UNITED IN THE 1970s – Memories from a teenage Belfast Red

The 1970s’ Corner Sweet Shop

Let me take you on a wee trip back in time to my corner sweet shop in the Short Strand during the mid-1970s.  Spangles were made by Mars Ltd and were square-shaped sweets with rounded corners and a dimple in the middle of each side.  Each Spangle was individually wrapped whilst an original tube of Spangles comprised a selection of different flavours (blackcurrant, lemon & lime, orange, pineapple, strawberry) and then there were Old English Spangles, where the flavours were of traditional boiled sweets including butterscotch, cough candy, liquorice and pear drop.  William Boyd, a famous American actor who starred in ‘Hopalong Cassidy’ was employed by Mars Ltd to front their advertising campaign along with the slogan: ‘Spangles – Hoppy’s favourite sweet.’  Did you know that when Spangles were first made in 1950, sweets were still on ration in the UK and the cost of a packet of sweets had to be accompanied by tokens or points from a family’s ration book? 

However, unlike other sweets at the time, you only needed one token for a packet of Spangles.  Drumsticks are a unique combination of a chew and a lolly on a stick – raspberry and milk flavour.  They are made by Swizzels Matlow Ltd, a Derby-based traditional confectionery manufacturer.  Did you know that Swizzels Matlow Ltd was founded in London in 1928 by Alf and Maurice Matlow and originally named ‘Matlow Bros. Ltd.’? In 1933, Alf and Maurice formed Swizzels Limited along with David Dee.  Candy sticks used to be sweet cigarettes but now the powers that be have removed the red bit on the end so they don’t look anything like cigarettes – honest!  Parma Violets are made by Swizzels Matlow Ltd at their factory in New Mills, Derbyshire, England.  They are a round, hard violet flavoured sweet, a truly classic British sweet.  The Black Jack is without question one of the best classic British sweets ever.  It is an aniseed-flavoured chewy black rectangle with a delicious and unique taste, and they make your tongue go black.  So avoid munching one of them just before you go out on that hot date!  Black Jacks were given their name because the original 1920s labels pictured a grinning gollywog – unbelievably, back then images of black people were used to advertise liquorice products. However, by the late 1980s, manufacturers Trebor scrapped the Black Jacks golly logo as it was racially offensive, replacing the logo with an image of a pirate with a black beard and eye patch and rebranding the sweets as Black Jack. And by the early 1990s, Trebor had dropped the pirate logo altogether in favour of the black and white swirl design we all remember. 

Did you know thatin 2008, a confectionery company called Tangerine bought out Trebor and decided to change the design once more to the current plain black with red writing? The swirly black and white packaging we all remember is gone forever.

Bassetti is a real classic and a firm favourite with those hard-core liquorice-loving fiends out there.  Lovely shiny hard sticks of rich black liquorice.  Did you know that liquorice started being grown seriously in the UK back in the 1500s and was originally grown only in Pontefract, Yorkshire (hence Pontefract Cakes!) due to its rich loamy soil?  They take their liquorice so seriously in the town of Pontefract that they have a Liquorice Festival there every year. 

Love Hearts are made by Swizzels Matlow Ltd and are a hard, fizzy, tablet-shapedsweet which comes in six colours/fruit flavours.  Each sweet bears a playful, love-related message on the upper side.  The colours/flavours are as follows: Green (a slightly lime flavour with a sherbet-like aftertaste), Orange (a sweet flavour with a slight orange aftertaste), Purple (an unusual, slightly perfumed berry-like flavour with a strong aftertaste), Red (cherry flavour), Yellow (a sherbet-like flavour with a distinct sharp lemon aftertaste) and White (a plain, sherbet-like, slightly tart vanilla flavour).  In the 1970s the messages on the sweets included old favourites such as:  ‘Angel Face,’ ‘All Yours,’ ‘Be Mine,’ ‘Cuddle Me,’ ‘Keep Cool,’ ‘In Love,’ ‘LOL’ and ‘You’re Mine.’  However, today messages such as the following can be found on Love Hearts: “Email Me” and “Luv U 24/7.’’  There are 20 sweets in a packet of Love Hearts and it is extremely uncommon to find 2 or more in a packet which contain the same message.   Did you know that the colours of the sweets on the label of a packet of Love Hearts do not match the colours of the sweets inside the packet? Label colours: white, yellow, peach (light orange), green and blue whilst the sweet colours: white, yellow, orange, green, purple and red. 

Spanish Gold comprised sweet coconut strips dusted in chocolate powder and was hugely popular with children during the 1970s.  Today, this old favourite is branded as a 70s’ retro sweet under the name ‘Sweet Tobacco.’  Gold Rush Bubble Gum came in little hessian-type bags whereas today this famous sweet from the 1970s is enclosed in a sealed bag and is now branded as a 70s’ retro sweet under the name “Gold Nuggets Bubble Gum.”  Bazooka Joe’s was another popular bubble gum which either came with a comic strip inside it or a tattoo.  Does anyone remember Anglo 1p bubblies?  It did not take very much to keep kids happy during the 1970s, and Golf Ball Bubble Gum, small minty white golf balls, were a huge hit.  Regardless of what sweet shop you walked into during the 1970s if you bought some golf ball bubble gum then you got them in a small white paper bag – long before they were sold in packets of 4.

Gobstoppers are a famous traditional sweet made from layer after layer of a hard suckable sugary substance and they date back more than 100 years.  They were a hugely popular sweet among children growing up in the 1970s because they were relatively inexpensive and they lasted for ages.  When you popped one in your mouth it dissolved very slowly with the much larger ones taking up to as long as two weeks to fully dissolve.  It was best to suck them, as attempting to bite through one would invariably lead to a visit to your dentist.  Did you know that the term ‘gobstopper’ derives from the word ‘gob,’ which is a British/Irish slang word for ‘mouth’? 

White Mice, aaaah the sweet of choice for thousands of young kids in years gone by!  I loved these small creamy delicious white chocolate flavour mice.   Sherbet Fountains was another classic 70s’ sweet.  If you need your memory jogging, they consisted of a yellow tube filled with white zingy sherbet.  They used to be in a cardboard tube and had the liquorice stick poking out. But the whole shebang is now encased in plastic.  In my time you were supposed to be able to suck the sherbet through the liquorice stick/straw, but I never managed this as it got all soggy and gooey.  I would knock most of the sherbet back neat and then finish the liquorice off by dipping in the remaining sherbet.  It was tasty!  Liquorice Torpedoes were deliciouswith a crisp candy coating and were both crunchy and chewy.  Smooth Cola Bottles – a gentler version of cola bottle – the taste of cola without the sourness. They were plump and juicy and extremely chewy.

And what about Space Dust, Cherry Fizz, Cola Fizz and Strawberry Fizz?  Some called it Moon Rocks or Moon Dust, others Popping Candy but the recipe was still the same.  When you put a little of it in your mouth you could feel your tongue tingle with all of the crackles that followed (knocks the snap, crackle and pop right out of Rice Krispies).  Or ram a load of this stuff into your mouth and feel it explode!  Some of today’s trendy TV chefs have now started using Space Dust in their desserts.  Cadbury’s ‘Crunchie Blasts’ ice creams have space dust in them -mmmmmm!!

Tooty Frooties, those little flat colourful cubes we all remember can still be bought today and are just as soft and fruity as they were all those years ago.  Do you remember White Chocolate Fish & Chips?  They were the infinitely better creamy white chocolate version of the traditional British meal of fish and chips.  Who can remember Pascall’s Kola Kubes?  This was a sweet for all the cola junkies and they contained a chewy bit in the middle.  Another personal favourite sweet of mine from the 1970s which you can buy today is Sports Mixture.  They were and remain top quality, long lasting hard fruit gums in the shape of bats, balls and racquets etc. – made by Lions.  But there is one difference in the Sports Mixture sweets of back then and now.  Do you remember the black ones?  They were liquorice and admittedly, I have never been a big liquorice fanatic but I ate them anyway.  Well the black ones you will find in the Sports Mixture sweets which are sold on most garage forecourts today actually taste of blackcurrant?  Why did Lions change the flavour?  Flying Saucers, fruit flavour sherbet in a wafer shell, says it all really.   Fruit Salad, an unmistakable raspberry and pineapple flavour, so many memories enveloped in that yellow and pink wrapper.  Think of Choppers, Space Hoppers, the Wombles, long sunny summer days playing with your mates, and there would always be a trip to the sweetshop and a few Fruit Salads chucked into the little white paper bag!  Bassetts Jelly Babies, the definitive Jelly Babies and an absolute classic still hanging around shops today.  Jelly Babies are lightly dusted with icing sugar and contain a soft, juicy centre.  Incidentally, did you realise that each sweet has a different facial expression? Some are smiling, some are laughing and some are crying. 

I loved Pascall’s Sweet Peanuts, a really delicious crisp sweet peanut-flavoured boiled sweet in the shape of a real peanut shell.  If you are lucky enough to get the original Sweet Peanuts (and you will get these plus many other classic sweets from the 1970s on the superb website, A Quarter of the Best Sweets Ever www.aquarterof.co.uk It is one of those sweets that instantly transport you back to the sweetshop round the corner.  Brown Gems were chocolate flavour candy buttons covered on one side with sprinkles.  Sometimes known as Jazzies or Jazzles and occasionally as Rainbow Drops.  And so to one of my Mum’s all-time favourites, Taveners Coconut Mushrooms.  These were delicious toasted coconut chewy sweets shaped like a mushroom.  I wonder how they know they are mushrooms and not toadstools?  Can you remember Grays Tea Cakes?  Real old fashioned sweet toffee almondy discs made by Grays of Dudley.  Candy Necklaces and Candy Watches, I wasn’t really into them, too girlie. 

But Spearmint Chews, now that was a boy’s sweet and a half.  Fizzers, another real old school little fizzy sweet and possibly the originals before Refreshers and Love Hearts and stuff like that.  And of course the mouth-watering and hugely tasty Opal Fruits were popular with the strawberry chew my personal favourite.

Catherine Wheels, long laces of delicious Bassetts liquorice coiled around a Spog (pink, blue, orange or yellow). But why give a sweet such a sadistic name?  Everyone knows that a Catherine Wheel is a traditional firework but the original Catherine Wheel was the torture apparatus on which St Catherine was martyred in the middle ages.  Who would have thought that eating sweets could be so educational?  Another sweet I loved when I was a kid was Chelsea Whoppers.  They were absolutely delicious bars consisting of a soft chocolaty fudge-like substance.  Some shops which specialise in retro sweet sell Chelsea Whoppers today but you will be disappointed if you try one.  I just do not think they taste anything remotely like the original ones I bought for a penny.  Chewing Nuts were great weren’t they?  They had a chewy toffee centre and constantly stuck to your teeth or the roof of your mouth.  If you ate too many of them your jaw ached for days.  But there wasn’t even a trace of nut in them so why call them Chewing Nuts?  Texan bars were great too, a hard nougat covered in milk chocolate.  Can you recall the advert on TV for them?  A Clint Eastwood style cowboy is in a spot of bother, captured by some sombrero wearing outlaws.  One of the outlaws says to the cowboy “Any last request gringo?”  The cowboy asks for a Texan bar.  He chews on it and it takes him so long to eat it that the baddies fall asleep and he escapes.  The cowboy looks at the outlaws and says “Texan… sure is a mighty chew.”  Class or what?  Texan bars made a very brief, limited edition re-appearance in 2005 but they now appear to be gone for good.  Who can forget the distinctive red and yellow wrapper of a Caramac?  But more to the point, who can forget that lovely caramelly, melt-in-the-mouth taste?  Nothing tastes quite like the rich golden creaminess of a Caramac! 

Taveners Toasted Coconut Teacakes were delicious toasted coconut chewy sweets, a favourite for many decades.  Raspberry Ruffles (and Ruffle bars) were another favourite of Mum’s, chocolate covered coconut and raspberry fondant creams made by Trebor Bassett Jamesons.  She also loved Riley’s Chocolate Rolls, Russian Caramels and Merrymaids, hard caramel sweets smothered in a delicious smooth milk chocolate.  God, I can still taste one of the Russian Caramels I nicked out of her bag now!  My Dad liked Murray Mints, a sort of hard boiled brown sweet with a mint taste, and Humbugs.  Everton Mints were my favourite mint sweet as they had a lovely toffee centre.  Delicious.  

Nutty Bars were really, really chewy.  They were a rich nougat log smothered in a chewy caramel which in turn was smothered with peanuts.  Rowntrees Fruit Gums, an absolute classic that has been around for years and years.  Apparently, they are made with real juice (no artificial colours or preservatives) which makes them all the more delicious!  And of course, Wine Guns, an explosion of soft chewy fruit flavours.   And what about Traffic Light Lollies?  Red, yellow and green lollies that everyone remembers from when they were young.  Or Apple Tarts, a hard boiled sweet which had a bitter apple taste?  Then for the toffee aficionado like me there was Highland Toffee, a softer eating toffee bar.  This was lovely and smooth and soft, not that hard toffee that hurts your teeth.  Mind you I did love the really hard bars of toffee with nuts embedded in them.  Some of the old bars of toffee were that hard you got a wee silver hammer to break them up!  Do you remember?  Chocolate logs were cheap and cheerful too, a long piece of chewy toffee covered in chocolate.  Rhubarb & Custard Sweets, the rhubarb tasted fresh and with just a hint of sharpness.  And it is perfectly balanced by the rich, luxuriousness of the sweet, creamy custard.  You can savour each flavour separately.  But your taste buds really zing to life when the two combine to make a truly classic boiled sweet. 

There were a lot of sherbet sweets on the go when I was a kid and the king of them all had to be Sherbet Strawberries.  They were made from a hard strawberry boiled sweet case with a fizzy sherbet centre. Made by Pascalls, they were the best sherbet hard boiled sweet by far, and I can still imagine sucking them as they rolled around my mouth and then sucking the sherbet out of one end of the sweet.  Magic.  But every quarter of hard boiled sweets ended up getting stuck to the bottom of the wee white paper bags.  When you got to the bottom of the bag the last few sweets in it invariably came with paper stuck to them.  No amount of picking removed the paper, it just would not budge, so you had to pop the sweet in your mouth and then when the paper loosened its grip on the sweet you just spat it out. Sometimes the sweet ended up on the street along with the paper as there was a knack to this delicate operation. 

I wasn’t really into Dolly Mixtures as they were just too small but I did like the sugar coated jelly one.  Midget Gems were tricky little sweets to eat and the more you stuck in your mouth the more your top teeth got stuck to your bottom teeth.  And speaking of teeth you could buy Milk Gums and Milk Teeth which were both soft and chewy and what about Cherry Lips (and no I am not talking about Chis Evert)?  A Fireman’s Hose was yet another liquorice sweet, a long string of red chewy liquorice but the daddy of all liquorice sweets was Bassett’s Liquorice All Sorts.  Didn’t like that aniseed coated one though.  In fact my least favourite sweets from the 70s just had to be Aniseed Balls and Brandy Balls.  Polo Mints were the sweet you opted for when you had a boring afternoon of double science and double geography ahead of you.  Mint Imperials did the same job but you couldn’t stick your tongue through the centre of one!  Polo Fruits were quite tasty when they came out.  Dip Dabs were a small bag full of sherbet and had a little hard boiled lolly on a stick inside it.  You licked the lolly and then dipped it into the sherbet.  Sometimes when you bought a Dip Dab there was no lolly in the bag and you just had to use your fingers and then sometimes you touched lucky and ended up with two lollies. 

Beta Bars were a big seller but only because they were cheap and helped fill you up.  A Beta Bar was a block of Rice Krispies covered in some sort of sticky substance but it definitely wasn’t toffee.  The middle of them was so dry it was like eating a hard sponge not that I ate sponges if you know what I mean.  Bon Bons were a great toffee sweet and came in white (plain), yellow (lemon) and my personal favourite, pink, which was strawberry flavoured.  I saw a packet of purple Bon Bons recently and had to find out what flavour they were.  They were blueberry, but the toffee in them just wasn’t the same.  I mean, my fillings were still in place after I ate them whereas the toffee in the quarter of Bon Bons I bought in my corner sweet shop would have pulled your teeth out!  Refreshers did exactly what they said on the wrapper!  I loved them and still buy them today.  It is hard to beat that chewy lemony substance with a blast of sherbet in the middle.  You can actually buy Refreshers on a stick today and a few years ago a pink one appeared!  But when I was a kid we just had the real McCoy.  

Chocolate Limes were a hard boiled lime flavoured sweet with a soft chocolate centre (and they came in a sort of white mild mint flavour too).  I liked them but they didn’t really last too long because after about ten sucks the sweet cracked and released the chocolate.  Cough Rocks were stinking, you may as well have sucked a Fisherman’s Friend, but admittedly Victory V’s were a bit better.  And as for Butter Balls, there was always a wee bit of stigma attached to these and I don’t mean on the inside of the bag, I mean, their name says it all really!  But hey I liked them.  I loved Double Lollies which took ages to eat and could crack your teeth and those other lollies with a hard candy coating which when you sucked through them took you straight to their bubble gum centre. Candy Whistle lollies were ok but not the first thing you would buy with your pocket money.  I could go on and on about my childhood sweet shop memories, and don’t start me on chocolate bars (Twix, Mars, Topic, Curly Wurly, Fruit & Nut, Aztec, Old Jamaica, Fudge, Whole Nut, Crunchie, Fry’s Chocolate Cream), but I would never get this book finished! 

And last but certainly not least, a real personal favourite of mine, Mojos.  Mojos were a stunningly delicious assortment of fruity chewy sweets including strawberry, banana, orange, spearmint and cola flavours.  Just thinking about these sweets takes me back to the days when the little crumpled white bag of Penny Sweets was EVERYTHING – it meant status, bribery ammo and pure unadulterated happiness.  If only life was as blissfully simple now.  But is it any wonder there were so many dentists around back then?  Aah the memories.  Bet you now want to go out and get your hands on some of these truly classic 70s’ sweets.

Just one of the memories I have written about in “Kicking Through The Troubles- How Manchester United Helped To Heal A Divided Community.”



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3 thoughts on “UNITED IN THE 1970s – Memories from a teenage Belfast Red

  1. John brilliantly captures the innocence of his own youth. And how during difficult times in his native Belfast simple things gave him great pleasure. Chewing on a favourite sweet watching Georgie Best.

  2. What a lovely article full of great memories so many can relate to……based around sweets!! More so part of John’s memories of growing up supporting Man Utd and the part Utd played in John’s and so many others like myself during difficult times. As he says just one of those many great memories on Utd John has written in his book….Kicking Through The Troubles……How Manchester United Helped To Heal A Divided Community which I recommend people to read.

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