Freddo Frog's Father - In his own words.
One of the great pleasures in working in talk radio is when an unexpected caller comes out of nowhere and tells you a story which sticks with you forever.
Just to top it off. How good is it when the story tells the unknown story of the creation of an iconic Australian chocolate?
It was the mid to late 1990's when, on Nightline one evening we raised the topic of "Your favourite chocolates". We had a board full of calls, with dozens of chocolates to talk about. All the favourites were being spoken about such as the Pollywaffle, Mars Bar, Snickers Bar, Cherry Ripe, Flake, White Knight, Violet Crumble and more.
One of the calls I had on hold ready to talk to Bruce and Phil was "Harry".
Bruce said hello, and asked Harry what his favourite chocolate was. Harry answered "It would have to be the Freddo Frog". When Bruce asked why that was his favourite Harry replied "Because I invented it".
Early Freddo frog : Photo courtesy : Australianfoodtimeline.com.au
Harry explained that he was about 18 years of age in 1930 and was in the "Hand Moulding" department of MacRobertson's Chocolates in Argyle St Fitzroy. Harry's boss developed Parkinson's disease and his handwriting suffered as a result. So Harry used to also help him in the office.
One day, Harry just happened to be in the office when Macpherson Robertson himself walked in to tell Harry's boss that he wanted to put a Penny Chocolate line on the market.
Mac Robertson had had much success over the years and had a history of knowing when to cash in on a trending fashion. At that time a very popular cartoon charater was taking the world by storm named "Mickey Mouse" so Mac said that he wanted the new chocolate to be in the shape of a mouse.
Harry piped up and said "No Mr Mac, please not a mouse, it won't sell".
A surprised Mac asked why he thought this and Harry replied "Women and Girls are always frightened of mice".
So Mac asked young Harry what his suggestion would be. "Mr Mac, I would say a chocolate frog". Mr Mac stroked his chin and said "Why do you say that?"
Harry said "Well it's like this, After school, and on school holidays, children go down to the rivers, lakes and ponds, they catch tadpoles. Tadpoles turn into frogs. Their mothers are only too pleased to get the kids out of their hair."
Mac scratched his head and said "You might have something there, have you got a mold to do a sample?"
So Harry hand molded some sample frogs and a three days later presented them to Mr Atkinson (Mac's nephew who ran the office). Three days after that Mr Atkinson came into the office and said "Harry you're a genius, we're rapt and we're going into production on frogs".
Kenneth Luke (Later to become Sir Kenneth Luke) was at that time running a metal spinning and silverware business in Carlton was given the job of creating the silver molds of MacRobertson's chocolate frogs (to Harry's specifications).
MacRobertson's chocolate frogs went into production running 24 hours per day.
As to the name "Freddo" Harry explained that the man who was in charge of the packing department was Fred McLean. Harry suggested to management that he should have some credit for the work he had done. Management agreed to Harry's request and named him Freddo Frog.
1939 Freddo Advertising : Pic Courtesy of trove
Sadly, the Australian Company "MacRobertson's was taken over by Cadbury in 1967. At least Cadbury had the good sense to continue with Freddo, Cherry Ripe, Snack and Old Gold.
But here, at the time of the call in the 1990s, were Cadbury aware of the history of the products it had taken control of? It seems not.
On that day that we took the call on 3AW from Harry Melbourne we asked him the question.
"Do Cadbury know about you and what you've done for them?"
Harry replied "No, I've not ever heard from them."
I, the author, felt a bit sad about this and at the time I ran off a cassette of the call we had taken from Harry and sent it to Cadbury's head office on St Kilda Rd in Melbourne. I didn't know who to address it to, so I think I just wrote "Promotions Department".
I never heard back.
But I WAS smart enough to get Harry Melbourne's number and in 1999, on our Sunday night nostalgia program Remember When We interviewed Harry again.
This time Harry was delighted to tell us that Cadbury had been in touch with him and had offered him a free lifetime supply of Freddo Frogs as a thank you.
Harry told us that he used to take a box down to the local kindergarten occasionally and throw them over the fence for the kids.
Now I don't know if anyone from Cadbury ever listened to that casette. It's more likely that Bruce and Phil's enormous audience included some cadbury employees. But either way, it's good to know that Cadbury reached out to Harry and expressed their appreciation.
What I also love is that all over the internet now if you search "Harry Melbourne" and "Freddo" he is reightfully remembered for his place in history. Most importantly, it's on Cadbury's website.
Thank you Harry Melbourne. It was an honour to have spoken to you.
To hear the interview from August 1, 1999 click below.
Footnote: After speaking with Harry on Remember When, we took a call from a guy named Tom. He had a fascinating extension to the Freddo Frog story and how it influenced his life.
I will tell his story in my next blog.