'Willy Wonka' resigns after his meltdown at the chocolate counter

In the competitive world of high-end chocolate products, few men enjoyed the stellar reputation of Barry Colenso, Thorntons' master chocolatier.

A former chief patissier at the Savoy Hotel, Mr Colenso had designed cakes for the Queen and Prince Charles. He took his position at Thorntons 20 years ago, and this year became the man behind the world's first chocolate billboard when it was unveiled in Covent Garden last Easter. It was a publicity coup that further cemented his reputation as the "Willy Wonka" of the British chocolate industry.

So when staff from a rival company witnessed Mr Colenso performing a wanton act of sabotage on a collection of their best truffles, they could scarcely believe what they saw. The master chocolatier was caught on CCTV ruining chocolates worth £63.50 at the Hotel Chocolat store in Nottingham. Staff said he was observed "handling truffles in a suspicious manner".

A quick check after he had left revealed a trail of destruction across the glass unit of the display counter as truffle after truffle had been mercilessly squashed under thumb. "This was an extraordinary act of truffle-squishing. We can only guess at what provoked it," said a Hotel Chocolat spokesman: "The staff observed Mr Colenso handling a number of truffles in a way that made them suspicious. When we checked the truffles, they had been squashed and damaged."

Mr Colenso has now been forced to resign in disgrace. A Thorntons spokesman confirmed: "Mr Barry Colenso has resigned. We will not be commenting any further on this matter."

In what must have been a humiliating exchange, Thorntons were forced to admit to their arch rival's that Mr Colenso had indeed "handled the truffles".

Thorntons, launched in 1911 by Joseph Thornton in Sheffield, has remained almost unchallenged as specialist high street chocolatiers with more than 500 stores across the UK.

But Hotel Chocolat is seen by many as a possible pretender to Thorntons' crown as the ubiquitous chocolate shop. The firm launched 14 years ago as a catalogue service and opened its first store in 2004. It now has 23 stores, and is growing apace with four more set to open in the coming months. Peter Thornton, former chairman of Thorntons and grandson of the founder, said: "Obviously this man must have been under a tremendous amount of pressure to do something like this, quite extraordinary behaviour.

"I believe Hotel Chocolat does represent the first real challenge to the company. Thorntons have allowed them to come into a position in the market where they should have been: the aspirational, lifestyle area. Thorntons has become more of a chocolate shop over a chocolate specialist these days. It's disappointing."

Mr Colenso's chocolate billboard attracted national headlines as children across the capital helped devour the 390kg (860lb) of chocolate bunnies and eggs in less than five hours with the proud creator giving interviews to the assembled press.

Mr Colenso, a father of three, who lives in a luxury home in Belper, Derbyshire, said recently: "My job is to turn the dreams of myself and my colleagues into a chocolate."

Mark Demarquette, chocolatier and owner of the Demarquette chocolate shop in Chelsea, west London, said top chocolatiers were under the same types of pressure as Michelin-starred chefs. "Mr Colenso's behaviour is very surprising, something you'd really expect from the continent. Thorntons went through a trough recently and Hotel Chocolat stepped in. But things are looking better for Thorntons again.

"But no one likes competition when you've got a monopoly. It means you've suddenly got to pick up your game. The pressure is constantly on you to deliver as a chocolatier and when you are making massive batches like Thorntons, you can end up having to throw away tonnes of chocolate if you get it wrong.

"I imagine Mr Colenso was getting it from all sides, including the board of directors," he added. "I'm sorry to report that the life of a chocolatier is not a bit like Willy Wonka's. Sometimes I wish it was. It would great fun."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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 General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

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
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003