'Vimto: The Story of a Soft Drink' charts the 80-year history of the refreshment, first mixed by John Noel Nichols in a barrel in Manchester in 1908, through advertising showcards, original artwork, historic photographs and memorabilia.
Sue Nichols, curator of the exhibition and wife of John Noel Nichols' grandson, was inspired after finding show cards and original artwork lying around in boxes at the company's headquarters. 'I brought it home,' Nichols says, 'laid it out and realised I had a wonderful source of material, not just for Vimto as a soft drink but for 20th-century social history.'
The drink was originally marketed as a health tonic available from herbalists and temperance bars. The exact ingredients remain a secret (only two people know) but are thought to include blackcurrants, raspberries, grapes, fruit juices and various essences, herbs and spices. By the late Twenties, Vimto was available from the corner shop and grew in popularity as a 'pick-me-up' until the advent of the NHS and prescriptions in 1948, which restricted the company's marketing policy.
The exhibition's themes range from a panel on the temperance movement to one on 'Vimto abroad' with photographs sent back from overseas agents. Vimto does a roaring trade in the Middle East, particularly during Ramadan. 'They drink it twice as strong,' Nichols explains. 'The cordial was originally sold double strength to cut down on transport costs but they got used to the taste.'
The section on advertising ranges from richly coloured show cards, all blooming women eulogising on the exhilarating nature of Vimto, to examples of television advertising. In 1982 Playaway's Derek Griffiths promised, 'We're going to getcha in the end', while the Roly Polys celebrated the launch of Diet Vimto in 1986 with their award-winning advert: 'If you think you've got problems, look at me; Vimto, Vimto, sugar-free.'
Older visitors to the exhibition have strong memories of hot Vimto. 'It seems to be the thing most mentioned,' explains Nichol. 'People tell me how they used to meet in gas-lit herbalists because it was warm, dark and private and how they lingered for hours over a hot Vimto. One man even proposed to his future wife over one.'
Vimto: The Story of a Soft Drink to 18 Jun, Bath Industrial Heritage Centre, Julian Rd, Bath. Sue Nichols' book on the exhibition is published by Carnegie at the end of April
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