Retro: The days when milkies had gotta lotta bottle

Milkman, Ernest Sheldon, delivering milk in the Wincobank area in Sheffield - 2nd November 1983
Milkman, Ernest Sheldon, delivering milk in the Wincobank area in Sheffield - 2nd November 1983
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They are as British as red telephone boxes, fry-ups, Big Ben and cups of tea – and they certainly do the business when it comes to delivering the goods for the latter.

The humble milkman has been a familiar sight on the suburban streets of Britain for decades, cheerily whistling his way down the garden path as the rest of us awake blearily for another day.

Milkman George Christmas retires - 1988

Milkman George Christmas retires - 1988

And although they aren’t as commonplace as they once were, you can still see them whizzing up and down quiet suburban backstreets, stooping down on doorsteps and dropping off pintas as the sun rises.

With the rise of long-life milk and supermarkets helping to provide us with bulging plastic bottles of skimmed and semi-skimmed, being awoken by a uniformed milkie hopping on and off his buzzing electric milk float is now an image that seems firmly rooted in the past.

But at one time, milkmen were big business.

The streets of South Yorkshire were packed with the white and blue floats of the Co-op Dairy or the yellow liveried trucks of Northern Dairies, fleets of the little vehicles humming into life each morning, their plastic crates and clanking bottles a familiar wake-up call to many children.

Milkman - 1983

Milkman - 1983

Originally, milk needed to be delivered to houses daily since the lack of good refrigeration meant it would quickly spoil.

But with every home now having a fridge as well as improved packaging, the need for frequent milk delivery has declined substantially over the past half-century.

Back in the ’70s and ’80s, the job achieved lothario status, thanks initially to bawdy comedian Benny Hill who immortalised milkies the length and breadth of the country with his 1971 number one single, Ernie The Fastest Milkman In The West.

The song tells the fictional exploits of Ernie Price, a 52-year-old milkman who drives a horse–drawn milk cart. It relates his war with the bread delivery man, Two Ton Ted from Teddington, and their efforts to win the heart of Sue, a widow who lives on her own at number 22 Linley Lane.

Milkman, John Round, delivering milk - 9th November 1982

Milkman, John Round, delivering milk - 9th November 1982

When Ted sees Ernie’s cart outside Sue’s house all afternoon, he becomes enraged and violently kicks Price’s horse, Trigger.

The two men resort to a duel, using the wares they carry on their respective carts, and Ernie is killed by a rock cake (underneath his heart) followed by a stale pork pie in the eye.

The image of milkmen as seducers of bored housewives nationwide was further bolstered by 1980s sitcom Bottle Boys which featured Robin Askwith, star of the 1970s Confessions sex comedy film series as a randy deliveryman - although the series was slated by critics for its low-brow humour and is classed as one of the worst sitcoms of all time.

Doncaster-filmed sitcom Open All Hours, starring Ronnie Barker, always opened with David Jason’s character Granville trying to chat up the local milklady, played by Barbara Flynn.

A surprise for milkman, Jim Wright, on his last day making deliveries on Langdon Street, Sharrow, as he gets a farewell lkiss from customer Caroline Wells, a gift of a mounted milk bottle, celebration cake and wine - 16th April 1993

A surprise for milkman, Jim Wright, on his last day making deliveries on Langdon Street, Sharrow, as he gets a farewell lkiss from customer Caroline Wells, a gift of a mounted milk bottle, celebration cake and wine - 16th April 1993

In the mid-1980s, advertising gurus tried to ditch the Milk’s Gotta Lotta Bottle slogan with a tracksuited Bob Geldof running through the deserted streets of London in search of a pinta and Scouse schoolboy footballers swigging the stuff, otherwise they’d only be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley (repeat in unison, Accrington Stanley? Who are they?).

Readers of a certain age will recall miniature bottles at school (and their disappearance under Maggie Thatcher, the so-called Milk Snatcher), and waking up on a winter’s morning to find a lump of ice clogging the top of the bottle.

Either that or inventive blue tits pecking through the foil caps to get at the cream on top.

Dungworth farmer, Graham Andrew, with the green top  milk he sells from his farm - 30th July 1993

Dungworth farmer, Graham Andrew, with the green top milk he sells from his farm - 30th July 1993

Milk bottles - 1981

Milk bottles - 1981