Jelly Babies are a type of soft sugar jelly sweet, shaped as plump babies, in one variety of colours. They were first manufactured in Lancashire, England, in the nineteenth century. Their popularity waned in England, before being revived by Bassett's, of Sheffield, in Yorkshire, who were responsible for mass producing Jelly Babies, from 1918.
“Jelly Babies” are known at least since advertisements by Riches Confectionery Company of 22 Duke St, London Bridge in 1885, along with a variety of other baby sweets, including 'Tiny Totties' and 'Sloper's Babies'. But the pricing of these at a farthing each suggests that they were very much larger than the modern Jelly Baby.
The sweets were invented in 1864, by an Austrian immigrant, working at Fryers of Lancashire, and were originally marketed as “Unclaimed Babies”. By 1918, they were produced by, Bassett's in Sheffield, as “Peace Babies”, to mark the end of World War I. Bassett's themselves have supported the "Peace Babies" name. Production was suspended during World War II, due to wartime shortages.
The product was relaunched as “Jelly Babies” in 1953.
The most noted modern manufacturer of Jelly Babies, Bassett’s, now allocate individual name, shape, colour and flavour to different “babies”: Brilliant (red; strawberry), Bubbles (yellow; lemon), Baby Bonny (pink; raspberry), Boofuls (green; lime), Bigheart (purple; blackcurrant) and Bumper (orange).
The introduction of different shapes and names was an innovation, circa 1989, prior to which all colours of jelly baby were a uniform shape. Bassett’s jelly babies changed in September 2007, to include only natural colours and ingredients. There are many brands of jelly babies, as well as supermarket own brands.
A line of sweets, called Jellyatrics, were launched by Barnack Confectionery Ltd, to commemorate the Jelly Baby’s 80th Birthday, in March 1999. Like most other gummy sweets, they contain gelatin.
Jelly babies, manufactured in the United Kingdom, tend to be dusted in starch, which is left over from the manufacturing process, where it is used to aid release from the mould. Jelly babies, manufactured in Australia, generally lack this coating. A popular science class experiment is to put them in a strong oxidising agent, and see the resulting spectacular reaction. The experiment is commonly referred to as “screaming jelly babies”.
In popular culture
Jelly Babies were referred to as “those kids’ candies” in an episode of Supercar in 1962, “Operation Superstork”. When the cult following of Beatlemania broke out, in 1963, fans of The Beatles in the United Kingdom pelted the band with jelly babies (or, in the United States, the much harder jelly beans) after it was reported that George Harrison liked eating them.
In the television programme Doctor Who, jelly babies were often mentioned in the classic series, as a confection The Doctor, an alien time traveller, favoured. First seen being consumed by the Second Doctor, they became most associated with Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, who had a predilection for offering them to strangers, in order to defuse tense situations (and, in one episode, bluffing another alien, into thinking them as weapon).
The Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors, as well as the nemesis of the Doctor, The Master, also offered them up, in different episodes. In the series, they were often identified simply by the fact the Doctor (and later the Master) usually carried them around, in a simple, white paper bag.
In the series by Terry Pratchett, Discworld, the country of Djelibeybi (a pun on “jelly baby”, but putatively meaning “Child of the (River) Djel”, and possibly derived from Djellaba) is the Discworld’s analogue of Ancient Egypt.
The main setting of Pyramids, the country is about two miles wide along the 150 mile length of the Djel, serves as the buffer zone, and mediator, between Tsort and Ephebe, and is subjected to financial difficulties, and temporal distortion, due to its numerous pyramids.
Australian singer, Alison Hams, released the “Jelly Baby Song” in May 2013, – its content alluding to the consumption of jelly babies by Type 1 Diabetics, to overcome hypoglycaemic episodes, as a way to raise awareness for Type 1 Diabetes, for JDRF Australia (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) who sell specially packaged jelly babies, as the focus of their annual campaign “Jelly Baby Month”.
A poll of 4,000 adults, in Britain, voted jelly babies their sixth favourite sweet, in August 2009. In the film of 2018, Johnny English Strikes Again, the titular character (played by Rowan Atkinson) carries a box of jelly babies with him, but they are actually disguised explosives, as in said context, “jelly” is actually short for gelignite, and they blow up whoever eats them. This leads to potential fatal results.
Jelly babies are the favourite snack, of the British children’s sitcom character, Basil Brush, a puppet fox.