Comedian Stewart Lee often returns to a “do you remember” motif; aping that well-worn standup trope – desperately trying to win over an audience by a shared tut-tutting at the time they changed Opal Fruits’ name to Starburst. No one, the oft-used gag implies, really likes change all that much, especially when such change might tarnish treasured childhood memories – you know, like tooth decay.
“I don’t want to do what all the other comics of my age do, which is to just sort of come out and remember their childhood in a regional accent,” Lee states in one of his Comedy Vehicle shows, before continuing, “do you remember gripping-hands Action Man? Note how my attempt at a parody of generic Live At The Apollo nostalgia material is in itself superior to the real thing.”
Indeed, often nostalgia – even for those things we’ve never actually experienced – is often a fondness not for a chewy sweet pre-rebrand or a Chopper bike we probably wouldn’t have used much anyway, or indeed, a simple packaging design; but for a time that’s forever rose-tinted.
Even the most cursory Google search reveals a startling amount of vitriol aimed at those brands who dared rename themselves. Perhaps that ire is really about a sort of hopefulness: in such products’ consignment to history, they will always be good, and lovely. Or at least, better than whatever nightmarish scenario we’re living in at the moment. The Do You Remember site is an absolute goldmine in this respect: many users on the forum refuse to even type the word Snickers (instead variously using “the s*******” or “the S word”. On eBay: an (unopened) 1989 Marathon bar is currently being listed for £14.95.
Perhaps this strange fondness for a time most of us don’t really remember is partly the appeal of a beautiful new book, Wrappers Delight, which draws together some superb designs of yesteryear that most people would have swiftly chucked in the bin. There are a few familiars in here, like Cresta, and some very early versions of Wagon Wheels and Crunchie wrappers.
But in an era where design agencies still harp on about ‘disrupting’ their sector, they could certainly learn a thing or two from the more baffling brand names of yesteryear: who could possibly resist spending their pocket money on Fingammies, Pacemakers, Wacky Packages or a Lollygobblechocbomb? Or for the ‘brand world’ builders, there’s even a Birdseye notebook here, decked out to look like a fish fingers box: ‘bigger fingers, more fish’, it boasts.
Some of the highlights are those treats that offered a saccharine accoutrement to the pop cultural sensations of the time. There’s the Count Dracula’s Secret ice lolly (‘now deadlier than ever’, apparently); Beatles bubble gum; even Top Pop wrappers from Lucky Dip bags (featuring a rock ’n’ rolling dude with a fine mop of blonde hair).
The book has been put together by Jonny Trunk, writer, ephemera-enthusiast and founder of Trunk Records; and is to be published by Fuel Design & Publishing. Trunk found the materials in a house in Stockport, Manchester, owned by a man called John Townsend. “He collected things, lots of things, all his life,” Trunk explains.
“So passionate was his desire to collect that he just couldn’t stop. When he died in 2015 he left his house, the attic, the garage, the summerhouse and the caravan outside overflowing with boxes – a treasure trove waiting to be discovered.”
Trunk ended up visiting the house in 2016, and started on the mammoth task of sorting through the boxes with Mr Townsend’s sons. What some might see as trash, they saw as treasure – reams and reams of wrappers, packets, cards, cans and more dating from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. These were gathered into the final 240-page Wrappers Delight, showcasing hundreds of rare and brilliant wrappers, packets and “unexpected objects” that have been photographed, scanned and reproduced in high quality.
It’s not just sweeties, either: crisp packets, tokens, drink cans, stamps, transfers, coupons, recipe cards, tickets, badges, cards, stickers and more all get a look-in —“decades of discarded design”, as Trunk puts it — “a wonderfully curated rummage through years of forgotten fonts, illustrations, ideas, printing techniques and marketing concepts.”
It’s a graphic designer’s dream: the typography, peculiar illustrations and gaudy colours feel at once antiquarian and on the brink of zooming right back into fashion (consider, for instance, the recent trend for brands to look back as much as forward in redesigns: Co-op, John Lewis and children’s shoe-maker Start-Rite all looked to their historic designs in recent identity refreshes).
The book has completed its funding goals on Kickstarter, and it’s estimated that it will be printed and shipped in November this year.
Wrappers Delight by Jonny Trunk is available for pre-order on Kickstarter here