The British Aren't Coming: Ice Cream Van Ban

David Sanderson, reporter for The Times newspaper in London, talks about a ban on Good Humor ice cream vans in England. If health officials have their way, the roving ice cream van could face extinction, and the cheery tune that tempted generations to try a Cornetto or 99 Flake, will vanish.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

If health officials in Britain have their way, the roving ice cream van could face extinction and the cheery tune that tempted generations to try a Cornetto or a 99 Flake will vanish.

(Soundbite of ice cream truck music)

The equivalent to the Good Humor Man or Mr. Softee is known as Mr. Whippy in Britain, and in many places he stands to lose his most lucrative spot: just outside the gates when school lets out.

Joining us to explain what's behind this seemingly curmudgeonly move is David Sanderson, a reporter for The Times in London. Thanks very much for joining us today.

Mr. DAVID SANDERSON (Reporter, The Times, London): It's a pleasure to be with you.

CONAN: This is a matter of health concern for many boroughs there in Britain?

Mr. SANDERSON: Well, there's say - I mean, the background to this is that backdrop of raising obesity amongst young children, and indeed adults. Various health lobbyists have been trying to get these vans banned from operating in the proximity of schools in this country. I mean, obviously, ice cream vans are an iconic image of Britain, much like double-decker buses, one would guess. And there's a lot of opposition to the moves, as well.

But it's an interesting one, because, as I'm sure your listeners will appreciate, obesity is a growing problem across the world.

CONAN: And indeed, we just had agreements to ban sugared sodas from vending machines in schools in this country, so we're going, I guess to some degree, down that same road ourselves.

But nevertheless, these guys, the people who operate these vans, say, you know, why us? The kids can just walk down the road and get a candy bar or an ice cream cone from a shop.

Mr. SANDERSON: Well, exactly, yes. I mean, the opposition to this is saying exactly as you would say. I mean, the Ice Cream Alliance is basically saying, why pick - you know, why pick on us, when there's so many other targets that could be targeted to basically cut down on obesity?

And you're right, you know. A kid comes out of the school. He can see an ice cream van, he could see a corner shop, or he could see a garage. And each of those places he could go and buy himself an ice cream; a Mr. Whippy or a (unintelligible).

So yeah. I mean, at the moment, the background - there are moves to put amendments to bills that are going through parliament. But beyond that, many local authorities, local councils, are taking their own initiatives to make streets outside schools ice cream-free zones, which they have the power to do. I mean, they cite traffic concerns, et cetera, et cetera.

Indeed, another (unintelligible), some pressure is being brought to bear because of the increased number of cars there in the streets. So ice cream vans, which are operating, are being told that they can't use (unintelligible) parking spaces, for example.

And they seem to feel that - the ice cream van vendors seem to feel that they're being picked on here; which is a shame, because ice cream has a glorious history in Britain, and it's been around since the days of Charles II.

CONAN: Yeah, and it - certainly that tune, Greensleeves, just as the Mr. Softee tune in this country, makes people think of summertime.

Mr. SANDERSON: Well, exactly. Yeah. And, you know, and sure you do get better summers than we do here - and there's...

CONAN: Yes, we do.

Mr. SANDERSON: ...one could argue there's not too many days when it is suitable to have an ice cream, and that's another argument for the Ice Cream Alliance. They say, well, because we don't get that much nice weather, then an occasional ice cream, an occasional sweet treat, what harm can that cause?

CONAN: David Sanderson, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. SANDERSON: A pleasure to be with you. God bless.

CONAN: David Sanderson, a reporter for The Times. We spoke to him from his office in London.

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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