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.

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

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Project Manager (HR) - Halifax - Upto £365 p/day

£315 - £365 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment