On Extinct Tropical-themed confectionery products

It was while driving to work one morning last week when it occurred to me for some bizarre inexplicable reason that the canned fizzy drink Lilt was no longer on the market.   Or at least not in cans anyway.  If I remember correctly it was a mixture of pineapple, grapefruit and various other tropical fruit flavours, topped up wiht citirc acid, tartrazine and assorted crap that would now probably be banned by the EU. The TV ad featured shots of an idyllic tropical island with thejingle sung in a strong Caribbean accent “Lilt – with a totally tropical tee-yast”.

Around about the same time (ie early ‘80s) I recall there was a coconut and cherry flavoured chocolate bar called Cabana, which disappeared without a trace soon afterwards. Then not so long after this came out a disgusting bright red drink purporting to be a mixture of various tropical fruit juices called Um Bongo. The song featured in the TV ad (sung – I believe, but can’t be 100% sure – by the comedian Lenny Henry) was along the lines of an African tribal chant accompanied by a jungle drum beat with the chorus line “Um Bongo, Um Bongo, they drink it in the Congo”. It’s unlikely that this sort of thing would be broadcast nowadays in the age of rampant political correctness. But it’s probably purely coincidental that roughly around the same time the Tory MP Alan Clarke called for black immigrants to be sent back to BongoBongoland.

It’s not so much the politically incorrect nature of the ad, nor its stereotyping, but more the gross factual inaccuracy that bothers me. I’m sure if you were to ask Fergal Keane or Orla Guerin fresh from a reporting assignment in the corrupt, war-ravaged, mineral-rich central African state (that’s assuming the song refers to the Democratic Republic of Congo rather than Congo-Brazzaville, although the former was at the time still known as Zaire (but before that the Belgian Congo at the time when waffle-eating Sprouts had an empire), so it’s debatable) if they saw anyone sipping Um Bongo out of a straw from a garishly-coloured cardboard carton, I’m sure the answer would be an emphatic “no”.

A cursory glance at Wikipedia proves my point:

It is particularly famous for its long running (sung) slogan of “They Drink It In The Congo“, used with the accompanying animated television advert since the 1980s. However, Um Bongo is not marketed in either the Republic of the Congo or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And just to be clear I don’t miss Lilt, Um Bongo, Cabana or any other e-number, artificial-flavouring-infested tropical-themed confectionery product of the 1980s (nor for that matter do I miss that particular decade), but I do toss and turn in bed at night wondering whatever became of them. I assume they went the way of the yuppy, the spangly flecked suit, black slip-ons and white socks, the bubble perm and matching moustache as sported by stock stage Liverpudlians in period comedy sketches, the wafer thin leather tie, the skintight pair of bleached jeans and the mullet haircut. And good riddance to them all.

Nostalgia’s just not what it used to be.



  1. I’ve lived such a sheltered life I only remember Lilt which I didn’t like. Things do change, imagine Lenny Henry now acting in a Shakespeare play.

  2. Talking about how things change, that reminds me of a joke I heard recently:
    The president of America is now black. The best golfer in the world is black. The world’s fastest racing driver is black.

    Michael Jackson must be really kicking himself now.

  3. I remember Lilt, and Um Bongo was my mother’s drink of choice for my lunchbox back in the day! My friend Chris mourns the loss of a drink called Fresca and sweets called Pacers, neither of which I can remember – ring any bells for you?

  4. Fresca, if I remember correctly was a canned fizzy drink, available in lemon and orange flavours, like a downmarket version of Fanta and also available in “diet” variety. I vaguely remember Pacers, the name rings a bell, but I have no recollection of what they were like.

  5. Apparently, Pacers were like Opal Fruits but were mint flavoured, and stripy white and green. All of this I’ve been told by my friend – I have absolutely no recollection of them, and had assumed that they were only sold in the Welsh Valleys where he lives!

    1. Yes, pacers had the texture of opal fruits and did taste like mild-mint toothpaste/Mentos. I do recall, as a child, refusing to wear a green and white shirt on the grounds that I would resemble a big Pacer mint.

  6. Jennie I can nearly taste them now even though it’s about 30 years since I had one.I knew there was a reason I lived in Swansea for a year 🙂

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