O.K Sauce is a brand of brown sauce which is manufactured in the United Kingdom. It was first made by George Mason & Company and later by Colmans. Its first factory was called the Chelsea Works (formerly a swimming pool) in London.
O.K was the highest-selling brown sauce in London as late as the 1970s. It was withdrawn from the British market in the 1990s, but Unilever continue to produce it for export to the Asian market where it is in great demand. The brand has been owned by Unilever since 1995.
There is a great deal of controversy over the source of the name. My recollection from when I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s was that there was a story on the reverse side of the bottle claiming that the “OK” name came from a military background (I think there was a soldier blowing/playing a bugle) and the name meant ‘Orl Korrect’, but I may be wrong.
Equally puzzling is that originally OK seems to have been spelled most of the time as O.K. (with two full stops) whereas today it is often spelled O.K with one full stop.
Another theory on the origins of ‘OK’, is that it is derived from the ‘0k’ used during the time of the London Blitz to inform people there had been “zero killings” in the latest air raids. But this seems to be bunkum as the air raids happened in 1940-1, whereas O.K sauce was created in 1928, long before the Blitz in WW2.
George Mason & Co is established
Henderson Brand (1805 – 1893) introduced A1, probably the first brown sauce, from 1862. He employed two nephews, George and John Mason. The brothers entered into business for themselves, as competitors to Brand, from 1880. They established a small factory on King’s Road, Chelsea, and their first products, O.K Sauce and beef and chicken extracts, were said to be direct imitations of Brand & Co products.
In 1928, production was transferred to a purpose-built at 265 Merton Road, Southfields, in the London Borough of Wandsworth. The company’s official title was George Mason & Co Ltd. However, George Mason left the firm before World War 1 and the company was run by the Cooper family, initially by Percy Cooper, then by his son Rex Cooper as Chairman and MD.
Rex’s son, Brian, together with Rex’s sister Betty (Urwin), oversaw the changeover to Colmans. In addition to O.K Sauce, other sauces and chutneys were made. The factories continued to make sauces until 1969 when the owners of the company sold it off to Reckitt and Colman at Norwich. The products had a Royal Warrant which ceased around the time of the takeover. All production was transferred to Norwich.
Colmans continues to make O.K Sauce and other condiments. O.K Sauce’s main market is today in the Far East and UK domestic Chinese communities.
A New Life in the Old Sauce
Although most supermarkets and grocery stores stopped selling the brown sauce decades ago, O.K Sauce has become a feature of Asian food, particularly Chinese and Cantonese cuisines. It is manufactured in the UK and is made from a savoury blend of tomatoes, vinegar and tamarind, with sweet hints of molasses, dates, apples and raisins. The sauce is often mixed with aromatic spices and sometimes even anchovies.
Strangely, many Asian recipes refer to OK sauce but then go on to say ‘use brown table sauce, such as HP® or Daddies®’: neither of these sauces (although unarguably ’brown’) are actually the O.K sauce made by Colmans in the UK.
Spike Milligan and O.K Sauce
Read: Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall (Spike Milligan War Memoirs). Published by Penguin; Available at Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adolf-Hitler-Downfall-Milligan-Memoirs/dp/0241958091
Spike Milligan’s legendary war memoirs are a hilarious and subversive first-hand account of WW2, as well as a fascinating portrait of the formative years of this comic genius, most famous as writer and star of The Goon Show. His memoirs have sold over 4.5 million copies since they first appeared. O.K Sauce is mentioned by Spike in his books, perhaps as if it played some part in Hitler’s downfall.