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Spam, spam, spam, spam... er, no more spam

Spam, Spam Spam, Spam, lovely Spam and ... er, no more Spam. The favourite Monty Python meal is under threat. Yesterday the last factory in Britain producing the much-loved and much-laughed at luncheon meat has closed.

The Newforge factory in Liverpool has shut with the loss of 140 jobs after 40 years of producing Spam under licence for a US company, the Hormel Food Corporation. The Spam for all of Europe will now be produced in Denmark instead.

Spam, which took its name from its ingredients of shoulder pork and ham, first entered the national consciousness as a convenience food 60 years ago.

It became known as the soldier's food during the Second World War and formed almost a daily part of servicemen's rations because it was convenient, easy to digest and contained protein. But for civilians also, it was often the only meat available in wartime Britain and was indispensable until rationing ended in 1954.

But it was the Monty Python team that immortalised Spam in British minds. In one classic sketch John Cleese, Michael Palin et al dressed as Vikings to sing the Spam Song (Lyrics: "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, lovely Spam, wonderful Spam").

"I don't think we ever got permission from the company. We just went ahead," said Michael Palin. "In the end the Spam people were very keen and promised to send us several tins of free Spam. We said: `No, that's all right. Thanks anyway ..."'

The managing director of Newforge, Malcolm Johnson, said he was bitterly disappointed at losing the licence after investing pounds 1.5m in new machinery at the factory over the last 18 months.

Mr Johnson said: "The staff have been magnificent. They have worked hard right up to the last day, hoping something would come up. But it hasn't ... I have pleaded with Hormel but they would not budge."

In recent years, the factory churned out 12 million of the 60p cans a year with an annual turnover of approximately pounds 8m.

Mr Johnson said he believed that with Spam having made 70 per cent of Newforge's produce, the company would now have to wind down.