WHEN SAXA WAS SEXY

All these foods have been carefully preserved since the 1950s, and are now on display in a new book
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The Independent Culture
AH, BISTO! Ah, the 1950s. Those were the days, when Mummy stayed at home all day in her nylon "dress overall", and gathered up dust with a Ewbank carpet sweeper. Taking a bottle of milk from the Coldrator refrigerator - as mentioned on the wireless in The Archers - she made a cup of Lyons tea. There was just time to enjoy a cool Capstan and flick through Housewife magazine before Janet and John returned from school.

Life was so much better in the Fifties. Britain was a clean, tidy, suburban nation entirely populated by glamorous, white, middle-class people - or that was the illusion peddled by the advertising industry, which fed and thrived on the post-war passion for consumerism. You couldn't trust the Commies, the Bomb was a worry, but at least there was food on the shelves, in brightly coloured boxes designed to catch the eye in the new self-service shops.

Some of the products on these shelves, like Quoffy, have gone forever. Others look strangely familiar. Tony the tiger has yet to be redrawn according to Disney rules, and the name of his sugary product simplified to Frosties. The tin of Guinness is still a fortifying iron brew for people with brittle bones, rather than a trendy chilled ale. The bottle of Lucozade has the crinkly orange wrapper that was not discarded until the Eighties, when the aid to recovery was reinvented as an isotonic sports drink.

The Festival of Britain and the Coronation established the Fifties as an optimistic decade that dared to look forward. Television, rock'n'roll and frozen food would change the world forever. While the white heat of technology had yet to be properly stoked, the country did still have a manufacturing industry to be proud of. Shredded Wheat cereal declared itself to be "factory fresh". Shreddies also carried a picture of a factory on the box, and were advertised as "100 per cent whole wheat, sugar, malt, salt and phosphates".

It's hard to imagine that pitch working nowadays. Nor would modern high street shoppers have much time for soup made with real turtles, or Junior Service sweet cigarettes that looked exactly like the Senior version. There would be uproar if a modern tobacco company used a child in its advertising, as Kensitas did, or offered a cute baby doll as a free gift.

But there are also a handful of items among this collection that have emerged as unlikely design classics: a Kit-Kat, a packet of Bird's Custard Powder and a jar of Marmite all look much the same as they ever did. Tucked in among them all is an object of such simplicity, style and wit that it deserves a place in the pantheon of design alongside the Volkswagen Beetle and the Coca-Cola bottle - the product of the decade, the Jif plastic lemon.

! 'The 1950s Scrapbook', compiled by Robert Opie, is published on 16 November by New Cavendish Books, 3 Denbigh Road, London W11 2SJ (0171 229 6765), at pounds 12.95

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