Cider Musings

The Babycham phenomena

BabyCham, a perry ( pear cider) made by Showerings, initially a brewery company  is key to cider drinks on many levels, juice, storage fermentation marketing advertising etc. It is the prototype alcopops. Phenomenally successful in UK and globally. And an example of hype and product placement, and ultimately decline. 

But first a little history. The term “champagne”  has been used in UK for sparkling wine for many decades despite the more recent protest from the French wine industry. A legal case was taken in 1975 “Bollinger vs Bulmers and Showering”. The term champagne was first used last century by Bulmers; at least since 1943, for its  sparkling cider which was originally called Cider de luxe and made by the “champagne” method since 1906. This champagne method really should be called Methode Albion, its key process of in bottle fermentation having been used in England since 1650  by cider makers, -at least 80 years before the French finessed it in Champagne. In fact it was used on barrels of champagne (still) wine exported to London in 1660s again many years before the French. Bubbles at the time were considered a fault in wine at the time. Dom Perignon tried his hardest to prevent them! The outcome of the court case went against Bulmers which did market cider in champagne bottles, but not against Babycham because the smaller bottles and product price point. The judge finding little room for confusion between the two products. (Bulmers discontinued this naming and the use of the secondary fermentation process the next year in 1975). Champagne makers then proceeded to restrict the term champenoise  to a geographic area, sparkling wines for the rest of France using the method  having to use the term methode traditionale 

Babycham was invented after Francis Showering and Babycham was first produced in the old Showerings cider Mill in Shepton Mallet Somerset -originally bought as a brewery building in 1843 by Francis’ great grandfather.

Frances Showering

Showerings were a family of brewers inn keepers and sometimes cider makers In Shepton Mallet Somerset. Since 1658, 14 generations of Showerings havre been  involved. 

Francis Showering,  who was a trained chemist and initially the manager of the cider mill in 1939. He was very capable and became managing director of the Showering group in 1949.

Perry has traditionally been difficult to made consistently in bulk as the fruit matures quickly and rots if not processed within days of ripening. And all different varieties of perry pears ripen a different times.Francis overcame this  by  milling the pears into juice and storing it then developing a new sterile filtration process which improve shelf life clear without haze and making the sparkling perry from the juice as required year round. 

Prior to Francis' 'industrialisation' of perry very few were drinking it because of the difficulties noted above. A. Headley, who wrote under the pseudonym of “Wiltshire Rector”, reviewing “The Fruit Manual” 4th ed by Robert Hogg in 1884 for the Journal of Horticulture, remarked that “Does anyone drink perry now except in Herefordshire?”

Launched commercially in 1953 Frances had been showing it at 3 Counties show and others first to gauge interest on the late 40s . It won several prizes. Hence its name  ‘Baby’ from the small bottles and ‘cham’ a contraction  of champion ( and no doubt a play on the word champagne) 

Clever marketing was integral to the product launch and success. But this was serendipitous. Jack Wynne-Williams  of Masius Wynne Williams advertising agency fortuitously saw Francis Showering in the reception of his competitor J Walter Thompson and ‘stole’ him whilst he was waiting to meet an agent! Jack saw the possibility of  advertising Babycham on TV, a new opportunity 

The first alcohol advertising on TV in Britain in 1957. He invented the slogan “I’d love a Babycham”. He also developed the cute Chinese water deer fawn mascot and the strapline “The Babycham bottle fills a champagne glass” 

The advertising agency then changed to Collett Dickinson Pearce and John Emperor of that company created the modern fawn logo.

These advertising companies names mean little to today’s reader but were the Saatchi and Saatchi of the time and came up with catch phrases such as “Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet”, and “Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach “, and launched the career of many, including Ridley Scott of Bladerunner fame.

Babycham was so successful from its commercial launch in 1953 that Showerings  ceased brewing in 1952 on the site and cider in 1953.  As the profits flowed in, Showerings looked to regrowth in traditional areas, buying Coates Cider in 1956 to restore cider. In 1959 there were over 1000 employees. The acquisitions continued with Gaymer’s in 1961 for the well recognised “Olde English Cyder” brand. Further growth was assured by being bought by Allied Breweries in 1961 for 108 Million pounds sterling and Francis becoming a director of the new company. His nephew Keith became the successful   vice-chairman from 1969 and then chairman and chief executive from 1975 to 1982.

One aspect of its success was its launch in small individual “baby” 4oz bottles, easy to stock in pubs. No problem with the product going flat after opening as encountered in standard 750 ml bottles.  Following its merger with the Allied Group, Babycham was found on the shelves of 90% of licensed premises by 1977. It was sold at 6%alcohol/vol so matched beer rather than wine in strength. At its peak the factory was making 12,000 bottles/hour in 1975

Rock biographer Philip  Norman commented ”Babycham was marketed as the 1st drink a woman could order in a bar without feeling “a tart or a crone.” British pubs in the 60s were mainly male dominated drinking establishments. It was also such an important icon that the Daily Mail described it as “A sparkling drink that symbolised the swinging Britain of the 60s”.

                                Carnaby Street London 60s 

However Showerings at the time of Babycham launch were not convinced it would be a success and anonymously launched a similar product made from grapes, Rosayne a pink sparkling wine under a rival company name Anglo Mediterranean Wines Ltd. Quickly relegated to oblivion by Babycham’s success.

Babycham is a true perry being made from juice of perry pears. Showerings bought the majority of the perry pears in grown in UK and supplemented by European juice esp from Switzerland. At Shepton Mallet they stockpiled 2 years of reserve juice after the initial shortages required rationing. The were proactive in planing 3,000 acres of perry pear orchards in Somerset

In the 70s the advertising had a make over with a successful campaign on TV and in print with Patrick Mower  a raffish English actor well known for his various television and occasional film roles, often as a detective or secret agent adding romantic overtones to the drink. see

However after that the brand declined as the next generation looked for more hip drinks and alcohol advertising became restricted

Production slumped to only 1 million bottles by 1993 and the cider/Babycham operations were sold off by a management buyout. Francis however was unsuccessful in being part of this new entity, Gaymer’s Group.

However Francis was out but not down, he repeated the Babycham success by forming a joint company with the sons of his nephew Keith, aptly called Brothers Drinks. with a leading product Straight 8, an 8% alcoholic perry. This was fermented at the site of the Anglo Baverian Brewery in Shepton Mallet and sold it to the festival go-ers at the Glastonbury Festival nearby.  In keeping with the modern times this was marketed as 'pear cider' not perry (a term that had lost ground and recognition with the young generation).

Somerset-based Brothers Cider.

In Jan 2016 the brothers bought back the original Showerings cider mill in Shepton Mallet  built in 1990 ” It’s great to have been able to buy back our grandfathers factory” The presses there can process 7000 tones of fruit a day. 

And finally in 2003 the pop group Babyshambles was formed in 2003 by  Pete Doherty and named after the drink.