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The cereal filler strikes again

When I was small and had no wig, I would comfort myself with Sunny Jim. He was a rag doll of some distinction which my parents had obtained by sending a shilling or two and some tokens to Force, the breakfast cereal.

I was reminded of this when June Hardie, among others, wrote in with this jingle for my advertisement competition: "High o'er the fence leaps Sunny Jim/FORCE is the food that raises him." I had a feeling that Force was still produced and, being a journalist of some assiduity, I was able to confirm this in well under a month.

I located Gavin Brown, general manager of AC Fincken which makes Force at Watford. It is not the family-owned company it used to be, but is now part of Nestle and General Mills. He tells me Force is still available at around pounds 1 a packet and that you can buy a Sunny Jim rag doll for pounds 2.99 plus two tokens. He also says 387,926 packets, weighing 145 tonnes, were sold last year - it sounds a lot, but is piffling compared with the big cereals, or even the 3,500 tonnes Force sold in the 1930s.

So how is it that a cereal not advertised for 40 years managed to increase sales by 15 per cent last year? "It has a tremendous following from people that remember it," Mr Brown says. But, given their age, doesn't that mean sales should be falling, not growing? Maybe grandparents are introducing it to children, he suggests.

Perhaps. But I suspect it has become a secret cult, possibly linked to Star Wars ("May the Force be with you") and driven by a folk memory of Sunny Jim.

Jim was invented by a New York advertising lady early this century and became a celebrated example of a commercial that was more famous than the product. The expression "Sunny Jim" comes straight from the jingle and has made it into the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

There is, of course, another possibility - that Force is nice. But I'm not sure modern business people would accept this as a valid marketing concept.

I WAS pondering the sad effects of decimalisation this week and wondering whether it had led to a softening of the national brain. We can only measure that if there is a comparator - a country that still has a non-decimal currency. Sadly there aren't any - though Britain was not the last to decimalise. That distinction belongs to Nigeria, which hung on to pounds, shillings and pence until 1973.

My Daily Mail Year Book for 1967 tells me there were 20 dirhams or five riyals in an Iraqi dinar, but the Iraqis blew it by also having 1,000 fils in the dinar. The Saudis had 20 qursh in a riyal - and Whitaker's Almanac for 1993 (my other reference book) tells me they still do. But they also have 100 halal in a riyal, which also spoils the undecimal effect.

Perhaps someone can tell me when decimalisation became common. The gentleman from the Bank of England Museum tells me that only the Chinese have always used it. Europeans didn't start until the decimal point was invented at the end of the 16th century. I wonder if anyone divided their currency into sevens or fourteens or something interesting like that.

I also wonder what would have happened to decimalisation had calculators been invented 20 years earlier. A calculator can handle twelves and twenties as easily as it handles tens because it translates everything into noughts and ones anyway. So what we really ought to have is a binary system; now there's an idea.