A friend asked about the myth of Mrs Thatcher and the invention of ice-cream. I did a bit of digging in Google Books and other scholarly and first-hand sources, and came up with the sourced facts…


Thatcher was a research chemist, at J. Lyons at Cadby Hall in Hammersmith, for two and half years. She left there in 1951. Specifically, she was part of a team at the food testing laboratory there. Lyons was then a major household name for teas, cakes, ice-cream, and ice-lollies — and at that time was working on a new “soft-scoop” ice-cream, which led (in Spring 1959) to the launch of the classic Mister Softee mobile ice-cream van industry, selling the famous ’99’ flake twirl cones. The tinned sterile ice-cream mix, developed for Mister Softee at Lyons’s Cadby Hall (not the “Mr Whippy” of Thatcher myth), was crucial for the vans — it worked well in the new American mobile ice cream pumps which the vans carried. But that 1959 launch was around seven years after Thatcher left Lyons. At Lyons Thatcher also worked on developing the new soft fillings for Swiss rolls and, in her own words, also did some “theoretical” food chemistry there. It’s possible she may have contributed in a minor way to the early work which led in time to the new “soft-scoop” ice-cream. But the academic journal Notes & Records of the Royal Society has a historical paper on “Thatcher, Scientist” (2011) which states of the ‘soft ice-cream’ invention claim that…

“there is no firm evidence that Thatcher directly assisted in its [soft ice-cream] invention.”

Like the mythical “over 30 on a bus” quote, the idea that she boosted profits by showing Lyons how to pump air into ice-cream is another myth about Mrs. Thatcher.


Update, April 2013: Oh dear, a beardy Bishop Dimwit, the main speaker at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, actually repeated the “Mister Whippy” claim. From the pulpit, no less.