British Eccentrics: Fannying About With Food
Fanny Cradock (real name Phyllis Nan Sortain ‘Primrose’ Pechey) was primarily a live performer. Her parents, Bijou and Archibald, were usually bankrupt so Fanny tried various menial jobs before entering the restaurant trade, hailing Escoffier as a saviour of British cookery She and her monocle-wearing Major Johnny ran a Daily Telegraph column (where they probably appeared quite normal) before they started turning theatres into restaurants.
In the early 50’s, Fanny would come onstage and cook vast dishes that would then be served to the audience (at this time there were hardly any houses with TV, remember). She was soon feeding hundreds of people each show. She and the Major became famous for an appalling-looking roast turkey, complete with stuffed head, tail feathers and wings. With fake French accents, they performed as a drunken hen-pecked husband and domineering wife.
Fanny came over as a monster, snapping her fingers in the faces of assistants, nagging Johnny, smashing around her pots and pans, chucking white sugar and pounds of butter over everything. As she aged she painted her eyebrows further and further up her forehead, somehow managing to look like a cross between Danny La Rue and Boris Karloff.
The public loved her, partly because she seemed to care about what she was spending (she was always saying ‘This won’t break your budget’ and being mindful of her audience, albeit in a haughty way) but her food was hideously garish (she was too fond of vegetable dyes and shoving cocktail sticks through maraschino cherries). She continued on TV and at live events right through Johnny’s heart attack and a variety of terrified assistants, also finding time to write awful romantic novels, until disaster finally struck.
In 1976 a housewife living in Devon won the Cook of the Realm competition, leading to the BBC selecting her to organise a banquet attended by key political figures. The BBC filmed Fanny advising on the menu. Cradock fake-vomited at the selection and humiliated the housewife on live television, telling her, ‘You’re among professionals now, dear.’
The public instantly turned on her. Fanny wrote a letter of apology but her contract was cancelled, the public felt betrayed and she was forced to retire. She was quite clearly a horrible human being (she walked off set after discovering that Danny La Rue was a drag queen) but her cooking was influential. Because she also worked for the British Gas Council she only promoted gas ovens, which was why my mother refused to have an electric hob. Here she is doing something disgusting with Christmas leftovers.