The real-life Willy Wonka: Brian Sollitt, inventor of the After Eight, dies aged 74

A historian described his impact on chocolate making in Britain as ‘incalculable’

One of Britain’s most distinguished chocolatiers, whose proudest achievement was fathoming how to get the mint filling inside After Eights without it spilling from the sides, has died at the age of 74.

Brian Sollitt had an illustrious 53-year career with Rowntree’s in York, helping to devise many of the nation’s best-loved chocolate bars. Tirelessly devoted to his craft, he was involved in the creation of the Yorkie, Matchmakers, the Drifter and the Lion Bar.

Alex Hutchinson, a historian for Nestlé, which now owns Rowntree’s, said Mr Sollitt’s impact on British chocolate-making was “incalculable”.

“It is easy to forget that the sweets we pick up in the shops today are things that would have been handmade lovingly in the early stages of development by Brian. He spent months – sometimes years – agonising over the technical details of his creations. He was an incredible man. He was asked to come up with this new chocolate and he did.”

Mr Sollitt was not always surrounded by sweet treats. Born in 1938, he grew up in a time of scarcity when chocolate was rationed. He got his first job at the Rowntree’s factory at 15, hand-piping chocolates for boxes of Black Magic. Swiftly promoted to the fantastically named Creme Experimentation division, he was asked to invent a luxury dark chocolate filled with a peppermint fondant.

The project was shrouded in secrecy, and to this day the process by which an After Eight’s fondant centre is encased within its fragile chocolate shell remains hush-hush. After its release in 1962 it fast became a dinner party staple. More than a billion boxes have now been sold.

Mr Sollitt was described as a popular figure within the company: a larger-than-life character who left seasonal gifts such as chocolate Santas outside his office for factory staff to take home. Passionate about the products he helped develop, he became an avid collector of After Eight paraphernalia, amassing one of the largest collections in the world. Last year, he came out of retirement to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his beloved creation, creating a special 3kg version of the chocolate to present to Parliament.

Kath Musgrove, a fellow confectioner, remembers Mr Sollitt lovingly piping and cooling new samples and presenting them in small, white boxes to the marketing department.

“I first met Brian in the covering room in Rowntree’s Creme Experimentation department. He was wielding his pallet knife deftly over the marble slab ‘tempering chocolate’. Watching him at work was like watching a true craftsman at his trade. Anyone who saw him was caught in his spell. He spent hours at that marble slab expertly hand-covering chocolates with their own individual markings.”

Millions of After Eights are made each year in Halifax, West Yorkshire, to be sold in more than 50 countries. Fans of the chocolate are said to have included the late Queen Mother.

Best bar none: Sollitt’s inventions

After Eight 800 million individual chocolates made each year

Peppermint fondant “enrobed” in a crisp dark chocolate shell. An enzyme is added to the mint to give it its consistency. The clock logo is believed to be based on a real timepiece in Rowntree’s head office.

Yorkie 64 million bars

A chunkier alternative to Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar. Variations have included raisin and biscuit, honeycomb, white chocolate and mixed nuts. Aimed mainly at men, it was famous for its slogan ‘“It’s Not For Girls”.

Lion Bar 17 million bars

Wafer, caramel and cereal covered in milk chocolate. Launched in 1977, it was known in some areas as Big Cat until the late 1990s. Nestlé angered fans when it cut the size of the bars.

Drifter 37 million bars

Two biscuit wafer fingers layered with caramel and milk chocolate. Discontinued in 2007, it was relaunched in 2008 and was at one time promoted with the slogan “the chewy chocolate bar that you really have to get your teeth into”.

Matchmakers 30 million boxes

Launched in 1968 at one-third their current length, Matchmakers are brittle chocolate twigs available in mint, coffee and orange flavour. A Christmas favourite, its variations have included Brandysnap, Cappuccino, Coconut, Lemon and Irish Cream.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss