During the year or so that I lived in England in the late 1960s I became something of an expert on English sweets (or candy, if you’re from the U.S.). I always maintain—and this from a person who takes pride in eating all organic—that the English (who have long been featured in the Guinness Book of Records for the highest per capita candy consumption) make the best artificial flavors for their sweets. Barratt Sherbet Fountains, sherbet lemons, Trebor Refreshers, Maltesers, Maynard’s Wine Gums, Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles, Crunchie bars, Bassett’s Jelly Babies, I loved them without reservation, and strove—always in vain—to emulate my Auntie Bette, the Queen of Sweets, in her expertise on everything related to confectionery and in the sheer volume she managed to put away.
I’ve written in an earlier story about how I was introduced to English sweets and to television advertising at the same time. Some of the advertising slogans and jingles are burnt into my brain. “Opal Fruits: Made to make your mouth water,” for instance. Victory V’s were old-school: no TV advertising for them. But their slogan was unforgettable:
Victory V: It’s got a kick like a mule
Victory V’s were not very prepossessing in their appearance: flat, rock-hard brick-like lozenges the color of dirty khaki. Their decidedly acquired smell and taste was no better: it was more than mildly medicinal, and seemed to shoot straight up your nose and into your brain. One might well ask why anyone would want to subject herself to such an ordeal, and it might have remained a mystery to me had I not read the ingredients list. That is interesting in itself, since most British food products weren’t required to have an ingredients list until quite recently. But Victory V’s did have one and when I read it I discovered why the product had such a “devoted band of asbestos-mouthed fans”: two of its active ingredients were chloroform and ether!
Yes—you read it right: chloroform—the substance in which comic-book no-good-niks soak a rag to overpower their victims—and ether—the stuff that anesthetists administer before their patients go under the knife. No wonder so many schoolchildren consumed the nasty-tasting throat lozenges as if they were candy! After you had sucked your way through two or three of those babies, breathing deep all the while, you were guaranteed to feel no pain.
Remembering Victory V’s a little while ago, I wondered if perhaps I had misremembered about the chloroform and ether. If it were true, then surely they would not have sold these things over the counter in sweetshops, and to schoolchildren. Some quick research gave me a bit of a history lesson. Apparently, Victory V Lozenges started out in the mid-1800s as a patent medicine, Victory Chlorodyne Lozenges with the original ingredients of pulverised sugar, linseed, liquorice, chlorodyne (a soothing mix of cannabis and chloroform) and pure acacia gum. They were later renamed Linseed Liquorice V Lozenge Victory and sold as a confection. They acquired their current name, Victory V lozenges, back in 1911, even before the First World War, long before Churchill popularized the V sign in the Second.
My research also confirmed that my memory of the active ingredients had been correct, although it also revealed that the Victory V’s of today no longer contain them, just simulations of their original flavor, and that their sales have plummeted, most likely due to the public’s preference for natural ingredients over synthetic ones. The new slogan is “Victory V: Forged for Strength”; but it just doesn’t have the kick that the old one did.
Note: Several of my favorite English sweets now have versions with natural favors and colors and, to my surprise, they are delicious. There is such a thing as Progress.