Tony Talks

I am an ice cream man and have been selling ice creams in Leamington for over 50 years. Admittedly I was only 10 years old when I started.

A brief history: In 1967 when I was 10 years old, I started selling ice creams around the streets of Leamington Spa. They cost 6d (a tanner) for a small cone or 9d for a 99. I could not reach the bottom of the fridge at the time without nearly falling in it. I served a 7 year apprenticeship as a van boy to Mick Cooper in his D.Di van. In 1974 after passing my driving test I drove a D.Di van for myself. In 1976 I bought a second hand ice cream van ETU 422F and then in 1981 and 82 I bought new vans and I have been driving them ever since. In the 39 years that I have owned them I don’t think that there is a moving part that I have not replaced at least once. Everything from the engine to the chimes.

ETU 422F
ETU 422F

Which seasons are the best for selling ice creams ? 

Ask most people that question and they will probably say Summer first, Winter last then either Spring or Autumn for second or third. In reality depending on the weather the start of the year is the best as people have not had an ice cream for a while. That means you could do quite well in February and March which is Winter and sell hardly anything in October, November and December which is Autumn. Therefore the answer, depending on the weather could well be… Spring, Summer, Winter then Autumn

How many Vans are operating in the UK today ? 

Nobody knows for sure as they are just classified as a Goods vehicle with the DVLA. I will have a guess at it though. At their peak in the 1970’s and 80’s I would say there were between 25,000 and 30,000. Today I reckon about 5,000 vans are still trading. At one time in the 1970’s I counted 26 different ice cream vans doing Leamington, and today there are only a few. If you take the statistic that up until recently there were about 50,000 pubs in the UK, then 5,000 ice cream vans seems about right. One van for every 10 pubs. Having said that there are 31 ice cream vans outside this pub. This photo was taken in Coventry in 1958 and my friend Mick Cooper is stood 2nd from the left.

The 99 

99 is a trademark of Cadburys. It refers to the stick of chocolate (Flake) that you put into an ice cream. Many people are confused as to what a 99 is. Some think it is the price of an ice cream 99p. Others think it is what you call a normal ice cream. They ask me for a 99 and then say “can you put a flake in it”. Others will ask me for a 99 and then say “I don’t want a flake in it”. It is confusing and I have given up putting people right on the matter.

How did the 99 get its name?

Again, nobody knows for sure, not even Cadburys, so here is what I think.

In 1920 Cadburys launched the Flake. People selling ice creams soon discovered that snapping one in half and putting it into an ice cream was a good seller.

Somebody must have asked Cadburys if they could manufacture a smaller sized Flake specifically for the ice cream trade. This Cadburys did, but, as the new size Flake was only sold to the ice cream trade they had no interest in calling it anything different than a Flake.

When it came time to place an order for these new Flakes from the Cadburys Reps., retailers would have to distinguish between which one they wanted. On the order sheet one was called Flake followed by the words “for ice cream only” Naturally “for ice cream only” got shortened to the number on the order sheet which happened to be 99.

So, the term 99 was used by the Cadburys Reps. to refer to the small size Flakes. Then this term was picked up by the retailers who in turn started calling their ice creams with a Cadburys Flake in it, a 99.

As the name 99 became widely used Cadburys adopted it and started calling their small sized Flake a 99.

Some famous people connected with ice cream

Duncan Bannatyne (Dragons den) In 1978 he bought a second hand van for £450 in Stockton on Tees.

Francis Rossi (Status Quo) Sold ice cream as a boy for his families firm. Almost bought a van for himself before he got a proper job as a pop star.

Margaret Thatcher. Worked for Lyons Maid (Mister Softee) as a chemist.


A lot, but not all of Councils require Ice Cream vans to be licensed. I have been registered with Warwick District Council since 1976. They used to charge about £50 a year and then a few years ago it went up to over £600. They also require you to submit a Basic Disclosure form, which discloses any criminal records you may have. Quite a number of vans do not bother to get a license as the council does not bother to enforce this requirement. When the fee was £50 I did not mind that other vans were unlicensed but when it went up to £600 I reported one of them.

In 2011 I told Warwick District Council of a particular ice cream van that was trading in Leamington without a license. In 2012 he still did not have a license. I asked the council why not and they told me “because he moved around it was difficult to get hold of him” I suggested to them that as they had his vehicle registration number they could find out where he lives, but they said that they were not allowed to use the police computer for non urgent matters.

In 2013, despite my numerous emails to the Council the van remained unlicensed. This means that apart from not being licensed, various other authorities like The Environmental Health and Trading Standards and I suspect The Inland Revenue know nothing of his activities. He also has not had to disclose any criminal convictions.

Jack and Jill Lillington

As this was the third year that this van was not paying the £675 license fee, I decided not to pay my fee either. In August 2013 I got a phone call from the Council. They asked me if I was still trading, I told them I was. They informed me that I was braking the law because I did not have a license. I was just about to protest my case when they told me that the van that I had been complaining about has now got a license. The next day I paid the £675 fee. In October I checked online to see the details of his new license only to discover that he was not licensed at all.

Now it is June 2014 and again I have withheld my £690 license fee. I am anticipating another phone call from the Council.

To be continued………

Coombe Abbey 1982

July 2018.   I was outside the Irish Club in Leamington serving ice creams to members of their Tuesday club. I became aware of an official looking person watching me and what I was doing. She introduced herself as the head of the licensing authority in Leamington and asked me for my street traders license. I showed her one that was four years old and told her that I no longer applied for one because I was fed up of seeing all the other unlicensed ice cream vans. She said she did sympathise with me but I was breaking the law and I could get fined if I did not apply for a license.

I applied for a license and avoided the fine and I am all legal again.

Can you go anywhere to sell ice creams ?

Yes and No. You can’t drive onto private property or go into public parks without permission. I have had several contracts to sell ice cream at various parks and schools.

Park Hall school about 1980

Nobody has the exclusive rights to sell ice creams around the streets. This has caused a lot of trouble in the past with drivers having punch ups and vans being vandalised and even burnt down, which happened in Leamington about 25 years ago.

If you work for a company like Mister D.Di, as I did then you would be restricted to a round. This did not stop drivers from fighting each other. Usually it would be over the territory where the two rounds met. I remember one driver who liked to throw his weight around and if you were unlucky you would become a member of the 3B’s club. Bashed By Bill.

What do ice cream men do in the winter ?

People are always asking me this question. A lot of them will give me some advice and say “you should convert the van to sell Hot Dogs” I always say “that’s a good idea” but it isn’t. Selling hot dogs is different from selling ice creams. With ice creams you are out during the daytime and you can sell around the local streets. You can’t do that with hot dogs, you have to have a pitch somewhere, or rely on night time trading when the pubs and clubs finish

I have done a number of jobs in the Winter. I have been a Milkman, a Postman, a Taxi Driver, a Barman, a Car Cleaner, a House Husband. I have worked 4 winters in an office for a travel company and 10 winters in a photographic company helping them make personalised calendars. The last 4 winters I have been in a warehouse moving balls of wool around.

What is an ice cream van ?

Basically it is a van, like a Ford Transit that has had its bodywork removed and replaced with a custom built fiberglass design. Inside there is a deep freeze cabinet for the ice lollies etc. This is different from a domestic freezer as it is designed to hold the refrigeration throughout the day and be recharged over night. A chill cabinet, where the ice cream mix for the machine is kept. A soft ice cream machine, usually imported from Italy called a Carpigiani. The machine is powered by a drive shaft which is connected to the diesel engine, the refrigeration gas for the machine is pumped around by a compressor.

ice cream machine

Two sinks, with taps and a hot water tank. The water tank is kept hot by pipes being diverted from the engines water system.  Chimes, a music box wired up to a loud speaker.  If you are buying a new van, they only cost £80,000 then you can have the van painted any colours you like and have it personally sign written too.

What do you do in your spare time ?

I like to play football on a Monday night, and I like to go cycling when I can. I also like to make the ice cream stickers for other ice cream vans. People can get hold of stickers for ice lollies but it is more difficult to get a sticker for a soft ice cream.

For the past 27 years I have made various board games. The first was called The Cold War, it was about ice cream vans selling ice creams around the streets of Leamington. It had a circular disk underneath the game which when rotated changed the value of the streets where you would stop. I got a patent for the game but it did not sell commercially.

One of the problems was that I could not get any little ice cream vans to use with the game, so I changed the theme from ice creams to airplanes because I could get hold of them. I have now made about 10 different versions of the airplane game.

Along the way I have developed a spinning device for the games. The device replaces the need for a dice and is more fun to use. I was also granted a patent for it. My latest venture is to go back to my original idea of The Cold War and use some small model ice cream vans, like the Rossi one pictured above and incorporate the spinner at the centre of the game. Should keep me occupied for a while.

My van boy days (1967 – 74)

The first ice cream van I worked in was a Mister D. D. Mascio van. It was built from a Morris LD. The number plate was 3454 VC and it was first registered on the 24th August 1962.

I got the job because I was a Coventry City fan. Mick Cooper, the driver of the D. Di. van was a fan too. He knew, because I was one of his customers, that I was going to Highfield Road to watch Coventry play Sheffield United. It was Saturday August 26th 1967. He could not go himself because he was working, so he asked me if I could get him a program. After the game on my way home. I saw Mick in his van and gave him his program. He asked me if I wanted a lift home, what 10 year old boy could refuse an offer like that ? On that journey I plucked up enough courage to ask him if he needed any help. The next day I was selling ice creams. I already had a Saturday job at the time, I used to be a caddy for a Mr Taylor at Whitnash Golf Club. After a short while I gave up the caddying to concentrate on my ice cream career.

Me and Mick had a lot of fun, we used to play games like the Yes/No game taken from “Take your Pick” off the telly. We were not allowed to say either yes or no otherwise you would get an imaginary loud Bong. This was particularly difficult when serving customers. We used to naturally say “Yes Please” to them, but this was not allowed so we had to think of something else instead. If the customer asked “do you have a choc ice” (we never had any choc ices) I could not just say No, I had to say something like “we don’t have any choc ices but we do have an ice cream with a chocolate flake in it.

We used to make up songs about the opposition. To the Mister Softee jingle we would sing. “Where ever we go. Through rain or snow. We sing (at this point you stick your tongue out and blow) to Mister Softee.

For the Charlie van we would sing. We hate you Charlie. Oh yes we do. We hate your bald head. Your false teeth too. When your around we’re blue. Oh Charlie we hate you.

We made up a tongue twister. We would say “Our ice creams are guaranteed to, roast toast bake boil fizzle fry, slide up your front, roll down your back, like a wheelbarrow if your wheel doesn’t fall off.

Another rhyme we would say was about the Walls van. “There aint no bones in beer. There aint no bones in beer. There maybe bones in Walls ice cream. But there aint no bones in beer.

Another song going around at the time, which we did not sing because it was about Mister D.Di. goes. Oh D.Di Mascio. He sells ice creamio. And when you lickio. You are so sickio.

Happy days.

Edmondscote Leamington 1980’s

Tony on the Telly

Sometimes my vans have been used in television productions.

Happy Birthday Shakespeare: A BBC film in 1999 staring Neil Morrissey and Amanda Holden. I had to go to Stratford with my van and park outside Anne Hathaways cottage. My ice creams were used during a dream scene.

It’s Me or the Dog: Channel 4 with Victoria Stilwell. I had to drive to Balsall Common and then be filmed driving up a street. I parked outside a house and a women with a load of dogs came out. I had to make ice creams for the dogs.

The Blips: CITV. Ragdoll Productions, who made The Teletubbies among other things, hired my van for a week to make an episode. The Blips are animated characters and they cause mayhem in my van. It was narrated by Patricia Routledge.

Mr Lime: A group of Warwick University students hired my van for the day to make a film around Leamington.

My driver days (1974-today)

When my vans were new I used to travel up and down the country selling ice creams at various shows and events, such as The Grand National and The Royal Show.

Grand National

The furthest north I went to was Newcastle and the furthest south was Sidmouth. The furthest west was Anglesey and the furthest east was Ipswich. These days I do not travel so far, in fact I just stick to my run around Leamington, although I do attend some local Sports Days and Fetes and Fundays.

Royal Show

The job is much the same as it was when I first started in 1967. In fact I am now serving my third generation of customers. Customers who I remember when they were a child, I am now selling ice creams to their childrens children.

It’s a tough job, but someone has got to do it. You have to drive around and wave to kids all the time, and often they will tell you “you’re the best ice cream man Tony” which is great. Sometimes they will draw a picture for you, which is also great and I always display them in the van.

It gets harder each year to make a living selling ice creams. Thats why there are not many vans left doing it but I shall soldier on, unless someone offers me a proper job