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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Biscuits - Tunnock's Tea Cakes

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas JANUARY. 31, 2021

[182-365] 30th. January 2021- Hang on to your hats and buckle up it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Half Man- Half Biscuit, or Half Cake- Half Biscuit, Jaffa Cakes, Snowball Tax, luxuries or sweets, VAT, and a twenty year legal battle that the tax man lost.

There are several types of cake/biscuit covered in chocolate, treat, available in Britain and this one has been around since 1956.

The Tunnock's Teacake is a sweet food often served with a cup of tea or coffee. It was developed by Sir Archibald Boyd Tunnock in 1956. The product consists of a small round shortbread biscuit covered with a dome of Italian meringue, a whipped egg white concoction similar to marshmallow, although somewhat lighter in texture.

The packaging has not changed much and there is a sense of theatre when you open up the little yellow jewel box.

The company was formed by Thomas Tunnock (b. 1865) as Tunnock's in 1890, when he purchased a baker's shop in Lorne Place, Uddingston. The company expanded in the 1950s, and it was at this time that the core products were introduced to the lines, when sugar and fat rationing meant that products with longer shelf-lives than cakes had to be produced.

Retired RAF bomber pilot Tony Cunnane told of how Tunnock's Teacakes became a favourite ration snack of the V bomber nuclear deterrent flight crews based at RAF Gaydon, especially after discovering that they expanded at high altitude. This ended after one was left unwrapped and exploded on the instrument panel. (Wikipedia)

I am now visualising a remake of Dr. Strangelove with an exploding Tunnock's Tea Cake causing a Third World War. How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Chocolate Bombe.

VAT is a tax currently rated at 20% on most things sold in Britain. Certain foods deemed to be essentials do not have VAT added such as biscuits and cakes. Try telling somebody British that biscuits and cakes are not essential.

VAT stands for Value Added Tax which means that the tax is collected at each stage value is added to a product so that when it finally reaches the public we pay an extra 20%. It is a sales tax. Manufacturers and retailers over a certain size claim back the tax so that essentially they don't pay it, they just collect it from us for the government. I hope I have got that right.

Put simply as far as I can understand it everyone in the chain from raw materials producer through to manufacturer and ending at retailer claim back VAT they are charged but I don't, because I am the mug.

Enter a 20 year tax war with the HMRC (IRS). Back in the seventies The HMRC decided that several products were VAT rated, like Tunnocks Snowballs, a coconut covered version, and other tea cakes like this one. The companies pursued it through the courts for two decades until they finally won and had to be compensated by the tax man to the tune of millions.

The gripe by the manufacturers was essentially that the tax affected sales by adding 20% to the cost, so proving how it should be defined was crucial. If you want a little cheap thrill at the idea of robbing the tax man have a tea cake.

This also famously affected the Jaffa Cake which will be featured in a later post. The court case there revolved around what happens to a stale biscuit and what happens to a stale cake. I kid you not. This all cost us taxpayers millions to challenge and defend and to compensate.

The following are real transcripts from a British Court room.

At the tribunal, Judge Scott said it was not disputed that Snowballs were a "sweetened prepared food which is normally eaten with the fingers" and that everyone "agreed that a Snowball is certainly not a biscuit".

The judge described Snowballs, which are boiled and not baked, as "very fragile", "very sweet" and observed that their mallow core was "similar" to that found in tea cakes.

Judge Scott said: "Most people would want to enjoy a beverage of some sort whilst consuming a Snowball.

"It would often be eaten in a similar way and on similar occasions to cakes - for example to celebrate a birthday in an office."

She added: "Most people would prefer to be sitting when eating a Snowball and possibly, or preferably... with a plate, a napkin or a piece of paper or even just a bare table so that the pieces of coconut which fly off do not create a great deal of mess.

Bokeh Tunnock's. Why not?

In putting this all together and seeing the description, Half Cake - Half Biscuit, I was reminded of a band called something Half -Biscuit. So I had to look them up too. I was aware of the name but knew nothing about them. But one line on Wikipedia stood out and has made me want to urgently listen to some of their music.

Half Man Half Biscuit are an English rock band, formed in 1984 in Birkenhead, Merseyside. Known for their satirical, sardonic, and sometimes surreal songs, the band comprises lead singer and guitarist Nigel Blackwell, bassist and singer Neil Crossley, drummer Carl Henry, and guitarist Karl Benson.

In late 1986, the band split up, giving as reason "musical similarities".

For Garibaldi biscuits see here.

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