and swearing at patrons. Whether this is true or not I cannot say, but comedy tradition demands I point out that while you might not see a ghost there, there is a fine selection of spirits... 

And if you fancy popping in for a pint or a bite, their website is here The Dirty Bottles 


Wednesday, 22 August 2018

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT - Horror Bags Giveaways Galore (Part I)


Hello dear fiends! And welcome back to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Now then, over the last few weeks we've been nibbling away at some spooky snacks from the 1970s - the Horror Bags range from Smiths Crisps! And while these creepy crunchables only were around for four years or so, they spawned a whole empire of macabre merchandise which little horrors could get their grubby paws on by sending in empty packets from Fangess, Bones, Claws, Ribs and Bats! So then, hold on to your hats as we take a whistle-stop tour through all their gloriously gruesome giveaways! (Well at least all the ones I've been able to find... there may be more lurking out there!) 

The range launched with Fangs (cheese and onion) and Bones (salt and vinegar) and in late 1974 there was an offer to send away from a free Dracula mask! Yes, by posting off six packets - and especially for the hard of thinking, they deliberately mentioned in the blurb that they had to be empty packets - you'd get a Dracula mask. Or to be exact, a mask of the top hatted Horror Bags version of Dracula who fronted the range.


Now the mask was pretty cool, but this was only the beginning! For many more ghoulish giveaways would follow, and would grow steadily more ambitious. For example, another early give-away was an iron-on T-shirt transfer offer that again featuring our top hatted fiend's features, but later on a similar offer delivered a proper printed shirt - yours for only 4 bags and the princely sum of 69p. And clearly the Horror Bags Dracula was a hit with the kids as he would feature on a great many of these giveaway items.


His grinning features would adorn a rather nifty bag. This was a drawstring knapsack kind of affair, and was apparently very well made, for quite a few seem to have survived in excellent condition! He would also pop up on a toothbrush, an appropriate but perhaps not terrible exciting item for a range of crisps that included Fangs. The packet tried its best to talk this giveaway up - the brush had a head made by "HALEX" whatever in the name of Cliff that was*, but this one was ultimately probably more appealing to grown-ups than kids. However for 4 empty packets and 25p you couldn't really go wrong. 


Far more exciting was the Dracula Hand Puppet offer (4 bags plus 50p). Admittedly it turned out to be neither a marionette or a glove puppet - rather it was the most humble of the puppet family, a sock puppet, but the design was nice and the packet had pictured the puppet so you knew what you were getting. Also in the cheap but fun category, Horror Bags knew that kids loved puzzles, cards and stickers and hence there were a range of smaller giveaways that were simple but packed with ghoulish delights. 

There was the Horrid Picture Cards set. For sending in just 3 bags, you got a set of six cards each with a suitably spooky picture on the front and a story about Dracula on the back. But the fun thing was that the cards all joined up to make one huge eerie illustration with a massive skull on it! Obviously very cool, for as any school kid will tell you, as massive skulls are always very cool, der brain. 


Equally simple but also cunningly elaborate was the Shivers Stickers set - yours for 3 bags and 28p. Now these were not quite your usual paper with gum on the back affairs, for these were designed for sticking in unusual places! There were spooky cobwebs, spiders and staring eyes that stuck on windows, and for even more gruesome fun there were what the adverts termed "Ghastly Gashes" (stop laughing at the back!) and vampire bite puncture holes to stick on yourself in a primitive horror make-up fashion! 


Rounding off this do and make section of giveaways was the Horror Bags Fungames Set. Now this was a chunky folder jam-packed with goodies. There were two masks - a Dracula one, doubtless identical to the one given away in the earlier offer, but also a rather fabulous Frankenstein mask too.


There were several sheets featuring stuff to do and make, such as a hanging bat mobile and a set of cards to cut out to making a matching pairs game. And there were quizzes and puzzles too. Admittedly these weren't terribly taxing, the little girl always quickly escaped the Baron for example, but they looked cool. 


Best of all though was the Glow-in-the-dark Castle Poster. Now actually this was two posters - one showed a crumbling castle but had lots of doors and windows cut in that you could open. The second poster showed assorted ghosts, ghouls and monsters faffing about. However - and this is the clever bit - you put the castle poster over the monster one, and so when you opened the doors or windows you could see the 'orrible beings that dwelt inside. And hence you had a sort of spooky version of an advent calendar. 

Now the glow-in-the-dark bit was perhaps a tad misleading as these posters did not involve the usual phosphorescent or luminous paint, rather you made the windows light up yourself. The pack presented two methods of doing so - firstly you could put the posters together and hanging them in front of a torch or lamp (not hugely practical really), or you could stick the posters onto a window (a more practical option but not so popular with parents who insist on worrying about stupid things like marks on glass rather than the important things in life such as ghosts and monsters glowing). 

Anywho, which ever way you did it, it actually worked rather well. I know it sounds lame - and indeed I even thought that when I received this set in the post as a kid - but the clever folks at Horror Bags had ensured the posters were exactly the correct thickness, so that when they were put together, they did block out light. But the second poster was also thin enough on its own so that when you opened the windows and doors of the castle the scenes inside would light up rather nicely. Completely brilliant! Or at least it was for the brief time Mum allowed me to stick it to the window...

Sadly my Fungames kit poster is long gone, but here's another creepy puzzle instead that features a little version of the same castle... 


Next time, yet more ghoulish giveaways, looking at the most luxurious of all the Horror Bags tat!



* actually a venerable but now defunct makers of plastic and bakelite items apparently - see here 

Sunday, 19 August 2018

HYPNOGORIA - The Nameless Horror of Berkeley Square Part I


In this episode, Mr Jim Moon begins an in-depth investigation into one of the most notorious hauntings of Victorian London - the strange case of the Nameless Horror of Berkeley Square. In this first part, we will hear the macabre tales told about this most horrific and violent haunting and try and trace the stories to their original sources.



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Wednesday, 15 August 2018

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT - Ghoulish Giveaways!


Welcome once again dear fiends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Last week we were celebrating the weird and wonderful world of Horror Bags, a range of macabre snacks made by Smiths Crisps back in the mid 1970s.  Now although this line of spooky snacks only lasted a handful of years - launching in 1974, but not surviving to the 1980s - while they were on the shelves, they were hugely popular. And a sign of how well-loved they were is the plethora of related tat they spawned.

Promotional items have long formed part of the marketing of many foods, in particular those that are aimed at children. The classic template has remained unchanged for decades - collected so many tokens or wrappers and send them off to get a free gift. Well, they say free, but in reality there was often a token amount of money involved too i.e. send off ten wrappers and a cheque or postal order for £1.99 to get your free Marketing Tat-o-tron! Anyhow, this kind of give-away offer was very popular back in the 1970s, a time when shopping by mail was exciting and rare, rather than the default as it is now. And while these items were often of the funny for five minutes type and were destined to end up in the bin very quickly, back then it was massively exciting to get something through the post, particularly you couldn't get anywhere else. Indeed, one of the most powerful tag-lines wielded by marketing departments in the 1970s was "not available in any shop!". Team up that line with a time limit, such as"send in before..."  or "only available until...", and you had a powerful formula for boosting your sales, and perhaps harvesting some additional pocket money too. It worked time and time again, even though it often took a ruddy age for the goodies to actually arrive - for "Please allow 28 days for delivery" was the dreaded line of small print in such offers.

Now this kind of promotional giveaway was a common feature with breakfast cereals aimed at kids, something that continues to this very day. However even in the golden age of collect and send in offers, for other food related brands such as sweets and crisps, they were more occasional. Usually they turned up when a new line was launched - with adverts on the telly sometimes, but more often in the pages of popular comics - or when a new flavour or variant was added to the range. Therefore the nature and frequency of such promotions was a very good gauge of how much traction assorted brands actually had. A send-in giveaway that would net you some merch that tied-in to some popular TV or film, or famous pop star or sportsman, showed that the brand was big enough in the playground to be seen as an effective form of marketing. However a product doing collect-and-send-ins for tat featuring its own brand showed that it was an even strong line. It was big enough not to need to hitch its wagon to other properties in the mediasphere, big enough to star in its own promotions as it were. 

Now Horror Bags started off in the usual fashion, with the earliest packets of Fangs and Bones running an offer for a free Dracula mask in late 1974. However this item was just the first of a long line of ghoulish goodies that took an maddening 28 days for delivery. And over the years, Horror Bags did a massive amount of these giveaways - at least 15 by my count (and a few more may well have slipped under our nostalgia radar too). And given that they were only really on the shelves for around four years, it would appear that not only were they constantly running these giveaways, but also (according to my back of beermat mathematics) they were running these offers pretty much quarterly! What's more, all these giveaways were for Horror Bags related merch, with not one being done as a tie-in to some other popular property du jour! And that may well be some sort of record! Indeed, the only brand that seemed to run as many send-in-giveways was Trebor's Double Agents... but that's a story for another day! 

However all of this does leave us with a trickier question - why did Horror Bags disappear if they were so successful?  Well, it would seem that they were killed off to make way for a new rising star in the crisp world. For in 1977, Smiths decided to launch another horror themed snack - Monster Munch. And while Horror Bags gained a new flavour (and shape) in the form of Bats in 1978, at some point in the late 1970s it was decided that the line had had its day, and all future spooky snackery would be Monster Munch shaped. Possibly this was one of the many ripples in the great dank pond of pop culture caused by George Lucas dropping in a large rock named Star Wars.

For while spooky stuff had been very popular with kids in the 1970s, now the future looked scifi flavoured and possibly it was felt that as the fluffy creatures fronting Monster Munch weren't steeped in the macabre and the gothic, they could pass of the kind of weird aliens that populated the Cantina Bar. Indeed, if memory serves, the early telly ads for Monster Munch implied they lived on a planet of puppet monsters. But whatever the reason, Horror Bags disappeared from the shelves, while Monster Munch continues to thrive to this very day.

But even the mighty Monster Munch didn't have quite as many giveaways in its early years as its elder brother Horror Bags! And next time, we will be presenting the fun and freaky items that sending off empty packets of Fangs, Bones, Claws, Ribs, and Bats could net you!  

Sunday, 12 August 2018

MICROGORIA 59 - Calibre


In this episode Mr Jim Moon takes a look at a new movie just out on Netflix - Calibre, a suspenseful tale set in the highlands of Scotland.  

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - MICROGORIA 59 - Calibre



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Sunday, 5 August 2018

MICROGORIA 58 - Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse


In this mini-episode Mr Jim Moon takes a look at a horror comedy  he found on Netflix - Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015). Can this zom com live up to classic like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland? Get your neckerchief and woggle and come to camp to find out!


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Thursday, 2 August 2018

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Moon Lore


As last week we had what astronomers claim will be the longest lunar eclipse this century, we took a look at what traditional folklore had to say on the subject and came up rather short. For contrary to numerous claims that eclipses provoked fear and terror in our ancestors, it rather seems the case that eclipses were very well understood, and hence as a recognised natural phenomena there is little true folklore about them. However humanity has always been somewhat enchanted by the moon and while there is little lore on lunar eclipses, there is a wide range of folk beliefs concerning the moon. 

Now firstly we must remember that as the moon has a regular cycle of waxing and waning, keeping track of the lunar phases formed the basis for many different calendars and methods of long range time-keeping. However another important aspect of our relationship with the moon is its effect on bodies of water. As earlier societies all had to live near water in one form or another, the role of the moon in changing tides was very well understood. Furthermore despite biology and medicine being in their infancy, it was very well recognised that fluid made up most of what we are, and despite that old saying which states that blood is thicker than water, it was recognised that we were indeed mostly water. Hence it was a short but logical leap to assume that the moon perhaps had a similar tidal effect on living beings. 

In the classical world we find this theory outlined in Pliny's epic work Natural History, written in AD 77. Our learned sage wrote -  
We may certainly conjecture, that the moon is not unjustly regarded as the star of our life. This it is that replenishes the earth, when she approaches it, she fills all bodies, while, when she recedes, she empties them. From this cause it is that shell-fish grow with her increase... also, that the blood of man is increased or diminished in proportion to the quantity of her light.
Skipping forward a few centuries, in medieval times we find that the practise of bleeding people to cure disease - with the idea being to literally let out the bad blood - was if you will pardon the pun, a cutting edge medical treatment. And the influence of the moon upon the supposed inner tides of the body was still considered an important factor. In AD 731, the Venerable Bede noted that -
Archbishop Theodore, of blessed memory, said that it was very dangerous to bleed at a time when the light of the moon and the pull of the tide was increasing
the Venerable Bede in Historia Ecclesiatica V III 

However we also discover that the power of moon was thought to extend to more than just the blood. Now of course we are all familiar with the folk belief that the moon influences the insane - indeed it is the origin of our word "lunatic". But the moon was thought to have some very far reaching effects indeed. For example, it was thought what phase the moon was in when a child was born would affect its future growth. In his epic tome The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), Reginald Scot wrote -
One borne in the spring of the moone, shalbe healthie; in that time of the wane, when the moone is utterlie decaied, the child then born cannot live
Likewise it was widely thought that it was hazardous to begin weaning a child off its mother's milk while the moon was waning. This piece of lunar folklore, in which the later lunar phases were considered deleterious to health and growth, also lingered for many centuries. And these ideas persisted even into the 19th century. In his 1878 volume English Folk-Lore, T. F. Thiselton Dyer notes - 
In Cornwall, when a child is born in the interval between an old moon and the first appearance of the new one, it is said that it will never live to reach puberty. Hence the saying 'No moon, no man'
Naturally similar beliefs existed around the planting and harvesting of crops. However somewhat stranger is a piece of lunar folk wisdom found in a popular weather-forecasting and agricultural handbook, The Husband-man's Practise. For in an edition published in 1673, it is advised in the month of November to 

Kill swine in or near the full of the Moon, and the flesh will the better prove in boyling. 

And while the moon influencing how your bacon and ham cooks may sound bizarre to us now, this belief evidently proved popular for several centuries. For Robert Forby in his book The Vocabulary of East Anglia, published in 1830 records that - 
A very general precaution, to ill hogs in the increase of the moon; because it is 'an admitted fact', that pork, killed in the wane of the moon, shrinks in boiling
I have no idea whether the pork industry still holds to this concept, although one would guess not in these more enlightened times. However maye there is something in it... for it certainly it could explain the variable quality of the bacon in my local supermarket, particularly when large tasty rashers dwindle to half their size in the frying pan! 



Wednesday, 1 August 2018

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT - Bags of Horror!


Welcome once again dear fiends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Tat! Come in, come in! That's right, just step over those dropped aitches! Now then guys and ghouls, in recent trips exploring the crapalcade of dodgy delights in the 'Orrible 'Ouse, we've been looking at some of the stranger and spookier ice lollies produced in the 1970s. And as we remarked at the time, the '70s saw a real boom in scary stuff aimed at kids, with Count Dracula happily hawking blood-red lollies to the ankle-biters! However it wasn't just ice cold snacks that could chill the blood of a hungry 1970s kid. Vampirism is, as we all know, a highly contagious disease, and true to form, it had soon infected other munchable goodies! 

Now one of the oldest makers of crunchy delights, was Smiths Crisps, established by Frank Smith and Jim Viney in a garage in Cricklewood not long after the First World War. Early on, Smith bought out Viney's shares in the business, and in the 1930s had even established itself in Australia too. Now their stock-in trade was crisps (that means chips to most of you outside the UK) and other crunchy snacks. Now for decades the crisp market was largely dominated by different companies jockeying for position by releasing, and indeed in some cases inflicting, allegedly exciting new flavours on an unsuspecting public. However despite short-lived flavours such as tomato ketchup, Bovril or even hedgehog (yes, that did happen) being unleashed you couldn't really beat the old favourites such as ready salted, salt and vinegar, and cheese and onion. But in the 1970s, crisp making technology entered an exciting new era when machines were devised that could mould pulped potato and maize into any shape you desired.

And hence we had a new wave of savoury snacks that made the traditional vaguely round and crinkled crisp look rather boring! There were now crisps in the shapes of hoops, squares, balls and tubes, all of which were happily scoffed by a greedy public. And more exotic shapes were to follow - crisps shaped like tanks, spaceships and even zodiac signs! Now to be honest, such high concept snacks only really looked like a child's crayon drawing of the object they were meant to resemble, but at the time we didn't really care. For the novelty of the very concept of munching on an edible tank, for a time at least, outgunned the deficiency of the often lumpy shapes formed by the moulding and frying process. And hence, once that novelty was exhausted, the brand often quietly disappeared...


However if you could match an appealing marketing angle to a decent snack shape, you could perhaps create a classic snack. Now Smiths had indeed messed about with a variety of novelty shaped snacks before they struck gold. Possibly noting the rip-roaring success of the Dracula themed lolly produced Lyons Maids, in 1975 they made a bid to bring edible horror to the crisp market. Now in the lesser hands, this concept of going monster could well have fizzled out like so many other novelty shaped snacks. However Smiths were thinking not only big but clever too. To begin with, they picked concepts that could be turned into shapes that would not end up an abstract blob after frying, and actually still look like what they were supposed too. Secondly they had the smart idea of not just doing one new brand but building an entire range. And indeed, that brand would would go on to be become a legend!

Launching in late 1974, Smiths unleashed Horror Bags upon the world. Featuring a comedy vampire as their mascot, Horror Bags came initially in two delightfully ghoulish flavours, and - now pay attention for this was the really clever bit - each flavour came in a different macabre shape! Firstly there were Fangs, which were as I'm sure you have all guessed, maize moulded into the shape of vampiric teeth and flavoured cheese and onion. And the real genius of this design was that you could pop these crisps into your gob just like the plastic fangs you got from joke shops - yes, a snack AND a vampire dress-up prop too! But if cheese and onion wasn't your thing, there were Bones! These snacks really did look like little bones in a bag and provided spooky salt and vinegar flavoured fun, although sadly you could not assemble your own snack-sized skeleton from them.


Horror bags were an instant success, and so Smiths expanded the range. Soon Fangs and Bones were joined by Ribs ("Vampire Vinegar Flavour") and Claws (bacon flavour). And in 1978 Bats flapped into the Horror Bags family, which were advertised as being "batburger" flavour which I recall tasted suspiciously beefy.

But not everyone was happy. In typically hysterical style, tabloid newspapers were soon trying to whip up a storm of controversy over these already much-loved crisps, claiming it was a disgrace that what they termed "X certificate" snacks were being sold to children. (The X certificate was the film classification for movies suitable only for 18 year olds and over, and hence the usual certificate horror movies got). In true gutter journalism fashion they even managed to find an expert to back up their manufactured outrage. They reported that a Dr James Willis, a psychiatric consultant at Guy's Hospital, had said that "using unpleasant stimuli as a selling line could disturb a child in the same way that a vulnerable youngster can be disturbed by early exposure to sexual things". Of course, whether the good Dr Willis had really taken a strong stand against Horror Bags or had been merely asked a vague but leading  hypothetical question in order to produce a quote for a story in a newspaper with only the vaguest associations with actual news, or indeed the truth, I will leave for you to decide.

Thankfully however this hate campaign against Horror Bags didn't really gain much traction. Most parents thought that the idea that crisps, even spooky shaped ones, could be harmful was frankly a load of old bollocks. Smiths themselves were a tad more diplomatic, issuing a statement that basically stated the real truth, which was "it's good for children to be on fun terms with things that frighten them". The tabloids dropped the matter swiftly and Horror Bags made a turnover of £4 million quid that year. thanks for the free advertising suckers!

Andspeaking of advertising,  here's the TV ad announcing a new abominable addition to the line!


The Horror Bags Vampire - who was actually meant to be Dracula himself - was played there by Frank Thornton, better known as Captain Peacock in long running BBC sitcom Are You Being Served. Now there were a whole series TV ads for Horror Bags, and many more running in the pages of UK comics. And one of the things that make Horror Bags so fondly remembered was the long line of mail order give-aways and offers Smiths produced to help promote the brand. And next time we will be taking a look at some of these gleefully ghoulish giveaways and learning how Horror Bags gained a stable mate who would provide to be their nemesis!