It’s faint at first, just a far-off chime box, but as it draws nearer, its meaning is clear. ‘Listen … quick. It’s Mr Whippy!’ Parents curse and dive for their small change while impatient children wait at the door.

Out in the street, a queue forms as kids wait for their turn to step up to the van window. They request ‘Choc Dips’ and ‘Single Flakes’, ‘Sherbets’ and ‘Choc Nuts’.

Photo of family purchasing ice creams from man in Mr Whippy van.
Ice cream and gelato van, with a family buying ice creams. Photo by Rennie Ellis. This work is in copyright; H2012.140/3718

The concept of Mr Whippy originated in Birmingham, but it took the vision of a Sydney businessman to bring soft serves to Australia. William George Kendell first arrived on the Australian ice cream scene in the 1950s, when he started employing men to sell ice creams out of their cars on weekends. Whilst holidaying in the south of France (it seems the ice cream business was a lucrative one), Kendell happened across an article about businessman Dominic Facchino’s Mr Whippy franchise in Birmingham. The article’s title was: ‘A millionaire at 3d a lick.’ 1

Never one to miss an opportunity, Kendell contacted Facchino and struck up a deal to launch the franchise in Australia. In November 1962, a fleet of ten Mr Whippy vans arrived in Sydney, and Australians were initiated into the joys of soft serve.

Photo of young woman in bikini eating soft serve ice cream at beach.
Girl with an ice-cream, 1983. Photo by Rennie Ellis. This work is in copyright; H2011.130/1086

Like the pied piper, Mr Whippy tootled around our suburbs, and children everywhere answered the call. Within two and a half years, Mr Whippy’s fleet had grown to over two hundred ice cream vans, with a profit of £1.4 million.2

Not everyone was happy though. The vans were unpopular with local councils, who complained that they were stealing profits from local businesses. Parents too, were unamused, with one newspaper reporting that children were stealing ice cream money and getting hurt running out on the road (Tribune, 5 August 1964, p 11). Mr Whippy’s omnipresence was also remarked upon. The tactics of ‘Whippy’ vans are resented. They park outside schools, tennis courts etc. to entice the children and put pressure on mothers. (Tribune, 5 August 1964, p 11)

Crowd by side of the road at Moomba, ice cream van parked in background.
Moomba, 1985. Photo by Rennie Ellis. This work is in copyright; H2011.150/1037
Photo of soldier standing to attention in the park, icecream vans sells ice creams in background.
Soldier standing at attention with sword raised, ice-cream van in background, Anzac Day, 1987. Photo by Rennie Ellis. This work is in copyright; H2011.150/1301

The situation for Mr Whippy deteriorated as competitors began to flood the market. They painted their vans in pink and white and heralded their arrival with Mr Whippy’s signature Greensleeves tune. The song was in the public domain, so there was little the company’s executives could do.3

By 1966, Mr Whippy’s profits were in free fall, and managing director Vic White conceded that the business had grown too quickly and lost control. The company began to phase out its ice cream vans in favour of fixed location shops instead. It diversified into yoghurts and began making its own brand of ice cream machines.4

Photo of purple and white ice cream van parked outside the Alexandra Gardens.
Purple and white gelati ice-cream van parked beside kerb, Melbourne. Photo by Rennie Ellis. This work is in copyright; H2011.150/2013

But despite the company’s best efforts, there were some flow-on effects it could not contain. The ‘Mr Whippy’ concept had got away, becoming a catch-all phrase for ice cream vans.5 To this day, the strains of Greensleeves haunt our suburbs, and children in backyards everywhere exclaim:

‘Listen … quick. It’s Mr Whippy!’

Black and white photo of vendor at the window of his ice cream van. He is holding a soft serve ice cream.
Ice cream vendor, New Year’s Eve, Parker Street, Dunkeld, 2003. Photo by Richard Crawley. This work is copyright; H2008.120/16

References

  1. ‘Mr Whippy’s Golden “Greensleeves”. What a way to take a licking!’, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 April 1965, p 105
  2. As above
  3. Sutton, R, 1981, ‘Mr Whippy recovers from total meltdown’, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 September, p 45
  4. As above
  5. As above

This article has 3 comments

  1. You have to get to your children when they are young and tell them Greensleeves means Mr Whippy has run out of ice cream.

  2. Some mean parents would tell their children that when they heard the Greensleeves tune playing, it meant that Mr Whippy had run out of icecream

  3. Great memories & article

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