As an American, I’ve never actually had any experience with Bovril (and I can’t say I have any desire to), but I certainly know the word. Imagine my surprise when I was leafing through the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and encountered the following in the article on LYTTON, FIRST BARON (better known to me, and I presume you, as Edward Bulwer-Lytton, whose name lives on in the Bulwer-Lytton contest for bad writing):
His sf novel is The Coming Race (1871[…]), a utopia set in an underground lost world inhabited by an evolved form of Homo sapiens, larger and wiser than surface dwellers. This race derives its moral and physical virtue from vril, an electromagnetic form of energy of universal utility which fuels flying machines and automata, and even makes telepathy possible. (The UK beef-tea Bovril took its name from vril.)
This is no urban myth; the official website of the company that makes the stuff says “The name Bovril comes from an unusual word Johnston found in a book. ‘Vril’ was ‘an electric fluid’ which ‘cured diseases and established equilibrium of natural powers.’ He combined it with the first two letters of the Latin word for beef ‘Bos’.” But the OED’s etymology (yes, they have an entry for Bovril—they’re Brits, aren’t they?) says simply “f. L. bōs, bovis, ox, cow.” Were they ashamed to cite a trashy popular novel? If so, they’d gotten over it by the time the Visor-Vywer fascicle appeared in 1920; it includes the entry:
[Invented by Lytton.]
A mysterious force imagined as having been discovered by the people described in one of Lytton’s novels.
1871 LYTTON Coming Race vii. 47 These people consider that in vril they have arrived at the unity in natural energic agencies, which has been conjectured by many philosophers.
The last citation is from 1888 (Pall Mall G. 27 Dec. 4/1 If so,.. we are within hailing distance of the discovery of vril); I think it should be brought back into circulation. Use the vril, Luke!