Mr Kipling makes an exceedingly good myth

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The Independent Online
Mr Kipling does not make exceedingly good cakes. In fact he doesn't make cakes at all. And while Cap'n Birdseye may claim to be captain of the fish finger, in reality he has never sailed the ocean blue.

The truth is that far from lolling around in quintessentially English gardens dreaming up new recipes for small packaged fruit pies, Mr Kipling has never actually existed. Neither has Uncle Ben, Betty Crocker, or most of the familiar faces found lurking on tins and packets in supermarkets.

The news that a whole larder-full of personalities are no more than figments of advertisers' imaginations was revealed in this month's BBC Good Food magazine.

Cap'n Birdseye, with his trademark white beard and twinkly eyes, was dreamed up by an advertising company in 1967. When he was briefly killed off he even warranted an obituary in the Times. The Cap'n was revived in 1974 with the announcement that reports of his demise were grossly exaggerated.

A Clarence Birdseye, born in New York in 1886, did help found the Birds Eye company in 1930. He had invented the process for making frozen food after noticing that fish and vegetables stayed fresh when in ice while on a hunting trip in Labrador at the end of the First World War.

Sara Lee - she of frozen cheesecake fame - never actually went near either a cake tin or a freezer. Instead it was Sara's adoring daddy, a master baker called Charlie Lubin who, in the 1940s, came up with the idea to freeze his popular cheesecakes as a way of transporting them to customers living far away from his bakery. Sara, his oldest daughter, never had anything to do with the cake business.

The sweet-faced man whose mug has adorned Uncle Ben's rice and sauce packets since 1943 may well have been somebody's uncle, but his name certainly wasn't Ben. He was actually a waiter from Houston called Frank Brown.

In the 1940s American housewives wrote in their thousands to Betty Crocker, a kind of baking agony aunt, in response to an invitation on packets of flour. She did not exist.

The real name of the creator of the Elizabeth Shaw chocolate mint was Elizabeth Joyce. She and her husband, Percy, named the company Shaw after their boss in 1937.

Even Colonel Sanders, who came up with the finger lickin' good secret recipe for his Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in the 1930s, was not a real Colonel and never went to war. The title was bestowed on businessman Harland D Sanders by the state of Kentucky in the 1950s as a mark of appreciation. He set up his first fried chicken restaurant next to his petrol station in Corbin, Kentucky.

As for the authenticity of the kindly Quaker man who has graced the front of packets of Quaker's Oats for more than 100 years - forget it. Not only does Mr Quaker not exist, but the product's inventors were not even proper Quakers themselves. John Stuart and his son Robert were interested in Quaker values and in 1877 decided the wholesome image would do nicely for their tasty new cereal.

Foodies will be relieved to hear, no doubt, that ice cream makers Ben 'n' Jerry, whisky man Jack Daniel and soup supremo Ena Baxter are all genuine. - Rosa Prince

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