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This article is about J. Lyons waitresses. For the baby accessory, see pacifier.
An older waitress in the iconic Lyon's nippy uniform brings cakes to the table of customers enjoying afternoon tea at a Lyon's Corner House, London, 1942
A Lyons Corner House recreated in the Museum of London uses back-projected film of a "Nippy" serving customers

A nippy was a waitress who worked in the J. Lyons & Co tea shops and cafes in London. Beginning in the late 19th century, a J. Lyons waitress was called a "Gladys". From 1926, because the waitresses nipped (moved quickly) around the tea shops, and the term "Nippy" came into use.[1][2] Nippies wore a distinctive maid-like uniform with a matching hat.

Advertising Icon[edit]

By the 1920s it was already long established in the advertising world that attractive females could sell products, and the tea business of J Lyons & Co was no exception. Nippies appeared in all manner of advertising, on product packages, and on promotional items. The Nippy soon became a national icon. Unlike other endorsements of the day, which often took the form of popular celebrities or cartoon characters, a Nippy was contrastingly accessible and close to home. A Nippy was someone who could be seen and interacted with every day, and perhaps this was part of the appeal of the concept. J. Lyons was very careful to maintain the Nippy image as wholesome and proper — strict cleanliness standards applied for Nippy uniforms, and before World War II J. Lyons would not hire married women as Nippies. So popular was the image that miniature Nippy outfits were popular for children dressing up for special events such as fetes.

Typical pay and conditions[edit]

In the mid 1930s, for example in Brighton, a Nippy worked 54 hours per week (11.45a.m. to 11.45p.m.), for 26 shillings per week (£1.30), with 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence, £0.125) extra for working at weekends. She had to pay for the laundering of her uniform, which was made of bombazine-type material with red buttons from the neck downwards.

Nippy, the musical[edit]

In 1930, the nippy concept was adapted into a hit musical comedy for the stage called Nippy. Popular actress Binnie Hale played the nippy in question.[3] The show was written by Arthur Wimperis and Austin Melford, Billy Mayerl wrote the music and Arthur Wimperis and Frank Eyton the lyrics.[4] Several records were released with songs from the musical, such as the title song and the lively "The Toy Town Party" sung in the show by Binnie Hale. Another of Mayerl's lesser known but attractive melodies from the show was "It must be you".

In popular culture[edit]

The British prime minister Margaret Thatcher worked at J. Lyons & Co for a brief period in the late 1940s as a research chemist at their laboratories in Hammersmith, London.[5] So, while she was a female employee of J. Lyons & Co during the period when Nippies existed, contrary to myth[citation needed] Thatcher was never a Nippy herself.

In an episode of the sit-com Are You Being Served? entitled "The Junior", the character Mrs. Slocombe was embarrassed that she used to work as a nippy.[6]


  1. ^ "Nipping to teashop bash". BBC News. July 22, 1998. Retrieved 2008-06-30. 
  2. ^ Seal, Rebecca (September 12, 2004). "Still hungry after all these years". London: The Observer. Retrieved 2008-06-30. 
  3. ^ Stock Photography image of Nippy , Music sheet cover for the 1930 music stock photo
  4. ^ ReadingProgrammes 1927-1933
  5. ^ Young, Hugo (1990). One of Us: a biography of Margaret Thatcher. Pan Books. p. 29. ISBN 0-330-31487-4. 
  6. ^ "The Junior". Are You Being Served?. 19 October 1979. BBC.