What Do Your Doughnuts Look Like?
Tonight there was a series of repeats of BBC Television made in 1975 and featuring one Fanny Cradock. It was surprising to see that once familiar face after all these years; particularly if one remembers the way her career spectacularly nose-dived into oblivion after she had appeared in an expert capacity in one of those ghastly “ordinary-person-gets-a-taste-of-the-big-time” type programmes.
Later commentators have emphasised her cold treatment of assistants on the set; her bigamy; her outdated cuisine and its presentation; her televisual image and her penchant for wearing chiffon evening gowns in the kitchen and her manner of speaking to the audience.
As a family, we regarded her as an odd woman and watched in horror as she worked. We were particularly bothered by the amounts of stuff she put in recipes. She was ripe for caricature.
With my father, I once watched a whole series of reports that she and her partner, Major Johnny Cradock sent back to the BBC from France. They were not really very good and I wonder now just for whose benefit they were meant? They seemed to embody the kind of “well shout it at them until they understand” tourists that once went to France. The biggest laugh – to us – was the sight of their Rolls Royce Silver Shadow making a spectacular journey through the main square of a French regional town and straight into the wrong end of a one way street. Unbelieveable!
Now I am on the wrong side of fifty five and I watched all of these programmes tonight. I did not see what I laughed at back then in the sixties and seventies. I saw something else and I don’t really know how to say it.
I saw a very frightened old lady, fearful of being shown up. A sad lady whose culinary technique would not bear much scrutiny under the hot and demanding light of today’s leading television chefs. I heard an old lady mention the word “professional” at least twice in each 15 minute broadcast, no doubt in the hope that she would be thought to be just that. I saw an old lady to whom every bit of food and ingredients was precious and not to be wasted. I saw an old lady not coping very well with being in the public limelight.
All the bluff and bluster and slightly barbed remarks about “that’s the professional way” and about what is “proper” and how “you can’t get this in England” and so on, had annoyed me as a youngster. At this age, I can interpret it as a smokescreen that nobody would dare to blow away. The forbidding manner nothing more than a brick wall (which was actually made of crepe de chine) meant to stop anybody peering in or ever asking a question.
Few people had anything good to say about her. One of them was Marguerite Patten who described her as the “saviour of British cookery after the war”.
Nowadays she would not be on television at all. Maybe I am wrong about all this but have a look yourself at the vulnerability. It is there for all to see. Of course, I wondered where she had trained and where the “on-air” authority came from. I looked and looked and looked…