04 Feb
Sugar Daze: The Sweets of 1980s Britain

Remember a time when pockets jingled with pennies and sweetshops were Aladdin's caves of sugary delight? If the 1980s tickle your taste buds, then hold onto your Sherbet Dips, because we're taking a trip down memory lane to explore the UK's most popular sweets during that in-your-face decade.

For many, this article will be a nostalgic pang for a simpler time, where the weight of a paper bag held not just sweets, but childhood memories, forever sweet and bright.

Young girl with jars of sweets in a 1980s sweet shop

The sweet shop was a portal to a world where sugar-coated dreams swirled in every colour imaginable. Row upon row of colourful jars provided an experience that only an 80s sweet shop could deliver. So let's embark on a nostalgic sugar rush, and take a closer look at those iconic sweets that filled those tall glass jars.

Fruity Sweets

First up, let's dive into the world of fruity explosions. One of the juiciest penny sweets was the Fruit Salad chew, its sugary segments bursting with citrus tang and pineapple punch. You may have preferred the tangy, sherbet-filled Fizz Wizz, whose popping candy made mouths erupt in fizzy fun. 

Who could forget the chewy enigma that was Opal Fruits, later known as Starburst, the rainbow squares offering a taste of the tropics with every bite. They were advertised as "made to make your mouth water", although whether they quench your thirst is debatable.

Trebor Black Jacks and Fruit Salad chews from the 1980s

The Golly logo is no longer used as it is viewed by some to "reflect a racist stereotype".

Buy Black Jacks and Fruit Salad

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No article about 80s sweets would be complete without mentioning Spangles. The classic British sweet first appeared in the 1950s but continued to captivate taste buds well into the 1980s. These hard-boiled candies came in various fizzy pop flavours, including Lemonade, Orangeade and Cola.

Bursting onto the scene with an explosion of fruity flavour, Wham Bars quickly became a sensation. These chewy delights were known for their vibrant taste and their fizzy sherbet surprise hidden within, creating a delightful experience with every bite. The original flavours were Raspberry, Strawberry and Cola, and in the 80s they were made by the Scottish confectionary company McCowan's.

Three Barratt Wham Original bars in their wrappers, with a yellow and blue background

Chewits not only captivated taste buds but also sparked imaginations with their iconic claymation TV adverts. Over the years, Chewie the Chewitsaurus became an iconic symbol of the brand, adding a playful and friendly dimension to the sweets. From classic fruit flavours like strawberry, blackcurrant, and orange to more adventurous options like cola and ice cream, Chewits have continued to evolve and innovate over the years.

For a true explosion of vibrant colours and fruity flavours, Tooty Frooties were the number one choice. Their distinctive crunchy shells and chewy texture were unrivalled, and their demise in 2019 caused a furore of fans taking to social media to express their disgust at Nestle's decision.

Sweets That Packed a Punch

Of course, no trip down memory lane is complete without a nod to the quirky and curious. Remember the dusty allure of Parma Violets, their floral sweetness and fizziness being either much-loved or loathed. 

Also dividing opinion were Black Jacks, with their mighty hit of aniseed, they were one of the most popular penny chews of the 80s. 

For those with a strong head, the Trebor Extra Strong Mint was the only mint that would suffice. Schoolboys would display their manliness by devouring two or three at once in front of their friends, but seriously regret their decision moments later!

Sweets for Girls

Then there were those sweets strictly for girls only. Do you remember the classic Candy Lipstick, or maybe wearing a necklace woven from sugary strands? Ah yes, the Candy Necklace was a popular sight in school playgrounds across Britain.

The A-Team Super Stringt Bubble Gum by Barratt, ft. Mr. T.

Do you remember The A-Team Super Stringy Bubble Gum by Barratt?

Bubblegum

Bubblegum was hugely popular during the 1980s, with youngsters often competing in the school playground to blow the biggest bubbles. Popular brands included Anglo Bubbly, Bazooka and Hubba Bubba. Not so pleasant was finding it stuck under your desk at school or on the sole of your shoe!

Scary Sweets

Who could forget the sweet terror of Dracula Teeth, its bloody-red colouring adding a touch of spooky fun to any playground escapade? Horror themes for sweets and crisps were popular during the 1970s and into the 80s. Raspberry and Pineapple flavoured Trebor Phantoms were another favourite, and these also came in Lemon, Toffee and Vanilla flavours.

These days, a whole array of scary delights are made available for Halloween by confectioners, but the occasion was a much simpler affair in the 80s.

Trebor Phantoms Wrapper, red from early 1980s

Fizzy Classics

A fizzy and sherbet-filled delight, a tube of Trebor Refreshers was a popular choice for those seeking a tangy and effervescent candy experience. The pastel-coloured, fizzy tablets were known for their distinctive fruity flavours and provided a refreshing burst that appealed to both children and adults alike.

Confusingly, Swizzels Matlow also produces a sweet called Refreshers, which is similarly fizzy and fruity, although their classic Fizzers are more akin to the Trebor version. Swizzles are also famous for their lollies, of course, and who can forget Drumstick and Double Lollies

The Sherbet Fountain was a retro favourite enjoyed for generations and continued to be a popular choice in the 1980s. Looking rather like a stick of cartoon dynamite, this was a tube filled with fizzy sherbet joy, offering an explosive taste sensation combination that kept fans coming back for more.

Trebor Refreshers wrapper, 1980s. Pink, green and yellow stripes.

Minty Sweets

For those who favoured a minty freshness, Pacers were the go-to mint-flavoured chew that satisfied cravings with a cool and invigorating taste. Their distinctive green and white packaging made them easily recognisable on the shelves of British sweet shops.

Another minty favourite and breath freshener was Tic-Tac, which came in a quirky pocket-sized plastic case, and these were also available in an orange flavour. Unlike Pacers, they're still in production today and come in a range of exciting flavours.

For those who liked the satisfaction of sucking slowly on a boiled mint, Fox's Glacier Mints were unrivalled for their icy cool refreshment. Murray Mints provided a more rich and creamy experience, with the molasses providing a caramel edge.

Popular Toffees

Toffee lovers will fondly remember Mackintosh's Toffo, which came in distinctive red tubes, and many will also remember the Assorted Flavours version, which also provided chocolate (my favourite), banana and strawberry flavours. There was also a Mint version, which, unsurprisingly, came with a green wrapper.

A box of Toffee Poppets was very handy for keeping in your pocket, and being rustle-free, these were ideal for consuming while watching Ghostbusters at the local Cinema. 

No Christmas was complete without the Scottish classic McCowan's Highland Toffee, or the creamy Walkers Nonsuch toffee slabs. There was nothing more satisfying than smashing it to pieces with the little metal hammer, and watching the shards fly into your Nan's glass of Sherry.

Woolworths Pic n' Mix bag from the 1980s. White with pink square graphic and blue and green text.

Woolworth's Pick 'n Mix

Beyond the individual treats, the 80s was a golden age for Pick n' Mix

The sweet aroma of Strawberry Bonbons and Fizzy Cola Cubes beckoned, a rainbow symphony of candy spilling from plastic bins at the counter. This wasn't Willy Wonka's factory, but the hallowed Pick N' Mix haven of Woolworths. After stocking up on Winfield C60 blank cassette tapes, it was off to the sweets aisle!

With a paper bag in hand and tongs glinting under the fluorescent lights, you embarked on a sugary pilgrimage. Each scoop was a deliberate treasure hunt, crafting a personal kaleidoscope of flavours and textures. The thrill of weighing your sugary bounty, a testament to your self-curated masterpiece, was unmatched. 

With pockets full of pennies, children would become sugar alchemists, concocting personalised masterpieces from the rainbow bins of Flying Saucers, Sherbet Lemons, Chocolate Jazzies, and creamy Milk Bottles. Each scoop was a treasure, a tiny fragment of childhood joy.

In the 1980s, Woolworths Pick N' Mix was a childhood ritual and a canvas for sweet self-expression.

Two boys with white Candy Floss on sticks covering their heads

Fun Fair Sweets

With no smartphones and Netflix to keep us entertained, Fun Fairs provided an essential source of fun back in the 1980s. But it wasn't just the rides that provided excitement. The glorious sight of a towering pink Candy Floss with its sweet aroma was just too much of a temptation to resist. I used to be mesmerised by the lady swirling her stick around the bowl, watching the sugar strands slowly fatten into a confectionary masterpiece, However, venturing onto the waltzers with a belly full of sugar was never a wise decision!

Conclusion

So, as we reminisce about the vibrant decade of the 80s, let's raise a fizzy cola bottle to the candy that fuelled our playground games and our sugar rushes, and provided the sweetest memories of a simpler time. 

Whether you were a Fruit Salad devotee or a Parma Violet purist, there's no doubt that the sweets of the 1980s deserve a place in the Sugar Hall of Fame. Now, excuse me while I go hunt down a Sherbet Dip...

You should also check out our post 60 Classic Retro Sweets You Can Still Buy Today

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