Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lee's, Lee's! Lyrics won't please.


I'm guest-posting today on dying for chocolate with a recipe for macaroon bars.  I made them for a literary salon at Janet Rudolph's recently, because Val McDermid was the guest of honour and I thought she might be missing them.  You know because it had been days and days since she'd been in the UK where they're sold.  (Sense is optional.)

Now, macaroon bars are made in Glasgow by a firm called Lee's and when Val bit into one she burst out in a spontaneous round of the Lee's song.  I'd forgotten it.  Blocked it out perhaps.  But I'll share it with you here.  It's not on Janet's site because when you're invited over as a guest there really are limits to what you should do.


Lee's, Lee's, more if you please.
All of us beg on our bended knees.
For piccaninnies and grandpapas,
It's Lee's for luscious macaroon bars.

Yes, really.  And the thing is, being written in Scotland in the 1960s, not only is the word offensive but it's so gratuitous there's no way to explain how gratutious it is.  Scotland - even Glasgow - in the 1960s was about as mono-ethnic as it's possible to be.  Even now, in large parts of Scotland you look around and all you can think is "Where's everyone else?"  So it was an offensive reference to people who weren't even there and didn't need to be referred to.

Maybe the good people at Lee's like the sound of the word.  Like pernickety and rambunctious.  Some words are fun to say.  And being unfettered by any sense that maybe Black kids (when they were actually there) could just be called . . . you know . . . kids, they bunged it in.

Maybe.  But consider this:  nobody in Scotland says Grandpapa either.  And in a Scottish accent it doesn't rhyme with bar anyway.  So what was going on?

I think the song might have been written by someone who had been observing our earth and was ready to make contact.  Lee's was a front.  They thought they'd slow us down with a sugar offensive and then swoop in. 

They picked the wrong country.  Macaroon bars are admittedly quite sweet, but to a nation of children brought up on sugar sandwiches as a healthy lunch, rhubarb sticks dipped in egg-cups of sugar as a fruity snack, and tablet for treats, they didn't have a prayer.

Anyway, check out the recipe at dying for chocolate, won't you.  But be warned.  Your kitchen will end up looking as if the sugar aliens have landed.


  1. The actual advert was a cartoon, set on some tropical island with black people. I remember it still being on TV in the late '70s!

  2. It's good to know you're NOT being in the least 'gratuitous ' Catriona lol !!! I'm Scottish and proud. Used to sit behind Mr and Mrs Lees in Church and they were absolutely wonderful people. Loved them and their confections. Don't generalise please. I'm nearly 69 years old and have never had a sugar sandwich in my life. I did, however, have rhubarb dipped in sugar. Not in an eggcup, but in a made up paper poke. Still love tablet and I am not overweight. Don't knock us !!!

  3. Ahhhh. (Pat)so it's all because of the coconut, maybe? That makes sense. "Unknown" - my tongue was firmly in my cheek. I'm another proud Scot and one of the things I'm most proud of is that we can laugh at ourselves.

  4. I know there would be no racist remarks intended by the advert - Let's love all people equally as God does! These Macaroon bars were tops!

  5. Kuh-tree-nuh. 6 years on and the comments are still rolling in. Far be it from me to defend the use of offensive terms or phrases. But let me play Devils advocate for this one. Is it possible, during those innocent times, even in Glasgow, that the word was used to denote children? If you wiki the word pickaninny, you will see that the Oxford English records use of the word in that context as early as 1653. And when you consider the context of the word's use in the song "For piccaninnies and grandpapas", it could back up that theory. I grew up in Glasgow during the 70s and I certainly do not remember any TV advert depicting black people on an island. And I watched a lot of TV. I would definitely have remembered that one.

    I do remember eating Macaroon bars as a kid and I loved them. I still buy them very occasionally as a treat to myself. More if you please!

  6. I remember the song very well & as a child all it was to me was a song, being a proud Scot of 64 years,i never had or ever will have racists thoughts in my body.Although now i can see the offence it would cause i believe at the time it would not be intended.

  7. I worked in Jamaica for a year. There it is an everyday word and no one batted an eyelid when this Scot chanced his arm. :-)
    BTW is it obligatory to mention that you are Scottish?