Babycham is as famous for its place in the history of advertising as for its sweet taste. It was cleverly targeted at women who wanted to enjoy a light drink with a touch of glamour while the menfolk downed pints, and was a marketing phenomenon in the 1960s and 70s.
Now Babycham is back in the ownership of the family that invented it in the 1950s, with production just returned to its old headquarters amid plans to give the sparkling perry a new lease of life among the sort of younger audience that has embraced cider in recent years.
The little bottles still sell, and the brand has even gained a camp, vintage mystique, but the rise of alcopops and mixer drinks has seriously challenged its position in the beverage business.
“If you were to put a Babycham and a prosecco, or even a champagne, side by side, there are an awful lot of people who would actually prefer the Babycham, because it hasn’t got that dry rasp,” said Matthew Showering, whose grandfather, the Somerset innkeeper and brewer Francis Showering, first came up with the recipe. “So it’s important to stick with that. It’s why it took off.
“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.”
The Babycham legacy means a lot for the family, said Matthew Showering. “It’s very special, as it almost defines our family. It changed everything.”
The drink, concocted exactly 70 years ago, became the first alcoholic drink to be advertised on television. The enthusiastic slogan “I’d love a Babycham!” entered the language.
“We want to keep that sense of celebration about it. Back then, nearly all drinks were sold in pubs, and Babycham were the masters of point-of-sale marketing. You’d have a glass there on show and maybe a little deer on the bar,” said Showering.
The drink took the place of other “ladylike” options, such as a port and lemon, or a medicinal milk stout for the maturer woman.
Based in Shepton Mallet, the Showering family have been in the drinks industry for 14 generations and have recently enjoyed renewed success with a reinvention of traditional West Country cider. Matthew and his brothers – Jonathan, Francis and Daniel – set up Brothers Drinks in the 1990s and are now official partners of Glastonbury festival.
Perry has been made in the west of England for centuries but pears are notoriously difficult to harvest at the right point. Showering’s version was commercially viable because it used a juice concentrate.
His grandson says the family story is that Francis asked a neighbouring French au pair what “pear” was in French and so dubbed his new drink “Champagne de Poire”.
It started winning prizes at agricultural shows, and the little bottles picked up the nickname “baby champ”.
A marketing miracle took place when London advisers came up with early slogans and designed the baby deer logo, with its winsome blue bow. “The family really hit the jackpot with Babycham, and it meant that it became quite a big company that was able to go on to buy other brands like Britvic and Harveys. But then it was merged with Allied Breweries in 1968.” In 1977, the conglomerate sold 144m bottles of Babycham a year.
“We bought back the old factory in 2016, but last year was a big year too, because we also bought back the original offices and the Babycham brand,” said Showering.
The return to the original headquarters has also meant a reunion with a 15ft statue of the Babycham fawn which was fixed to the roof but had been battered by decades of Somerset wind and rain.
“It had been really knocked by the weather and the paint was peeling. We got a car company to give it a fantastic spray job and we will get it up on the roof again soon,” he said.
Babycham glasses – smaller versions of the wide-bowled classic champagne coupe – are now collectible, with aficionados seeking out rarer editions. The Showerings are planning a revamp of both glass and bottle, but nothing that does not adhere to the drink’s vintage credentials.
For Showering, the drink shares the same elite pedigree as champagne: “In Somerset, landowners gave the farmers the cider, and kept the perry for themselves.”