Attraction deficit syndrome? Let them eat chocolate

At £50, Cadbury World was going to have to be good

When the Millennium Dome was still a pimple on a drawing board, Birmingham was mooted as the ideal site for it. The upside-down wok would have been a huge hit in the West Midlands, as expectations are much lower outside London. I should know, because I've just been to Birmingham's most popular tourist attraction, Cadbury World.

When the Millennium Dome was still a pimple on a drawing board, Birmingham was mooted as the ideal site for it. The upside-down wok would have been a huge hit in the West Midlands, as expectations are much lower outside London. I should know, because I've just been to Birmingham's most popular tourist attraction, Cadbury World.

Every year, upwards of half a million people visit the themed chocolate venue. It would take a heart harder than mine not to feel a surge of merriment at the sight of the Cadbury's Creme Egg-shaped cars parked outside the entrance, not to be joyous in the sheer bounty of product recognition (everything is painted Cadbury purple), not to experience a giddy euphoria at the overwhelming smell of confectionery as you go in. It's hard to maintain a gloomy countenance when everything is so damned chocolatey, but there's nothing like a really long queue, though, to puncture the fragile membrane of enjoying a family day out. So, after the long, shuffling line and parting with the best part of £50, I was on my mettle. Cadbury World was going to have to be good.

Before they've even torn your ticket, every member of your party is handed two pieces of confectionery. "Wow, mum, look" shrieked my charges. "FREE chocolate!" The Dome organisers could pick up a tip here.

The ecstasy of eating free chocolate prevented the children from remarking on the sheer dullness of the displays, which culminated in being bolted into a plastic car that juddered past a lot of smiling, plastic cocoa beans. Obviously, this had been constructed as a ride to Santa's Grotto, ending, as it did, in a snow scene wherein the cheery beans cavorted on cotton wool.

By the time we left, we'd spent more than 50 minutes at Cadbury World. Health and Safety regulations decree that we had seen no actual chocolate production; what we'd learned about its history and manufacture could fit on a Flake wrapper. With souvenirs, brochures and drinks, I was £90 worse off. But, eavesdropping in the car park, I heard other families eulogising about their visit. This is because, like airlines, Cadbury World has realised a great truth about keeping punters quiet and happy: namely, give them food at every opportunity. For a chocolate factory, it's also good marketing, instilling brand loyalty with the idea of the manufacturer as kindly benefactor.

The irony is that the Cadbury who built the factory here was just that. Cadbury World is in Bournville, the utopian suburb created by George Cadbury at the close of the 19th century. The Cadbury family, like the Rowntrees and Frys, were Quakers. Historically excluded from politics and the universities - and prevented from joining the Armed Services by their pacifist conviction - their excellence in business was disproportionate to their numbers. The pursuit of wealth was not inimical to Quakers, despite the abstemious lifestyle that they preferred. They were radical liberals who used their money for social improvements such as adult education, penal reform and housing.

George's father did not allow himself to sit in an armchair until he was 70, and George himself practised a rigid abstinence from all luxury. Today, chocolate is marketed as the ultimate affordable luxury, and the British consume £3.7bn worth of it every year. I don't like to imagine what George would think of Cadbury World. But if you do find yourself cajoled into its precincts, at least you'll be able to visit Bournville; a haven for anyone interested in architecture, and as pleasant and radical today as it was when it was built. It's too late, of course, to construct a model village along the lines of Bournville around the Dome. But it's not too late to start handing out sweeties there.

* Janet Street-Porter is on holiday.

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