"I hear the chimes of the ice cream van coming along the road."
Perselli's ice cream van, 1950s
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumPerselli's ice cream van, 1950s - Credit: Tony Rea
Carlo's ice cream van 1950s
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumCarlo's ice cream van 1950s - Credit: Tony Rea

Walls started the business of selling ice cream on British streets, originally from specially-adapted tricycles with containers on the front. A few of these were still operating in the late 1950s, but they were steadily being replaced by the motorised ice-cream vans. Ice cream selling became associated with the Italian population from the 1940s, so much so that non-Italian makers and sellers sometimes adopted Italian names for their business, knowing that the public trusted the quality of 'Italian' ice cream. British ice cream vans had (and have) music-box style chimes to announce their presence in the street, the most common in the Fifties being 'Greensleeves'.

Mr Softee (Conehead) badge
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMr Softee (Conehead) badge - Credit: Leo Reynolds


A new phenomenon in the late 1950s was 'soft' ice cream, which was introduced into Britain from the USA through the entrepreneurship of a North East company. The MD of Smith's Delivery Vehicles was on a sales trip to the USA when he saw the new Mister Softee mobile ice cream operation. He saw an opportunity to increase vehicle production at his  Gateshead factory, effected the introductions to his ice cream supplier Lyons, and Mr Softee (UK) Ltd was launched in 1959. Mr Whippy came along as a soft ice cream competitor in 1962.