The Empire Christmas Pudding

Posted By: Nick Jackson

Posted: October 19, 2012

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Though Christmas seems far too far away, Christmas advertising has of course been battering our eyes and ears now for some weeks. Pity the busy housewife of the late 1920s, then, who was not only importuned to buy! buy! buy! particular products as she trudged her way between charming but inconvenient specialist shops but who found that she could only do her seasonal duty by King and Country if she amassed the 17 very specific ingredients of the Empire Christmas pudding.

Supplied by the King’s Chef, Mr Cedard, with Their Majesties’ Gracious Consent, the recipe was published in poster form by the Empire Marketing Board, a body set up in 1926 by the colonial secretary, Leo Amery, to promote the buying of British Empire goods in the home market. The Board expended much of its budget and energy on agricultural and economic research, but it is for its presence in what would now be called the media that it is best remembered. Its film unit, led by the documentary pioneer John Grierson, produced pieces which combined marketing for Empire produce with serious social investigation.

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The Board’s other main publicity tool was the poster, used both to promote specific goods – Jaffa oranges from Palestine, Rhodesian tobacco, Cypriot locust beans (which turn out to be merely carob) – and to push the ethos of ‘imperial preference’ as a whole (‘BUY EMPIRE EVERY DAY’). Far from being anonymous products of advertising agencies, these posters were commissioned from noted artists such as Charles Pears, Gerald Spencer Pryse, MacDonald Gill, brother of Eric, and, most prominently, Frank Newbould and Edward McKnight Kauffer (ironically, an American), whose luminescent works for the EMB exemplify an era in graphic design and two of which are pictured here.

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As for the pudding, which is inevitably a rather tropics-heavy affair – New Zealand seems a notable omission from the contributors, and Canada only sneaks in as a back-up – I would be tempted to try it out myself this year were it not for the fact that I usually make another little piece of lost imperial Christmas in the shape of Madras Club pudding, a lighter recipe developed in nineteenth-century India for British residents sweltering in the sun. As there is no practical justification for this in wintry England, I vow to follow the flag as best I can in all my buying of ingredients for it. Mr Cedard, I hope, would have approved.

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These posters and many others from the Empire Marketing Board, newly scanned in high-definition colour, can be seen in our relaunched resource Empire Online, due for release at the end of this month.

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Nick Jackson

I work as an editorial assistant for Adam Matthew Digital, an online publisher of primary sources in the humanities based in Wiltshire, UK. My main field of work is with British diplomatic documents, but I've helped build projects featuring everything from guides to London nightlife to records of American slaves' court appearances.

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