It was on Thursday 5th February 1953 that the world changed for a generation of wide-eyed British school children when Britain’s minister of food Gwilym Lloyd George (son of former Prime Minister David Lloyd George) lifted the rationing on sweets that had been introduced during the Second World War in 1942. Lemon Sherbets; Toffees; Barley Sugar Twists; Liquorice Allsorts; Jelly Babies; Gobstoppers; Fry’s Chocolate Creams; Pear Drops – you can see them AND you can now buy them and EAT THEM! Not only that – you now do not need a ration book!
On the radio the BBC reported that: “Children all over Britain have been emptying out their piggy banks and heading straight for the nearest sweet shop. Toffee apples were the biggest sellers with sticks of nougat and liquorice strips also disappearing fast.”
Northern Ireland born writer and broadcaster Polly Devlin was 10 at the time and says: “In 1953 the luxury, extravagance and colour that spilled out on to the counter of The Cabin sweet shop in Cookstown, Northern Ireland, was dazzling. The cornucopia of Quality Street, Roses and Mackintosh’s Toffee has never again been equalled.”
Some companies gave out free sweets to children to mark the occasion with one shop on London’s Clapham Common handing out lollipops to 800 school children during their lunch break. Grown-up didn’t want to be left out and workers queueing to buy treats for their families could be seen across the country!
This wasn’t the first time the government had tried to de-ration sweets but their first attempt in 1949 lasted only 4 months as the demand for treats outstripped supply. In 1953 sugar was still rationed – it would be another seven months before that happened – but the government ordered a one-off allocation of extra sugar to allow manufacturers to make more confectionery to meet the demand. When sugar finally came off-ration the combined de-rationing of sweets and sugar had a dramatic effect on the confectionery market. Spending leapt by about £100 million in the first year.
During the years of rationing the average sweet allocation per person, per month fell as low as 8oz. with one small bar of chocolate having to last you a week! Many years later a young girl of the time recalled the rationing well saying: “I remember mother buying a Kit Kat and ceremoniously unfolding the silver paper. We had one finger each. It would be a week before we had any more. We’d also buy Spanish Wood, five liquorice-flavoured sticks for 6d from the chemist to make a change from sucking Oxo cubes and carrot sticks.”
Some of the major shops urged their elderly customers who didn’t care for sweets to hand their coupons to staff so they could be re-distributed “to the little ones”.
What we must remember, though, is that even if you did have a coupon the rationing of ingredients put pressure on the manufacturers to offer a very limited range – and make it well known when they did have something new. For instance – Cadbury would release an advert when it had been able to make a new batch of Dairy Milk!
When sweet rationing was lifted it was little wonder that children were so elated. Bounty bars became the height of exoticism and for some it was the first time they felt the fizz of a flying saucer or the bursting of an Aero bubble on their tongues.