Press Centre

The end of an era – Britain loses its shine.

An icon of British culture, 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 – beloved by Army drill sergeants and 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, quick, single application, synthetic creams and liquids, with old style polish now accounting for just 13 per cent of the market.

Said Asda spokesman Ed Watson: "Few young people today know how to clean their shoes using old style polish. To them spit and bull only means clearing your throat and talking rubbish.

“Yet polishing shoes the traditional way was once a regular Sunday night ritual in millions of home across the UK.

“Creating a shine so brilliant that you can see your own reflection in the toe cap is an art form – and at the moment, it’s under threat.”

So dramatic is the trend that Asda has now decided to step 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.

And it wants senior figures in public life to reveal how they clean their shoes – synthetic creams or elbow grease ?

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.

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.

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 has also made formal polishing unnecessary .

“Also 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, and still produce a superb finish.

Gradually we’re seeing the emergence of an entire generation of your people who no longer know anything about the traditional way to shine their shoes.

“However, for many experts, nothing can ever surpass the sheen of a leather shoe cleaned the traditional way.”

Posted in Press Centre on 01 April 2008