The Short But Fascinating History of Camp Coffee

Camp Coffee

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Camp Coffee Dating back to, this thick black syrup, a ‘secret blend’ of sugar, water, coffee and chicory essence, was originally made in Glasgow by R. Paterson and Sons Ltd, ‘sole proprietors’.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

Camp Coffee Label

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.

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