WHAT was the best thing before sliced bread? I slipped this conundrum from the list of daft sayings on the right of this page.

Everyone has used the expression “the best thing since sliced bread”, but what was best before it was invented?

For a start, it has to be something prior to 1924, when sliced bread was first sold in America. By 1933, 80% of bread sold in the US was pre-sliced and wrapped.

An advertising slogan led to the phrase itself becoming widely used.

Americans had become so reliant upon it that when the Government tried to ban it during the Second World War in 1943 because of shortages, the public rebelled.

One housewife wrote to the New York Times: “I should like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household.

“My husband and four children are all in a rush during and after breakfast. Without ready-sliced bread, I must do the slicing for toast – two pieces for each one – that’s 10.

“For their lunches I must cut by hand at least 20 slices for two sandwiches apiece.

Afterward I make my own toast. That’s 22 slices of bread to be cut in a hurry!”

Ooh. Poor dear.

Sliced bread first appeared in the UK in 1930, but was banned during the war, without any complaint. Brits are obviously made of sterner stuff. Well, you tend not to mind slicing your own bread when bombs are dropping.

It was reintroduced here in 1950.

Today, 12 million loaves are sold each day in this country, 76% of it white bread.

So, what was the best thing before sliced bread?

The wheel? Fire? Sex?

These were all earlier discoveries but, in my humble opinion, still take priority over a ready-cut Warburton’s.

If we are talking about convenience, then tinned food has to be considered.

It was first canned in Britain in 1810, but didn’t become popular until the middle of the century. Frozen food wasn’t introduced until the 1930s after sliced bread had already made its mark.

But, for me, the best thing before and since sliced bread, is fresh baked bread – still warm from the oven – soft on the inside and crusty on the outside.

That’s a winner every time.