Katherine Hepburn in "Quality Street", 1937
Did you see Nigel Slater's brilliantly nostalgic television programme on old-fashioned sweeties?: Life is Sweets. We got very excited this end. It brought back so many childhood memories: Spangles, Crunchies, Lemon Sherbets, Flying Saucers, Sweet Cigarettes, Jelly Babies, and Liquorice Allsorts. And then there was all that wonderful 70's chocolate advertising: "All because the Lady Loves Milk Tray", "A Finger of Fudge...", "Take a Break, Take a Kit-Kat", "Fry's Turkish Delight...The Taste of Paradise", "Everyone's a Fruit and Nutcase..." Surely, some of the greatest and most effective advertising slogans of all time? These are the ones you remember, far more than some dreary pitch about car insurance. Especially if they star irritating meerkats.
Anyway, in the middle of the programme, there was suddenly a sneaky glimpse of an old Quality Street tin. You know the one- that slightly kitschy, Regency Revival thing with the chocolate nutcracker soldier and the pretty girl wearing a bonnet. And a bow-windowed shop, if I remember rightly- a bit like the Burlington Arcade in Piccadilly. My grandparents used to keep a large tin of Mackintosh's Quality Street, and we were allowed to plunge our grubby little mitts into it when we visited- and sadly, we didn't visit that often.
Quality Street is now owned by Nestles, and is the best selling brand of chocolate in the world. It was invented in 1936 by Mackintosh's of Halifax and was the first box- or tin rather- of chocolates aimed at a mass market.
"Quality Street" was originally a play, written by J.M. Barrie in 1901. Mackintosh then had the bright idea of using the name as a play on "Quality Sweets". Of course, all that Marie Antoinette/Regency/Early Victorian stuff was dead fashionable in the 1930's. It was very much the era of the Dickensian "Coach & Horses" Christmas Card. There was also a film with Katherine Hepburn (1937), capturing the zeitgeist. In 2000, Nestles banished Major Quality and Miss Sweetie from the tin: I am sad about that- the new tin design seems bland and boring in comparison, just like any other ordinary chocolate brand. Bring them back!