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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers