ROALD Dahl has a lot of answer for.

One of the Welsh wordsmith’s, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday in September of last year, most famous tales – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – revolves around a young boy and his grandfather’s trip to the sweet paradise of the eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka.

On arrival to Llantarnam’s Burton’s Biscuits factory, the sweet smell of biscuit dough, floating in the air via the warm air expelled from the ovens, hung in the air.

Surely there would be a river of jam into which the Jammie Dodgers are dunked or marshmallow clouds, which precipitate mallow droplets into the centre of the Wagon Wheels – alas there was not.

Inside the factory however was a cauldron of activity, be it from the robots or the steadfast team of factory floor staff, toing and froing between the nine lines of biscuits which are produced in south Wales.

Instead of a sea of orange faces with green hair tending to the machinery, there were white coats and blue hair nets.

Wayne Thompson, the factory manager who has worked at the Cwmbran site for five and a half years, filled the shoes, in line with Roald Dahl’s book, as a Lancastrian Willy Wonka and our guide.

“Without a doubt, the Llantarnam factory is most well-known for making the world famous Jammie Dodgers and Wagon Wheels,” he said.

“Every single one is made here, although there are derivatives around the world but not in the UK. All of them come from south Wales.

“A smaller Jammie Dodger is made in France but the standard size – all of them come from here.

“People know that some biscuits are British, like the Jammie Dodger, but they don’t know it’s made in south Wales.

“There are a number of iconic biscuits in the UK but Jammie Dodgers are synonymous. If you look on the TV, quite often Jammie Dodgers are referred to.

“I even think that Dr Who once referred to a Jammie Dodger and then used it to fight off some aliens.

“They are iconic. Most people know them and most households know them,” added the factory manager.

The Llantarnam factory also produces cream crackers, fig biscuits, Cadbury’s Fingers under licence, digestives for every supermarket and Cadbury’s under licence, mini Maryland cookies and 10g unbranded cookies.

Every hour, 1.4 tons of the 19g Jammie Dodgers are created in Llantarman, while 1.9 tons of the 41g Wagon Wheel roll out of the factory.

Based in Llantarnam since 1939, the company has recently invested heavily into new technology to increase its productivity.

However, as a major employer in the southern Torfaen area, it has retained its ethos of promoting people.

“The biscuit industry is very exciting and that is definitely the case in Llantarnam. It is changing and in my five and a half years at the company, we’ve invested around £15million in new technology,” said Mr Thompson.

“We have a control room on the factory floor and cost around £1.2million alone. That was something which I brought into the company from my previous working career in the automotive industry.

“This industry is very competitive and we have to be at the forefront of that.

“One of the ways which we can ensure that is to be investing in technology, like the nine robots we have operating on the factory floor.

“Despite this, we still are a bigger employment which around 750 people working there. In some cases we have three generations of the same family – grandparents, parents and their children – working.

“Burton’s Biscuits are synonymous in this area and it is a good place to work I feel,” added the factory manager.

The Llantarnam base is able to create the whole biscuit, which from mixing to packaging takes around an hour to complete.

Travelling to south Wales from the east Midlands, the factory manager believes that despite the changing face of the industry, the company holds onto its core values – its people.

“We have a number of employees who have been here for around 40 years. One of our electronics guys is in his 42nd year and one of the women is in her 43rd,” said Mr Thompson.

“We have a large number of people who have been here for over 20 years as well.

“In our engineering department, it is more of a mix. We have a number of young people come in as the older staff are looking towards retirement.

“The new blood are coming into the company with a different skill set – more electronics based for example.

“Even around eight years ago, the Jammie Dodgers were packed by a line of people. We have the robots now but it’s the idea that the business is evolving.

“We have to move with the times to make ourselves more competitive and one of those ways is through automation.

“We spend a fair bit of money on our training. We are looking at continuous improvement within the company.

“We also have three apprentices in the engineering department. They are due to finish that in August and we took them on four years ago.

“We will be once again looking to find some new apprentices this year that is in the engineering department and the other areas of the business.

“It is our view that we should never have to look externally and we should be able to promote from within.

“It is incumbent on us to make sure those people have the skills in order to progress. If you look in our accounts department, the woman in charge of our accounts was working on the factory floor 30 years ago packing biscuits.

“I’m sure if you asked her 30 years ago when she was packing biscuits that she’d be running the accounts department down the line, she would have thought you were coming from a different planet.

In a time when healthy food is on the increase, Mr Thompson believes there is still a place and time for biscuits.

“No matter how you look at it, biscuits are a treat. We’ve done a lot of work as a company as reducing fat, salt and sugar content in our biscuits,” he said.

“They will always be a treat though.”

So for a biscuit factory manager, who sees around 43,000 tons of biscuits leave the site that he runs, what is his favourite biscuit?

“My favourite biscuit is probably a Jammie Dodger – it’s the taste and texture tied with the flavour of the jam,” said Mr Thompson.

“I am partial to a Wagon Wheel but it’s the dodger for me.”

And for the question which has split the industry since time immemorial, or at least since the treat was created, is a Jaffa Cake a biscuit or cake?

“The Jaffa Cake however, in my view, is a biscuit,” he added.

“Although it is technically a cake, we call it a biscuit, even if it does go hard when stale like a cake, compared to soft as a biscuit.”

In 1971, the company made its one billionth Wagon Wheel in Llantarnam, and there is a biscuit encased in glass to commemorate the achievement.

“Unfortunately we have lost count now,” said Mr Thompson, but the glass allows for a different purpose.

“People always ask me if the Wagon Wheel has got smaller, but if you opened that glass casing, it would still be the same size as the ones in the factory.”