Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Bon Viveur or Lady Docker?











From her obituary by Paul Levy in The Independent:
Fanny Cradock was a preposterous character, the foodie you loved to loathe. With her monocled husband Johnny, both of them dressed for going to a ball, rather than working in a kitchen, the pair delighted and astonished television audiences in hundreds of early cookery programmes, starting in 1955. In Kitchen Magic they put on airs as they demonstrated souffles and eclairs. It was not a parody, however, but Fanny and Johnny's genuine idea of how our social betters wined and dined.

In a mocked-up studio kitchen, Fanny, with a pinny over her evening gown, kept up a constant flow of chatter, quite often disparaging Johnny's knowledge of food, while she busied her hands in the flour-jar. Johnny (in his dinner-jacket), whose knowledge of wine originally began and ended with Barsac, showed he had learnt a little something about wine, but accepted his wife's chastisement on matters culinary. Rationing had just ended and viewers adored the performance.

Fanny always claimed that she was born to the bon viveur classes. The vulgar title the Cradocks used for their cookery and restaurant columns in the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, "Bon Viveur", is a mid-19th- century expression for one who lives a life of luxury, and was chosen over the protests of the women's editor of the Telegraph, who pointed out that the correct expression was bon vivant, "gourmand". Fanny's common touch paid off: in a later dispute with the Telegraph, she cited the earlier argument, and they ceded copyright in the title to her. Though she was contemporary with Elizabeth David, she had litle in common with the high priestess of post-war food; rather, Fanny Cradock was the Lady Docker of food...

...I cherish a 1959 volume called Wining and Dining in France with Bon Viveur, which contains the Cradocks' extraordinary advice on how to choose a restaurant. It begins, "Avoid establishments hemmed in by a fringe of mouth-organ motor-cars from the U.S.A." and continues, "Pay absolutely no attention whatever to motoring organisation symbols of recommendation... Never expect to eat and drink really well where there is a sign out `diner-dansant'! Eat first, dance afterwards and get the best out of both."

The Cradocks' secret was the snobbery and pretension of the times. In the post-war era they made their hungry, servantless readers and viewers feel they still belonged to an elite. They chided their readers to "stop fussing about those confounded lavatories. Use the pedals or the privies without complaint. Some of France's most primitive establishments provide some of France's most memorable meals."

As for the food itself: "It is ridiculously simple to make a good souffle. It is monstrously hard to roast a gigot of lamb to perfection, to cook a proper piece of calf's liver (which no English butcher has yet learned how to cut)... it is impossible to find a real potato salad in the British Isles (except in a few private houses of course)."

This is what the Cradocks' audience wanted to hear - that and the abuse Fanny heaped upon the heads of everyone from her fellow television presenters to Margaret Thatcher (she "wears cheap shoes and clothes"). It was a far cry from the foodie revolution of the 1980s.


"Carping about the way cabbage is cooked in Britain is like shooting a sitting bird with a gun that isn't licensed, on a Sunday out of season."

"There's only one convenience in convenience food: profit for the manufacturers. It's a load of muck."

"The enormous increase in Italian restaurants since the war has given pasta a head start, and although a considerable incursion has been brought about by the pizza, I do not think this will be permanently ensconced."

"When it comes to cooking, the best friends of a working woman with a family are a three-tiered steamer and a casserole."

"We approached our new microwave oven with the trepidation of two people returning to a reactor station after a leak."

"To adults the language of 'disco' participants is as esoteric as that of two scientists swapping gen on germ warfare."

"If people really want to be conned into paying out two and three hundred pounds for a restaurant dinner party, then prices will continue escalating until there is one monumental explosion."


Fanny Cradock (born Phyllis Nan Sortain Pechey, 26th February 1909 – 27th December 1994)

2 comments:

  1. It isn't possible to think of her without thinking of doughnuts.

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    Replies
    1. I do agree - but I tried to avoid the obvious... Jx

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