Jayne Dawson: Pass the ketchup - we’re celebrating a big birthday

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If this food was a band it would be the Rolling Stones, if it was a piece of clothing it would be the mini skirt, if it was a royal it would be The Queen.

In other words, it simply won’t go away.

So, come on, what fast food has been with us for decades and is eaten at the rate of 1.5 million a day?

Only the fish finger, which on Saturday will be 60 years old - and I bet you’re fancying a couple right now aren’t you, squished between two slices of white, lots of butter on the bread, tomato ketchup oozing out of the sides, a mug of tea to slurp? Go on, you know you want to.

It’s hard not to love the fish finger, it’s embedded deep in the British psyche. Food fads come and go but the fish and breadcrumbs combo remains. Children like it, students like it, grown-ups in nostalgic mood like it.

There are so many variations - with beans, with peas, with chips, with tomato ketchup, with brown sauce, even with brown bread, if you are on some weird health kick.


Its versatility even overcame a poor start in life, when it was launched with a slogan that focused on what was missing rather than what was there. “No bones, no waste, no smell, no fuss,” it went.

But then 1955 was a difficult year for food. Rationing had only finally ended the year before, spam fritters were still a national delicacy, tinned fruit with evaporated milk was the last word in posh and Fanny Cradock had just made her first cookery show for television.

Fanny loved fancy food and she loved colourful food - she was never happier than when piping potato she had dyed purple out of an icing bag, or making a pudding shaped like a boat out of a pastry case, a cocktail stick, an orange slice and a glace cherry.

No wonder the nation turned with relief to something that was not only new but could just be stuck under the grill - and which was, conveniently, already dyed orange for them.

Fanny, incidentally, married four times, twice bigamously, but that’s another story.

Back in the nation’s kitchens, fish fingers were taking over as the fast food of choice. As the ‘50s rolled into the ‘60s they became ever more popular - it’s easy to see why: if you wanted food on your plate in ten minutes flat your only other choices were beans on toast or cheese on toast.

Takeaways were yet to be invented, except for fish and chips; restaurants were expensive, frightening, once-in-a-lifetime affairs for most people.

We had not yet discovered culinary adventure. This was an era when olive oil was bought only from the chemist to pour down your ear and when everyone believed the BBC when they told us spaghetti grew on trees.

My entire childhood can mostly be measured in beans, cheese, toast and fish fingers, and the fish fingers were the exciting bit.

There were fads every now and again, but they never lasted. Sometime in the 1960s my own mother discovered that cheese could be paired not just with toast but with a cube of tinned pineapple. There was a memorable school trip where the other nine-year-olds pulled meat paste sandwiches out of their bags, and I produced a plastic tub of cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks.

It’s still a difficult memory for me.

There was Angel Delight too. At some stage, it briefly took over from fish fingers for us in terms of gastronomic adventure.

Oh the fun of those Saturday nights, trying to guess the flavour. Was it strawberry? was it raspberry? Let’s just go with pink. It was pink flavour.

But even that thrill faded. Once you’ve tried your Angel Delight with tinned fruit and with jelly, you have rung all the changes.

It doesn’t spell comfort the way a fish finger does. Because we love a comfort food, don’t we?

And nothing says it to we Brits like a little bit of fish coated in orange and slapped between some bread. Pass the ketchup, please.