Way of the World by Craig Brown
GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturers of Horlicks, have employed a public relations consultant, Mark Borkowski, to correct the ‘negative connotations’ associated with the bedtime beverage.
In recent years pejorative expressions such as “What a Horlicks!” and “You’ve made a right Horlicks of it!” have begun to give the milky drink a bad name. The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, once so cautious, has been a particular offender in this respect. Last year he described one of the Government’s dossiers on weapons of mass destruction as “a complete Horlicks”. By this he did not mean that the dossier in question was a malt-based bedtime drink but that it was an utter mess.
Asked to comment on his new job earlier this week, Mr Borkowski said: “I don’t want to start telling people what I have got up my sleeve but I think the approach will be a very subtle mind-over-matter exercise which will be rolled out over the next year.” I rather think this is PR-speak for: “I haven’t the foggiest, but something’s bound to occur to me before too long.”
He then added: “Horlicks is a great British brand and it has really connected with the young and trendy sophisticates of London who have discovered that it helps them unwind at the end of a busy day.”
This may or may not be true. Who knows what young and trendy sophisticates get up to at the end of a busy day? Yet somehow, I find it hard to imagine they spend a great deal of time mixing three heaped teaspoons of Horlicks into a smooth paste at the bottom of a mug while boiling a saucepan full of milk without letting it sizzle over. Life is stressful enough as it is.
My colleague Nigel Reynolds, our arts correspondent, is puzzled by the origins of the expression “a complete Horlicks”. He suggests it may have entered into slang in the 1930s as a polite alternative to “bollocks”. Perhaps, for reasons of his own, Mr Reynolds simply wanted to sneak the word “bollocks” into our newspaper, in which case he has succeeded.
But I have a simpler explanation for the slang. Anyone who has ever tried to make a cup of Horlicks will know that it generally ends up a mess, with little blobs of beige goo floating around on top of the milk. James Horlick, who patented the drink in Chicago in 1873, never quite worked out how to make his mixture soluble; the rest of us have been suffering from his oversight ever since.
My own night-time tipple consists of a sachet of Lemsip, a teaspoon of honey and a shot of whisky, all stirred together in hot water. They mix like a treat, leaving no unsightly blobs on top. Might I suggest Mr Borkowski ditches the Horlicks account and joins me to market a chain of late-night Lemsip bars, targeting the burgeoning old, square and unsophisticated market?