An April Fools Day Tale for the Autumn

Autumn is on the way, which is reassuring since (in my opinion) there are parts of this story, which we’ll call The Yorkie Bar Story, that sound like they just might have been made up. If so, quite an elaborate hoax given the artwork, ending up in a bit of post-Britpop Ladism that should have been an April Fools, but is the sole bit of this story I can vouch for, having seen it at the time.

Yorkie. We all use it, we all know it, we all respect it. But where did it come from?

It was launched in 1976 and it takes some strong beliefs, and probably quite a bit of money, to have burned though the alternatives.

Lets start with Concept 1; the chocolate bar as cigarette alternative;

No, you won’t.

Intended to be consumed after a coffee, continental style, it even came in cigarette type packaging. Warnings on cigarette packets started in 1971, but even 5 years later smoking was still ubiquitous and it’s hard to believe that many cafes and restaurants welcomed indoor smokers right into the nineties. It’s harder still to believe this idea would have gotten any further than the drawing board / boardroom.

That said, who remembers the good old days? Oh yes, 20p for a Cadburys Caramello from the platform machine, 5 finger Vending Size KitKats… Ah wait, not THOSE Good Old Days. A programme which even in its day seemed to be designed to alienate anyone under the age of 80, and that also takes some believing that it ever existed itself let alone the chocolate tribute. A regional affair, made in Leeds but shown nationally on the BBC, I can only imagine that some aspect of this was felt to be marketable. I’m saying this because, apparently, that programme was precisely the inspiration for this effort. And not only that, because who wouldn’t want Port flavoured chocolate with a few KPs thrown in for good measure?

Unfortunately Brandy & Cigar failed test tastings

Concept 2 ended up a priceless failure, and so now the ideas came thick and fast. How about something really modern, compared to Victoriana?

“Sir, I regret to inform you that a Mr Rowntree has requested you settle your account from the Drones.”, announced Jeeves.

“Gosh, that was rather a heavy night Jeeves! We stayed up until ten drinking Ribena, and came up with this cracking idea for a post drinkies chocolate bar to be sold across the empire…”

“I stand reassured that it must have been tip-top, Sir.”

Ostensibly a PG Wodehouse tribute in confectionery form, we bring you a “Pick-Me-Up” that even Aunt Dahlia might try, if only through a set of amusingly improbable co-incidences and misunderstandings?

This does at least actually sound like something the average non-nut-allergy person would like to eat, and on that basis alone it should have had half a chance.

However, at this stage, let’s assume Mr. Terry (or Mr. Rowntree) of York got really angry, and demanded innovation.

Concept 4 yet again pushes the boundaries and really made me think I’d been duped by some April Fools hilarity, since the source of these materials, a blog by a certain chocolate manufacturers official historian, was released in March 2016. Especially as it’s since been deleted. But we carry on. All the way to Chocolate County, your last station stop.

Humbug, that’s just a way of saying ‘mint’; maybe.
Treacle though, I’m not buying into at this stage.

If you were hoping that we could just jump to the present right now, the answer is ‘not yet’, but what happens next at least sets the tone for what ends up being the Yorkie bar.

In 1976, the Second World War was still in the back of many peoples minds. People who fought and survived, though mostly now in late middle age, were an active part of the consumer economy. So you can understand some of the thinking behind Concept 5; a utilitarian, yet tasty, power fuelling product for the hard working man, in the days before energy drinks and that whole ‘human fuel’ attitude to an energy boost – remember, at this time, Lucozade is still manufactured and directly owned by a pharmaceutical company, and primarily marketed at the ill or convalescent.

Those sink holes won’t dig themselves

For whatever reason, this didn’t pass muster. But the name Yorkie was still an also-ran at this stage.

Not sure if regional variations were planned?

‘Rations’ had failed, but ‘Trek’ nearly made it. In the end, we know the winner. Without seeing the full details, I’m not sure if Jones and O’Hara are the artists / product development team, giving themselves a fun credit, a genuine proposal for an alternative name, or just a differential / control to make sure that out of an ordinary block of text, ‘YORKIE’ really does stand out as something different.

With the winner chosen, even I can remember what happens next. The bar is marketed as something for the working man, and very much a man, typically a builder or lorry driver, with adverts right into the late 80’s to reinforce that.

Come the 2000’s, is it time to soften the image? Don’t be silly, it’s the tiresome height of the tiresome age of New Laddism. Nuts and Zoo are selling in quantities that even then for a printed magazine were impressive. It’s time to double down…

There isn’t a lot you can say about this era, other than it was very crass. Today the Yorkie might seem a bit unexciting and a bit unloved, somehow less classic than the Dairy Milk or Mars, and unusually (correct me if I’m wrong on this) has never been exported other than to the usual suspect countries, I’m assuming Oz and the likes. Still, it remains in production some 45 years later, and I like that.

Epilogue (of sorts)

Above left, a somewhat modified sentiment, as found exclusively in British Armed Forces 24hr operational ration packs from c.2003. This replaced the sometimes hated, sometimes loved ‘Duncan’s of Edinburgh / Scotland’ chocolate. Duncan’s since 1991 probably sold 99.9% of their production to the MOD, such that when spending was ‘rationalised’ in the late 90s and early 2000s, they sadly went bust. One irony here is that until 1987, Rowntree owned Duncans outright but only used the factory to make Walnut Whips at disposal. Not so long after 2004-5, with most ground operations being in very hot climates, block chocolate was effectively removed from the ration and has not been replaced to this day. Interestingly, that size is identical to the previous Duncan’s slabs, to allow continuity in packing, and both were almost identical to both Cadburys and Nestle vending bars, by chance or design. It remains a matter of some regret to us here at RCV that no-one makes a bar in those old squat, rectangular dimensions any more. Maybe we need to make our own….?