Brian Edwards Media

The Short But Fascinating History of Camp Coffee

The Rehabilitation of Camp Coffee

Dating back to 1885, this thick black syrup, a ‘secret blend’ of sugar, water, coffee and chicory essence, was originally made in Glasgow by R. Paterson and Sons Ltd, ‘sole proprietors’. It came in a square, eight and a half fluid-ounce glass bottle, rather like HP Sauce. The original label showed a moustachioed Gordon Highlander sitting on a cushion drinking a cup of Camp, while a turbaned Sikh servant stood patiently next to him, holding a tray with a bottle of Camp and a jug. A tent in the background was topped by a fluttering pennant with the words ‘Ready Aye Ready’, while helpful instructions advised users to ‘Stir one teaspoonful of “Camp” into each cupful of boiling water, then add cream and sugar to taste. Made with heated milk (not boiled) it is delicious.’

Though I didn’t know it as a ten-year old in Belfast after the war, controversy surrounded  not only the label but the Scottish officer on it. According to an article in the Guardian, Major General Sir Hector McDonald was the model for the Gordon Highlander. The son of a crofter, he had worked his way up through the ranks of the regiment, serving with distinction in the Afghan War and in India. Known as ‘Fighting Mac’ for his exploits at the battle of Omdurman, he was wounded in the second Boer War and later given command of the regiment’s troops in Ceylon where charges of homosexuality were brought against him. (Too much Camp Coffee perhaps?) He shot himself in a Paris hotel in 1903.

Several decades later, a small but significant change, the sort of thing you might see in a ‘Spot the Difference’ puzzle, was made by Paterson & Sons to the label: the tray disappeared and the Sikh servant was left standing with his left arm by his side, while his right remained in its original crooked position, the fist clenched holding – nothing. Whether this was an early example of political correctness, designed to make the Sikh look rather less like a waiter, is uncertain. But it was undoubtedly complaints of racism, allegedly from Asian shopkeepers, that led the new owners of Camp, McCormick Foods, to change the label once again. In September 2006 a headline in the Daily Mail read ‘Camp Coffee forced to change label by the PC brigade’. The new label showed the officer and the Sikh sitting side by side, both drinking Camp, an excellent example of racial equality and historical revisionism.

[Excerpt from Daddy Was A German Spy by BE. Still available from discerning bookshops or at http://brianedwardsmedia.co.nz/what-we-offer/books/]

14 Comments:

  1. Hector certainly seems to be showing the Sikh gentleman a little too much knee for my liking.

  2. Nigella Lawson mentions this stuff in Forever Summer, I did wonder what it was (although I guess I never wondered hard enough to just Google it.) Intriguing history, very sad about the model.

  3. I can remember such coffee here in NZ during the 40s and 50s. Made with hot milk and a teaspoon of Chicory-and-coffee, and sugar. We kids rather liked it. But it wasn’t called CAMP. Can’t remember though.

  4. The modern Gordon Highlander is not as hefty as the original.

  5. “Several decades later, a small but significant change, the sort of thing you might see in a ‘Spot the Difference’ puzzle, was made by Paterson & Sons to the label: the tray disappeared and the Sikh servant was left standing with his left arm by his side, while his right remained in its original crooked position, the fist clenched holding – nothing.”

    Here is the picture. It is a interesting story of changes in sensibilities.

  6. http://sybertooth.com/camp/graphic.jpg

  7. So who’s waiting on both gentlemen?

    (Probably a woman. We’re not rehabilitated yet…)

  8. Dating back to 1885, this thick black syrup, a ‘secret blend’ of sugar, water, coffee and chicory essence, was originally made in Glasgow by R. Paterson and Sons Ltd, ‘sole proprietors’.
    Dating back to 1876 in fact.

  9. @ianmac

    Yes, I well recall in my youth (1950s), a bottle of chicory-and-essence being a staple of the larder. Product of wartime rationing? I dunno. Gregg’s or Bushell’s brand from memory. Can’t remember tasting even instant coffee till the 1960s. Seemed as exotic as garlic, salami or olives at the time. And don’t even talk about wine. Oh Lord how sheltered and blinkered we were.

  10. “So who’s waiting on both gentlemen?

    (Probably a woman. We’re not rehabilitated yet…)”

    The Gordon Highlander is in fact a woman, and the Sikh is the Paul Henry in disguise about to deliver a comment on moustaches.

  11. But no one’s said if yesteryear’s coffee is better-tasting than today’s. Is it?

  12. The Queen’s Army in Camp.
    My father (in Christchurch in the 40s & 50s) was addicted to the NZ equivalent of CAMP which you can still get in a bottle – BUSHELLS Coffee essence! Sometimes Camp was available in New Zealand and he would buy it. from memory it tasted a bit more like coffee than the NZ brew. He was in the 14/18 stoush so I wonder if he new about Camp from time in uk or perhaps Kiwiw’s got it from time to time at the front? or perhaps it was a class thing Officers only? (certainly would
    have helped wash down the fish paste sandwiches
    (bullybeef and sardines mashed up.
    I wonder if anyone has written a history of the “Queen’s “Army from Burton to Brian Aldis (A Soldier Erect) and beyond??? I have heard a few tales about NZ) Bushels had a gent in a fez on it finest – turkish sludge!

  13. Ah yes – Bushell’s coffee essence! I quite liked it – that and milo. But nothing better than decent cuppa… (coffee culture completely missed me)