It’s no yolk – we’re still going to work on an egg
Tony Hancock told us to go to work on an egg. Edwina Currie infamously (and wrongly) claimed they were riddled with food poisoning.
Today is World Egg Day, a global event organised by a Shropshire-based body. The International Egg Commission, which has its world headquarters in Church Stretton, has been running the event since 1996 to raise the profile of the breakfast favourite.
Chief executive of the International Egg Commission Julian Madeley, says the day has grown massively over the years, and was now a truly global event.
"From the first sunrise in New Zealand to the last sunset in the United States, events are taking place to celebrate the amazing nutritional value of the egg,” he says.
"We’re delighted to see so many countries getting involved in the biggest global celebration of the egg."
Social media has been crucial to this growth, with last year's event attracting 233 million impressions.
"That was a fantastic achievement, and this year we hope to reach even more,” he says.
Today's celebration will see a group in Columbia attempt to break the record for the world's largest scrambled egg, with 62,000 eggs being used to feed 15,000 vulnerable people. In India, there will be a number of rallies to promote the nutritional value of the eggs for all ages, with free boiled eggs being distributed to schools and nursing homes.
And back home in old Blighty, one thing is for sure: we eat a lot of them.
Last year, Britons munched their way through 13.15 billion eggs, an increase of two per cent on the previous year. The industry has grown for 12 consecutive years, rising by three billion eggs a year since 2012.
And it is big business, growing from approximately £600 million a year in 2004 to more than a billion last year.
It was not always so. Sales of eggs plummeted in the late 1980s after Edwina Currie, then a junior health minister, said she believed most British eggs were affected by the salmonella bug. Her comments – a clear exaggeration of the risks – sparked a furious backlash from farmers.
The British Egg Industry Council said the risk of being infected was less than 200 million to one, while the National Farmers' Union said it was looking at taking legal action.
Currie weathered the storm for a fortnight, but the mounting writs forced her to resign. The Government was forced pay millions of pounds to cover the cost of purchasing surplus eggs and for the slaughter of unwanted hens.
There are thought to be 41 million laying hens in the UK today, with the average bird producing up to 325 eggs a year. It is also an industry in which Britain is largely self-sufficient, with 87 per cent of eggs eaten in the country being home produced. The average Briton consumes 199 eggs a year, and 64 per cent of the eggs sold in shops are now free range, compared to 35 per cent produced in a laying cage and two per cent in a barn.
The marketing slogan Go To Work on an Egg was created by the Ogilvy and Mather advertising agency in 1957, when it was run by novelist Fay Wheldon. The slogan ran for 14 years, helped in no small part by the endorsement of Brummie funnyman Hancock, the hottest property on television at the time. Len Fulford, the man behind the TV campaign, became known as 'the Eggman' thereafter, even earning a reference in The Beatles' I Am The Walrus.
However, an attempt to revive the Hancock adverts in 2007 was thwarted by advertising watchdogs, which ruled that eating an egg every morning did not represent a healthy, balanced diet.
Wheldon was incredulous.
“I think the ruling is absurd," she said. "We seem to have been tainted by all the health and safety laws. Eggs were enormously healthy compared to what people were eating in the 1950s and a great form of protein.
“If they are going to ban egg adverts then I think they should ban all car adverts because cars really are dangerous – and bad for the environment."
The debate about whether or not eggs are good for you seems to have been running for as long as The Mousetrap, but the consensus seems to be that they are fine – in moderation.
There have been concerns in the past that cholesterol in eggs can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
But current NHS advice is that eggs are a nutritious source of protein, vitamins, folate and iodine.
It says that while eggs contain some cholesterol, the amount of cholesterol in our blood is more to do with the amount of saturated fat that we eat.
A study of nearly half a million people in China suggested that eating one egg a day may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, although experts stress that eggs need to be consumed as part of a healthy lifestyle in order to be beneficial.
A spokesman for World Egg Day adds: "Eggs are among the most nutritious foods on the planet, and a fantastic source of protein.
"A single egg contains 14 essential nutrients including vitamins A, B, D and E, as well as being a source of calcium, selenium and iodine.
"Eggs also contain choline which aids healthy brain development, plays a role in liver function and metabolism, and has been found to reduce the risk of breast cancer by 24 per cent."
It seems Tony Hancock was right all along. It really is a good idea to go to work on an egg.