Born: November 16, 1938; Died: July 16, 2013.
BRIAN Sollitt, who has died of a heart attack aged 74, was the creative chocolatier who gave the world the now-iconic After Eight mint. He also invented the Lion bar, Drifters, Matchmakers and the "chunky milk chocolate Yorkie," the latter named after his native Yorkshire.
After the 1971 film version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder, his fellow workers at the Rowntree factory in York where he worked all his life, inevitably dubbed him "the real-life Willy Wonka."
By all accounts, they loved him as a cheery and loyal colleague but he also knew how to keep them sweet. He used to leave his latest chocolate creations on a tray outside his "factory lab" to test their reaction, particularly at Christmas when he would leave out chocolate Santas.
It was in 1962 that he came up with the After Eight. His fellow-workers at Rowntree loved it and, with a bit of genius marketing, the skinny little chocolate-coated peppermint upstart became an important part of the history of chocolate, upsetting the Swiss who had thought they ruled the chocolate world. (The Swiss giant Nestlé later bought Rowntree, so in a sense they still do).
After Eights: The Queen Mother loved them and reportedly got upset every time her daughter, Queen Elizabeth, appropriated one. Fashion models and film stars loved them, at least that's what they ads told us. They were for the wealthy, the posh, the successful.
According to the ads, men had to wear a black bow tie and dinner suit to have one, while women had to wear a slinky black evening dress. We normal folks therefore aspired to emulate, creating many chocoholics among us.
The After Eights were wafer-thin, so they couldn't be fattening. And they had those little wrappers you could put back in the box so that no-one knew you'd just had one. It got so serious that if there wasn't one on your hotel room pillow, you got upset and called room service.
A bottle of claret without an After Eight to wash down with it? How common. And how ironic that few people outside Rowntree's knew the name of "the real-life Willy Wonka" until an alert tabloid reporter wrote of his passing.
Brian Lawrence Sollitt was born in York on November 16, 1938, and joined the famous Rowntree factory straight after school at the age of 15, initially minding a conveyor belt in the cream department, hand-piping chocolate onto the popular Black Magic brand. The war and post-war rationing meant that it was a dream job for him and his family.
His talent and personality won him a position as a "creative" in Rowntree's "Creme Experimentation Department," relatively hush-hush and aimed at beating the Swiss at their own game. He therefore became a confectioner, an artisan, a chocolatier.
Thus was the After Eight born. It was a team-effort - someone else reportedly suggested: "look, lets's wrap a peppermint fondant in dark chocolate," - but it was Brian "Willy Wonka" Sollitt who laboriously brought it to fruition.
Although in retirement since 2006 and relatively-unknown, Sollitt went south to London in December last year to mark the 50th anniversary of his most famous creation by presenting a giant, 7lb After Eight to parliamentarians at Westminster. It was devoured before the Speaker could even say "Order!"
In retirement, Sollitt devoted much of his time to teaching about confection artistry but also committed his time and talents to charity, particularly in the creation of giant Easter Eggs and real-sized bears for Children in Need.
Brian Sollitt, who died in York, was unmarried. He is survived by a sister, Hazel. His other sister, Anne, predeceased him.
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