Have a think. When was the last time you bought a round of drinks and someone said, “make mine a glass of perry” ? No, it hasn’t happened to me either and I’ve bought a few rounds in my day. Perry. What even is it? Well, it’s about as west country as Laurie Lee. Basically, it’s cider made from pears. Untrendy, unpopular, and pretty much unheard of. Or is it?
Pull up a log to this smoky orchard bonfire, grab the nearest leather flagon and pour yourself a beaker of your favourite fermenting fruit. Swat away the late summer midges and I’ll tell you a tale that’ll make you change your mind.
For Babycham is set to make a comeback. Perhaps the most famous perry. It helped define drinking for ladies in the 1960’s and 70’s. With its stylish, delicately feminine green mini-bottles, coupe glasses and distinctive brand imagery of the doe-eyed cartoon fawn. Bambi in a glass.
What a difference to a dull pint of mild and bitter. And that was its schtick. It’s why thousands of women replied “I’d love a Babycham” every Friday night down their local when offered a drink by their unreconstructed 1970’s male partner (think of an extra on the set of The Sweeney). Allegedly anyway – that was how the advertising went and what it wanted us to believe.
First for everything
Babycham was the first commercially successful perry. It was the first alcoholic product to be advertised on British commercial television and the first specifically aimed at women. Very clever, very modern and it became very popular very quickly. In 1977 more than 140 million little green bottles of it were sold to stylish, thirsty ladies. It was worth taking your curlers out for a Babycham.
We look at vintage advertising now and cringe at such stereotypical tropes. But it worked then and built a significant brand. It was of its day. So, will it ride again?
The grandsons of the inventor think so.
The chemist turned brewer Francis Showering ran a small drinks production unit in Shepton Mallet. He invented the drink in the late 1940’s and called it, originally, “BabyChamp”. In muddy wellies he hawked it around various west country agricultural shows and gathered a following. He launched “Babycham” on the open market in 1953. The TV campaign followed in 1957 referring to it as “genuine champagne perry”. It became so successful the Showering’s stopped brewing beer in the 1960’s to concentrate on mining Babycham gold.
On and on the success went until 1978 when the growers in the Champagne region of France picked a fight to protect their regional brand. They lost. The judge determined ordinary folk were not, nor were they likely to confuse Babycham with the real deal that is Champagne. There was no ‘passing off’ infringement. The only thing that could derail the Babycham train was changing trends. And they did just that. Production dropped to 15 million bottles of fun a year. And now, most young folk have never heard of it.
Nobody puts baby in the corner
Matthew Showering is the grandson of Francis. The family sold, at its height one presumes, the Babycham brand and bought it back from Accolade Wines in late 2021. Mathew and other offspring also bought back the original brewing building and offices in Shepton Mallet and now run the brewer Brothers Drinks Limited. Their plan is to relaunch Babycham.
Glorifying the 1970’s – perhaps. If you can put aside the hair, flares and overt sexism – don’t we just love a retro feel? Who thought 1960’s sideboards and Formica drinks trollies could be hip. If not now, when? Matthew Showering is sparklingly positive:
“We will get closer to the original production method and recipe, as some things got chiselled away for speed with mass production. And we are going towards the original look too, so we’ll have quite a retro feel which, oddly, will make it more modern.”
Good luck Matthew. If I could afford an original 1960’s Babycham glass, I’d raise it to toast your future success.
IP is never dull. Will the last person home put the bonfire out. These pear trees are priceless.
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Written and researched by Ben Fairclough