In a break from my usual review style, I’m not actually going to be eating Quality Street, because Nestle can get to fuck. I will instead be recounting, from memory and Google images, the wrapped variety sweets of choice from the 80s. Back when Mackintosh did them.
Christmas was defined by chocolate in a lot of ways. Painfully rare for the rest of the year, Christmas was the time to splurge on the likes of these brightly foiled little beggars. Almost like decorations in and of themselves. Alongside the ubiquitous ‘Tin of Biscuits’ (more on that here), Quality Street was the major player in long term cylindrical, metal storage containers.
Emblazoned with beautiful artwork – a gentleman solider and his lady friend, dressed in military garb and a fetching bonnet respectively. The image still conjures stories for me to this day. Who were they? Was he back from a war? Had he brought her this very box of chocolates? Had they just finished shagging? In fact, were it not for the Victorian clothing they might very well be shagging in some of these shots. Though they might have had some of those weird access hatches…
Anyway, compare that the bland purple tripe of today, that someone knocked up in five minutes using Photoshop. We got hand drawn original artwork on our sweet tins back then! Had to really, as there were only four channels and they mostly stopped broadcasting around 8:30 in the evening. So it had to be good to stare at.
Also, some of the sweets had either the bloke or the woman printed on them. His and hers, ladies or gents. To a boy in the 80s it felt odd eating the “girls’ sweets”. Such was the conditioning of the school yard, but I wasn’t at school and she had the strawberry cream so… fuck that.
As always, dregs first…
(Editor’s note: We’re using pictures of the modern sweets, or artist’s impressions, because I don’t have a time machine and anyway I’m not your mother. Use your imagination.)
Toffee Penny (gold wrapper, bloke)
I hated these bastards with a passion; no one actually wanted them and they took forever to go. The remains of any tin became a sea of golden disappointment. I’d sooner open it and find the cheque books, birth certificates and spare wires to be fair.
These little discs of sugar and spite were a major speed bump in the eating process. Accidentally commit to one of these and the soft centres will be mostly gone by the time you’ve worked your jaws on it for a week. During that process however you’d inevitably lose: fillings, full teeth and sections of gum.
Hard and unrelenting, they’d easily do you a mischief. Especially to the overexcited child, for whom they are, in essence, a manhole cover for your windpipe. Good excuse to give them to a responsible adult and get yourself something further down the Mohs scale than a 7.
Toffee Block (gold wrapper, bloke I think?)
Not sure of the name of this one, but this was the sidekick to the Penny. Basically the same hard unpleasantness but now with pointed corners. Will you choke or lacerate yourself? You can’t be trusted with food! Probably why they removed this one pretty rapidly, that and it was just the Toffee Penny made square. It was the sweet equivalent of using ditto marks at school. Teachers never liked you circumventing their busy work.
Chocolate Toffee Finger (gold wrapper, no one is claiming this, it’s neutral)
These are still knocking about today, still mediocre; it’s more sodding toffee, but at the very least they’ve had the decency to dress it in something more appealing. The thin veneer of chocolate covers an equally rigid length of obnoxiousness. But at least you have the chocolate to nibble at while it eventually softens in your hand. The human equivalent of a Kong Extreme Dog Toy.
Fudge (pink wrapper, neutral)
This is still going for reasons best known to sadists, yeah it’s a soft centre, but only just. Fudge is a sickly, chewy morass of an experience improved not in the slightest by being diamond shaped. Nowadays it hasn’t even got that going for it.
Coconut Eclair (blue wrapper, lady)
Layer of chocolate: good, vast dry interior of sweetened coconut: highly divisive. Coconut will split an audience faster than a referendum. “The vote for coconut was advisory!” “Stop moaning about coconut and get on with it!”.
It’s perhaps best described as ‘adequate’. A miniature Bounty bar it was not, none of that gooey moistness was to be found therein. It was, at the very least, not going maim you when you ate it.
Noisette Triangle (green, neutral)
The first chocolate of choice I can remember. It was a TRIANGLE! It was the ONLY triangle! As an absolute sci-fi geek both then and now, consider the significance of the triangle within that genre. Children of the Dogstar: triangle, The Tripods: triangles, Chocky opened with a tetrahedron made of triangles AND his head turned green AND he was called Chocky!
Flavour-wise – a bit nutty, a lot chocolatey, like a piece of solidified Nutella. But who gave a shit? It was a GREEN TRIANGLE!
Chocolate Toffee Cup (gold foil, red and white paper belt, bloke)
Oh! Just oh! Once you got over the looks of The Triangle (ie once they were all gone), your gaze could fall on to this gorgeous tapered cylinder. Its upper face having concentric circles that might put one in mind of a vinyl record, so your tongue is the needle and you have to ‘play’ its ‘flavour music’.
The standard chocolate without but within… oh within! Smooth, viscous, near-liquid caramel. A sweet you learned all too quickly not to take a bite out of, as doing so would invariably give you an instant chinful.
A good lesson for sweet eating in general – if it fits in your gob in one go it goes in your gob in one go. Piss about nibbling stuff and you’ll miss out on the best ones and get your face clagged up. There’s probably a philosophy on life in there somewhere.
Easily second best in the tin for me.
Chocolate Truffle (brown foil, brown paper belt, lady)
This is a weird one for me; for starters I’m assuming from Wikipedia’s entry on discontinued varieties that this is the one I think it is. Basically a cube with a slightly curved top that had a floral pattern embossed on it. None of the others had a picture on them, so this was a bit special too.
The Purple One
This one is an actual recognised household name in its own right, having enjoyed an ad campaign in the early 2000s: “Why’d you have to take The Purple One?”.
For me these were always my mother’s sweet, containing as they did the bane of living children everywhere: a concealed whole nut. Pretty sure there was an awareness campaign about such things in the 80s, as food was regularly hit with a back end of a knife if it looked like it might asphyxiate me.
Back then The Purple One contained a brazil nut rather than the more palatable hazelnut they later changed to. No one’s scrambling over each other at Christmas to be the first to get their nutcrackers around a brazil nut.
Oddly we once got a box of mixed nuts, with free nutcrackers. In it there was an almond that was so robust that my father managed to break said crackers around it. And then the set of crackers from the previous year. Then we had to take a hammer to the rest of the nuts and pick shards of razor sharp shell out of the edible parts. Our hamster was given that almond, our hamster was smart enough to ignore it.
Strawberry Cream (red foil, lady)
I’m pretty certain that this originally had a pink interior that was later changed to white. This shouldn’t matter of course – as previously established, the entire thing should be going into your gob in one go; you should not be biting into something this small to look at the insides. That’s what you do with those plastic egg things you get at the seaside when you can’t open them. Then you get a clout for trying to choke.
Anyway this was strawberry, by far one of the best flavours of anything ever, it also had the texture of multiple nipples running across the top. Unlike the Cadbury’s Milk Tray equivalent that was just shaped like a perfectly sculpted half strawberry. But no one’s getting you that for Christmas; maybe in a few years you’d get upgraded to Roses. But there’s no one lashing out on Captain Turtleneck for a kid.
You know, if you got a box of Milk Tray and took the strawberry cream from both layers and put them together, you know what you got? Shouted at, that’s what you got.
Now, unlike the rest of the time I actually have forgotten some stuff here; the list mentions a variety of “cracknells”? (Editor’s note: Peanut Cracknell was THE SHIT. Do you hear me? THE SHIT.) Either I didn’t eat them or I’ve forgotten them. Perhaps my memory is going? So I’d very much invite you to comment with your own memories of Value Road sweets that I may have missed.