Camp Coffee Labels

My paternal grandmother was a fan of Camp Coffee, the distinctive alternative to the real thing.  For many of my childhood years I was confused about why coffee tasted so different when my grandmother made it.  Only later did I realise that she was serving a drink made of caffeine free coffee essence, sugar, and chicory essence; not so  much like the real thing then!

I have avoided it for years but, when reminiscing recently, a friend told me that the label design had changed to be ‘politically correct’.  Please note that this was his term, not mine!  I do not use it since I only ever read or hear it when it is being employed to knock down some supposed liberal initiative.  Users of the phrase deploy it to show that their traditional views are being attacked by the intolerant when, often, it is only remembering to show respect for difference that is being asked for.  It is also hard to know what the critics think their so-called political correctness does, other than it goes mad.

However, I was interested in the Camp Coffee label affair!

This is the one I remember from my grandmother’s house.


The product was made in Scotland so the use of a Gordon Highlander is appropriate.  Production started in the 1870s, the British Empire was at its height, so the idea of a Sikh servant serving the coffee would also be appropriate.  This is the sort of thing that used to happen in the days of empire.

Note the label currently being used.


The Gordon Highlander and the Sikh soldier are still present, but now they sit together enjoying the refreshing coffee substitute drink in harmony.  According to my friend, and endorsed by the views of our glorious right wing newspaper, ‘The Daily Mail’, this is ‘political correctness gone mad’.

What seemed odd to me was that the company decided to make the specific change that it did.  The idea that the soldier and his servant would have sat together at the height of the Empire is a nonsense.  The original design may show aspects of our history that we now find uncomfortable but that should not mean that we pretend that, actually, we treated the Indian population as equals.  It is insulting to everyone.

Surely, the picture either needs to stay as it was (as in ‘this is what we used to be like’) or it needs to show a modern Scot sitting down with a modern Indian (as in ‘this is what we do now’).  I cannot see the benefit of trying to pretend the past was more genteel than it was.  It isn’t ‘political correctness’ but sentimentalising the past that we need to worry about.

This happens in many modern films and television depictions of the past where it is (usually) the sympathetic characters that get to portray current, more tolerant attitudes to women, people of colour, gay people etc. as if they held these views back then.  It might make our modern viewing more comfortable but a more realistic portrayal would show the attitudes of the time!

We have moved on.  Britain is a more tolerant and accepting society than it once was but, if we try to provide a soft focus to the past, we will forget where we came from.  At that would be bad for all of us.



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