An icon of British society, which, for generations, has marked out a man as worthy of respect, is now in terminal decline, new sales figures have revealed. Demand for traditional " spit and bull " shoe polish – once regarded as essential for everyone, from Prime Ministers to park attendants – has fallen to an all time low.
Instead, today’s consumers are choosing easy option , single application, synthetic creams and liquids, with old style polish now accounting for just 13 per cent of the market.
The move spells the end to polishing shoes the hard way – once a Sunday evening ritual in millions of homes across the country. Said Asda spokesman Ed Watson: " This news is bound to earn the contempt of hundreds of Army sergeant majors who will regard it as a metaphor for modern values – all shine and no substance.
" However, few young people today know how to clean their shoes using old style polish. Spit and bull is a generational thing and it has become an endangered art form "
Now Asda is stepping in to help preserve this most British of British values.
It is asking the Army - renowned experts in the field - to reveal their secret boot polishing techniques so that they the information can be published on the Asda website.
With millions of shoppers already visiting the site every day, supermarket bosses believe the move could lead a major revival for gleaming shoes across the nation.
For the last 100 years, the skill required to produce a gleaming toe cap on a City brogue or Army boot, has been regarded as a powerful message of dynamism, discipline and moral fibre.
The fashion for highly polished shoes, shined to such perfection that you can see your own reflection in the leather, first flourished during World War One, experts believe.Conscripted men were issued with leather boots for the first time – and with them came a rigorous daily regime of cleaning and polishing through the laborious application of layer after layer of hand applied polish.
New recruits were instructed to spend at least one and a half hours cleaning EACH boot, using a new type of polish recently developed by manufacturers in New Zealand and Australia.
Until then, comparatively few people wore real leather shoes regularly and those who did had cleaned them with Dubbin, a dull polish.
Millions of World War Two veterans, and a subsequent generation forced to complete National Service , continued to be judged on the mirror-like sheen on their boots, and later they took the practice into daily civilian life.
Famous names such as Kiwi, Cherry Blossom and Punch polishes could be found in every home, and no one was regarded as properly dressed unless their shoes had a parade ground gleam.
However, national service ended in 1960, and the influence of the armed services’ values in national life has been falling away steadily ever since.
Said Asda’s Ed Watson: " Many of today’s fashionable shoes are made from synthetic materials which don’t respond as well as leather to traditional polish. The popularity of trainers rather than formal shoes has also had an impact.
" Some of today’s consumers simply don’t see the point of gently washing the shoes, letting them dry and then polishing furiously for half an hour when they can apply a synthetic cream in under two minutes.
" However, for many experts, nothing can ever surpass the sheen of a leather shoe cleaned the traditional way."