Lost fizzy drinks of the last fifty years

Tab Clear
Much Hype, Little Impact: TaB Clear was a short lived drink on our shores. It was a clear version of Diet Coke launched in 1993. Photograph of American cans by Kevin Trotman (Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Non-Derivatives License)

If you go to the supermarket today, you will find that most of the shelf space in the fizzy drinks section is taken up by Pepsico, the Coca Cola Company and own brand products. At one time, each region would also have its local favourites, or a home delivery service. Then came SodaStream and the relentless march of the multinational colas onto our local Morrisons/TESCO/ASDA/Mainstop/Fine Fare/Co-op/VG stores over the last thirty years. The joys of Category Management and greater demands by today’s chains (this time, mainly Morrisons, ASDA, TESCO and Sainsburys). Mr Alpine/Hague/A&A later didn’t get a look in.

Today, for our Not So Perfect Ten, we nark off the local dentist by recalling ten fizzy drinks of the last fifty or so years. From the local off licence, also known as The Multicoloured Lost Pop Shop:

  1. Weekly Pop Round drinks;
  2. TaB Clear;
  3. Nemesis Blackcurrant and Liquorice;
  4. Hubba Bubba Strawberry;
  5. Schizan;
  6. Space Special;
  7. Peardrax;
  8. Quatro;
  9. Cresta;
  10. Rola Cola.

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1. Weekly Pop Round Drinks

Till recently, it was de rigeur for us to buy milk off the milkman instead of from our local supermarket. In addition to this, we also had mobile shops and weekly pop deliveries. In Greater Manchester, Alpine were among the main purveyors and had a nationwide presence. They were a bit like Express Dairies or Unigate, though with carbonated fizzy drinks instead of milk and yoghurt. Alpine’s deliveries were made using converted milk floats and vans, with a light khaki green livery. A depot in Stockport supplied most Tameside and Stockport people with Dandelion and Burdock, Ginger Beer, Raspberryade and so forth in Rinse and Return glass bottles. They continued till the late 1980s when diversification towards toys by new owners Pedigree led to its demise.

Prior to the early 1990s, Hyde also had a pop company: A&A Drinks. They too offered a range of flavoured fizzy drinks in Rinse and Return Bottles, though sold to local off-licences and newsagents. Their base was on Dukinfield Road, close to the M67 motorway and the Rose Hill – Guide Bridge railway line.

2. TaB Clear

TaB Clear was the Coca Cola Company’s attempt to gain a greater hold on the cola market in 1993. Instead of opting for another variety of its flagship drink (where they failed in 1985 with the New Coke), they opted for a clear cola. Enter TaB Clear. In Manchester, it was aggressively marketed at Piccadilly Gardens in cooperation with Key 103. People wearing shiny suits would dish out samples of the drink to unwitting commuters, alighting Little Gems and Bee Lines. By the end of 1993, it was shelved.

I liked TaB Clear, though not quite as much as Pepsi Max. It was good after a heavy session carrying 12 copies of the News of the World and five Mail on Sundays.

3. Alton Towers’ Nemesis drink

A limited edition drink was released by Coca Cola and Tussauds Amusements to promote Alton Towers’ new roller coaster ‘Nemesis’ in 1994. Named after the titular roller coaster, it was a blackcurrant and liquorice drink which gave you a purple tongue. Its ‘seething taste’ (quoting from the dark can) made for a good antidote to cola drinks. I can imagine blackcurrant and liquorice making for a good energy drink flavour.

4. Hubba Bubba Strawberry Bubble Gum drink

Hubba Bubba was, and remains a popular brand of bubble gum. Launched in the UK by J.N. Nicholls (the people behind Vimto), its strawberry flavour spawned a carbonated drink. Unlike your typical strawberry or cherry based fizzy drink, it had the sensation of being like a strawberry Dr Pepper. Yours truly in his teenage years, on trying this stuff wanted to blow bubbles with it!

5. Schizan

The mid 1990s saw a rise in popularity of the energy drink. At one end there was Red Bull, with Purdey’s at the upper end of the market. In 1995, Schweppes launched a drink called Schizan, which used plant extracts and looked like a third rate lager. It had a taste of cold green tea with two sugars thrown in for good measure. Needless to say, it had a short shelf life, silently leaving our superstores at the end of the 1990s. A can of the defunct drink makes a cameo appearance in one scene of The Full Monty, prior to the Lunchbox’s audition.

6. Space Special, Sun Charm

About a few minutes before Paul Daniels’ Magic Show or The Late Late Breakfast Show dared to darken Chez Vall’s portable, our nearby off licence would be a port of call for fizzy drinks and chocolate. Along with the Ben Shaws Rinse and Return bottles, their Honley sister company Sun Charm offered fizzy drinks in glass half pint bottles, aimed predominantly at the children’s market. Along with its Dandelion and Burdock, they also had a cream soda known as Space Special.

In spite of the Star Wars or Close Encounters connotations, it was a green cream soda which had a slightly tart taste to Ben Shaws’ luminous green equivalent (which had a pronounced vanilla essence). I was probably taken in by the other worldness of the Yorkshire drink.

7. Peardrax

Several years before Bulmers decided to pull our plonkers with a Pear Cider (which among the real ale and real cider fanatics like yours truly here doesn’t exist; real ‘Pear Cider’ is actually called Perry, by the way), there was a non-alcoholic pear drink popular in the 1960s and 1970s known as Peardrax. There was also an apple equivalent known as Cydrax. Both were produced by Whiteways and left our shelves in 1988. For anything remotely similar to Cydrax, ASDA sells a similar drink called Cidona, which is seen with the store’s range of Irish produce. Lovers of Peardrax may find the alcoholic Kopparberg pear drink much to their liking.

8. Quatro

If you have no first hand memories of this drink, there is no way you can claim to be a fully fledged child of the 1980s. At all.

Quatro’s name came about as the drink had a mix of four fruit flavours: pineapple, orange, passion fruit and grapefruit. Its mainly white cans had a prominent white ‘Q’ in the midst of a four squared logo, symbolising the colours of each ingredient, and prominent use of the Futura Stencil Bold typeface. There was also a bottled version. It was launched in 1982, with its adverts having Blade Runner style imagery. The drink also features in a street party scene for Charles and Diana’s Wedding in the Thames Television adaptation of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4. A year after that episode was aired (about October 1985), the drink was axed.

It had a weird pineapple taste, overpowered more by the grapefruit and orange. It’s a miracle they’ve sold any!

9. Cresta

Popular in the 1970s, it was the Coca Cola Company’s response to the lurid coloured flavoured drinks off Mr Alpine. Whereas your friendly pop man had a patter convincing enough to flog you cherryade, Cresta did the same, minus camaraderie. Oh, and they had a dancing animated polar bear, invented by the same guy who brought us the Cadbury’s Smash mash aliens and Honey Monster (big deal). Its adverts had the animated bear singing and dancing, then making a daft noise after drinking some Cresta (available in strawberry, orange, lemon and lime.

It was the child appeal of the polar bear which meant pester power in 1970s supermarket aisles from ASDA to International Stores and VG. The fruit flavoured drinks were known for the amount of E numbers which got the average ’70s kid bouncing off the walls in Safeway. It was still available till the mid-1990s, though with a much reduced variety and less lurid drinks in its twilight years. In more recent times, it has made cameo appearances at discount stores such as B&M Bargains.

10. Rola Cola

“Why do mums buy crap pop?” – Peter Kay

For our final order from the Multicoloured Lost Pop Shop, we round off with a bargain basement cola immortalised by Bolton’s most successful comedian of modern times.

Next to Pepsi and Coca Cola, the average superstore would have a bargain basement pop nearby. For the most part of the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was often none other than Silver Spring’s Rola Cola. Often available in 3 litre bottles with a flat black bottom, it had the viscosity of treacle and the taste of cough medicine. Kwik Save and Iceland were often dependable sources.

Today, Rola Cola may be no more, but its spirit – and possibly its taste – lives on through superstore chains’ own Value branded colas. Yours truly had a similarly vile cola (possibly Rola Cola even) from a Co-op in Fleetwood, endured on a sweaty Balloon tram in 1996.

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Before I go…

Feel free to pour yourself a glass of some modern day totalitarian fizzy drink or (better still), something more esoteric like a Fentimans or an old school British classic like Barr’s Irn Bru. Feel free to comment on the ten stated herein or add some more to the list.

S.V., 10 August 2012.

23 thoughts on “The Multi-Coloured Lost Pop Shop: The Not So Perfect Ten

  1. Stuart, great entry! You’ve stirred some fading memories up from the bottom of my tepid glass of flat pop that is my head. I remember OneCal (possibly 1Cal) which was one of the earlier diet drinks on the market (mid 1980’s) it was available in a few fruity flavours but it had an overwhelming taste of aspartame or whatever other sweetener they used back then, truly bad. Also there was ‘Cool Brew’ which was an iced tea type of drink but unlike Americans we obviously preferred our tea with milk and two sugars. There’s no getting round the fact that my Mum was a bit of a tight arse and I had to endure the horror that was ‘My Mum’s’ pop on many occasions. You will remember but for those that don’t, ‘My Mum’s’ was a range of own-brand budget foodstuffs available at corner shops and the like. The shop would have a yellow vinyl stickers around the window, edged with red (and possibly black?) the logo was a Gerald Scarfe’esque sketch of two kids and it sends shivers up my back. I digress, the pop was woeful, I think it came mainly in those little 250ml plastic bottles with a yellow paper label that you don’t see anymore, forget Rola Cola, My Mum’s truly was CRAP POP. I mean, what a rubbish brand name anyway… Whilst at the Brand Museum in London last year I was given another blast-from-the-past… The canned wonder that was MEXICANA! This was a mexican themed soft drink that had a cartoon desert scene on the front complete with cactus and (I think) a dude on a horse (possibly even smoking?!!) I think it was meant to taste of tequila but I can’t quite remember, I feel that they would have s hard time positioning themselves these days with the ASA! I often wonder if there was (funky shaped Perrier bottles aside) any selection of bottled water in the ’80s? I can’t remember seeing much of it back then, there is a mind boggling array to choose from now but cavity inducing fizzy pop was the only way forward for us lot back then! Thanks Stuart.

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    1. Hi Alex,

      I remember, though often steered clear of OneCal. Apart from the fact they had some weird flavours, it was the effect that its artificial sweeteners had on the taste of the drink. Victoria Wood used to be the face of Emergen’s drink in the mid-1980s.

      For similar reasons, ‘My Mum’s’ soft drinks were eschewed at Chez Vall in favour of Ben Shaws’ or Sun Charm’s finest. Its successor brands ‘Family Choice’ and ‘Happy Shopper’ spawned similarly substandard fizzy drinks. Today’s equivalent to ‘My Mum’s pop’ comes under the ‘Euro Shopper’ brand. I remember having Family Choice’s lemonade from my local off licence. It was vile.

      Though Rola Cola is no longer with us, the company, Silver Spring is very much so. ‘Perfectly Clear’ flavoured waters are available in most superstores. They also do a lot of private label (own brand) drinks, so somewhere in your local superstore, Rola Cola may well be alive and well – as an own brand product. Their website is http://www.silverspring.co.uk.

      I don’t remember Mexicana, and I have tried to Google the said drink without success. As for bottled waters before the 1990s, Schweppes’ Malvern Spring Water was available in most supermarkets and off licences in still and sparkling form, sourced from their Colwall spring (between Great Malvern and Ledbury). It is now known as Holywell Malvern Spring Water, owned by a local family since 2009 with a more limited supply chain.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  2. Reading this as I sit in my house in Northern Canada, drinking a can of “Dr Thunder”; a Walmart produced Dr Pepper look-and-taste-a-like picked up on a whim from our local store. It’s not too bad – perhaps slightly more tart and less sweet that the real thing, but it could be worse. I too remember the rinse-and-return bottles being delivered, not to my house, but to my aunt’s house each week. Sadly, I forget which flavours they used to partake of. Those were the days!

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    1. Hiya Ex-Pat,

      Though I’ve never tried it, I have seen Dr Thunder in the UK, and your opinions of it being a knock-off Dr Pepper confirmed my suspicions. It is also available in ASDA superstores (being as Walmart has owned ASDA since 1999) and their smaller ASDA Supermarkets.

      The Rinse and Return bottle flavours varied by region and company. For example, in my neck of the woods, Ben Shaws did a lot of such bottles with flavours including:

      • Bensade (Ben Shaws’ version of Lucozade);
      • Sarsaparilla (or Root Beer);
      • Dandelion and Burdock;
      • Yellow Lemonade;
      • American Cream Soda (in luminous green!);
      • Lemonade;
      • Ginger Beer.

      The last time I saw a Proper Ben Shaws Bottle was around 2006 at a greengrocers in Marsden, West Riding of Yorkshire. Barr’s (of Irn Bru fame) used to do a lot of Rinse and Return bottles, not only of their most famous drink, but also Strike Cola and Tizer.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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      1. Barrs and Ben Shaws returnable 1 litre bottles were prevelent around my neck of the woods (Skipton, North Yorkshire bordering Lancs and West Yorks). We had a fair bit of Dandelion & Burdock and lesser amounts of my personal fav -,Sarsaparilla. You would get 10p back on a bottle of Barr which cost about 50-60p and 12p on a Ben Shaws in the late 80’s. i recall these gradually being suprceded by 2 litre disposable bottles of Corona pop…of which the Cherryade was particularly good- very dark and metallic tasting bbut good! these in turn were replaced with cheaper convenience store ‘own label’ pop e.g. ‘My Mum’s Cherryade’ which i recall retailed for 39p for 2 litres, so slowly killing off the glass bottle range. those were the days of the corner shop pop visits Before Hillards (subsequently bought by Tesco horsemongers) opened up the first big supermarket in Skipton. Fascinating!

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      2. Hi Doug,

        Real Ben Shaws pop in glass bottles: heady days indeed! My local off licence used to see the Ben Shaws bottles till they too were replaced by plastic bottles. In this case, either the Keighley based Heyday brand, or Wellingborough’s finest, Family Choice, for lemonade. The latter was Booker Cash and Carry’s own brand, succeeding ‘My Mums’.

        Bye for now,

        Stuart.

        P.S. TESCO Horsemongers: I love that line!

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  3. I had totally forgotten about Tab until I read this. Oh my, many memories of going to Cubs and getting a can of Tab, Curly Wirly and bag of Rotten Tomates (tomato flavoured corn ball)…. oh the 90’s feel so long agao and I now feel older even more haha. Thanx for a great read Stuart 🙂

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    1. Cheers Trystan,

      TaB Clear’s still fresh in my memory. Though I liked it, I brought a two litre bottle to school one end of term when there was no lessons, when drinking in class was encouraged. It didn’t go down too well, so the next end of term ‘party’ saw myself bring a two litre bottle of ‘the real thing’. Different reaction again: bottle empty instead of half full. Bringing in a bottle of Pepsi Max in 1994 also had a positive effect too (cue another empty two litre bottle).

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  4. Stuart, I’m going to make it my business to show you what a can of Mexicana looked like. I’m a little drunk but FOCUSED. Thanks again…

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      1. You have no idea how good this makes me feel Stuart, I was forever buying this yucky stuff from the off-license on Chester avenue ‘parade’. Thanks for the memories!

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      2. Cheers Alex,

        Chester Avenue parade (or Yew Tree Shops if you prefer): yes, I do remember that off-licence, and it was always the sort of place which had a good stock of Panda pops, My Mums or Family Choice along with the usual Pepsi and Coca Cola drinks. Not to mention its range of Mr Freeze ice pops!

        Bye for now,

        Stuart.

        Like

  5. Sun Charm wasn’t a rival to Ben Shaws, it was their own product.
    Space Special and cream soda were both available concurrently.
    Anyone remember Ben Shaws banana pop? I only ever saw it in the tiny glass bottles.

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    1. Cheers for the clarification, Lawrence,

      Yes, I do remember seeing Space Special being sold concurrently with Cream Soda, but I don’t remember their Banana Pop. I could murder a bottle of Space Special just now (sadly missed).

      Warmly,

      Stuart.

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  6. Excellent reminisce through some old pop favourites! I too spotted the can of (diet) Schizan on the Full Monty film! One I remember too was Squirt! In a predominantly yellow can with red and green lettering. I recall it tasted a bit like Quatro but not sure now?! Cheers

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    1. Hi Doug,

      Nice to know I’m not the only one anal enough to spot defunct canned drinks in films set in Sheffield! Squirt passed me by, but Quatro didn’t.

      I remember trying Schizan in both standard and diet forms. With the latter, I had had stronger and more flavoursome lagers.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

  7. Spent many a sunny weekend in the 70’s braving the river running alongside Sun Charm HQ in Honley. The aim was to raid the reject bin!! Half cans of Shandy on a river bank, happy days

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    1. Hi Lee,

      Shame I couldn’t do the same with my nearest local pop factory (Barrett’s in Ashton-under-Lyne closed two years before I was born). To do the same with A&A Drinks in Hyde (assuming the Rejects Bin was at the back) would have meant swimming across the Peak Forest Canal which, in spite of being less treacherous, may have had the odd boot or tyre as well as fish.

      And, Sun Charm Shandy was The Boss compared with Top Deck. Shandy Bass was a good second.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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      1. Was aged 12 plus and every day was an adventure. The river ran thro an area called Magdale. River was only about ten feet across, up a short bank then run to the reject skip. Didn’t care about health and safety. Spent next half hour drinking about 5 each, pretending to be drunk! Funny this is I worked there for about three weeks

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      2. Excellent story there Lee,

        Five cans each: 2.5 pints of Sun Charm Shandy. About the same strength of a 50% watered down pint of Heineken [5%]. If I remember, their Shandy was about 0.5% ABV a can. Five cans would be equivalent to a pint of a 2.5% ABV small beer (or a family ale).

        Also interesting to find you worked for Sun Charm for three weeks. I have also found an excellent page from the Ben Shaws website. It is a list of memories by people like ourselves who are craving a bottle of Space Special or a can of Shandy:

        http://www.benshawsdrinks.co.uk/memories/

        Bye for now,

        Stuart.

        Like

  8. I used to work in the Suncharm factory in late 1989 – 1990, good memories, I worked in the lab testing the stuff. I remember one dinnertime I went ‘exploring’ and found loads of old shelf samples from the lab, abandoned. Old tins of South Sea Lemon, Vintage ‘Superspace’ cartons (like a plastic tin with an aluminium top), various old tins from around 1984. I also remember watching Space special being made in the huge vats – a lovely deep green colour. Needless to say – I drunk at least 2 bottles every day, and sometimes more if it were being produced on the simonazzi line (small bottling plant).
    Remember looking at the labels (which pictured a smiling ‘sun’ sipping a bottle through a straw, giving a ‘thumbs up’ – remember?) and most of the ingredients were E numbers, and the flavour on the front simply said ‘mixed fruit flavour soft drink’.
    Best drink ever!!! – especially good when combined with Burtons Fish n’ chips crisps 😀

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    1. Hi Martin,

      I am not surprised as to why you had two bottles of Space Special a day. For me, my favourite of the Sun Charm range. I too remember the labels with the smiling sun drinking a Sun Charm pop (of course), often with the flavour denoted above the sun and the ‘Sun Charm’ logo on the bottom right just above the Best Before date.

      Anyway, I cannot speak for Burtons’ Fish and Chips. I have never enjoyed a packet in full, only had odd ones whilst being shared around. I like the real thing too much, wrapped up in paper and best enjoyed in full view of the North Sea in clement weather.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

  9. Cresta – “It’s frothy, man.”

    “You’re looking good with Tab” – TV advertisement; chubby woman stands on bathroom scales, giving us a close-up of her ugly painted toenails. To this day, I wonder why fat women believe that toenail varnish will distract the public from their pounds of flab. “How shall I make myself more attractive? Shall I lose weight? No – I’ll paint my toenails.” Lord, help us…

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