Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Clarissa Dickson Wright (1947-2014)


in this Two Fat Ladies "Afternoon Tea" clip, that's Jennifer Paterson (1928-1999) who cooks first. Clarissa gets her turn at 2:36.

by Ken

I'm kind of surprised to see that in all there were only 24 episodes of Two Fat Ladies, produced in four series from 1996 to 1999, when Jennifer Paterson (born 1928) died, within a month of being diagnosed with lung cancer. The younger lady, Clarissa Dickson Wright (born 1947), died Saturday. Separately or together, the two were about the least probable TV stars you could imagine. But together, they were something else, and theirs was a cooking show like no other. I don't suppose it was for all tastes, but for those of us who fell under its spell, it was, well, magic -- of a very particular sort.

I was turned on to the show by my mother, who loved it. Later I got her videocassettes of, I think, the first two seasons, all that was available at the time. She watched them a lot, and asked for more, which I never got around to doing. It was probably after she died that I got around to ordering the complete series on British DVDs. (They wouldn't have done my mother any good. The DVD arrived too late for her to learn a whole new medium.) The set has been sitting on the shelf still shrink-wrapped. I wish it wasn't for such a sad reason that I'll finally get around to cracking it open.

Here's William Yardley's New York Times obit.

Clarissa Dickson Wright, Rebel TV Chef
in 'Two Fat Ladies,' Dies at 66

Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright

March 17, 2014

Clarissa Dickson Wright, who rose to middle-aged fame as the co-star and co-chef of "Two Fat Ladies," a popular British television show known as much for the hosts' irreverence and eccentricity as for their indulgent and sometimes confounding recipes, died on Saturday in Edinburgh. She was 66.

She had been ill for several months, according to Heather Holden-Brown and Elly James, her literary agents in London, who announced the death.

Ms. Dickson Wright grew up in an affluent family, became a lawyer at 21 and an alcoholic not long after. Sobered up, she got serious about cooking in her 40s.

She was writing a cooking column and running a store called Books for Cooks in London when a television producer recruited her to collude with another culinary rebel, Jennifer Paterson, on a cooking show unlike any other. "Two Fat Ladies" made its debut in 1996 on the BBC and was picked up in the United States the next year by the Food Network.

Each episode opened with the pair heading to a new location to cook, Ms. Paterson steering a motorcycle while Ms. Dickson Wright rode in a sidecar, sometimes beneath the carcass of an animal bound for the dinner table. They spoke approvingly of royal mistresses, less so of vegetarians. They enjoyed imitating profound flatulence.

In an era of health-conscious cooking, Ms. Dickson Wright and Ms. Paterson just said no.

On lard: "Just in case you think it's unhealthy," Ms. Dickson Wright said, "don't be put off by that."

On bacon: "I'm told that more vegetarians relapse on bacon than any other substance."

On a lofty legume: "Always get rid of all the lentils. You would have no idea how randy it makes all the vegetarians."

On tongue: "It's wonderful stuff, tongue. Everybody forgets about tongue."

On flavorful Indian tea: "Yes, I quite like a strong Indian myself now and again."

On the proper application of butter to a cake pan: "You really want to get it well greased. Did you see ‘Last Tango in Paris'? Something like that."

The show led to a book in 1998, "Cooking With the Two Fat Ladies." Reviewing it in The New York Times, Suzanne Hamlin found many of the recipes impossible to follow -- at least if one wanted the promised results.

"On camera, the two hefty middle-aged women do nothing -- including cooking -- by the book," Ms. Hamlin wrote. While acknowledging their appeal, she added, "Eccentricity and farce fail to be compelling in a cookbook that purports to be useful."

The show ran until 1999, when Ms. Paterson died shortly after learning she had lung cancer.

Clarissa Dickson Wright was born Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright on June 24, 1947, in the St. John's Wood section of London. In her 2007 memoir, "Spilling the Beans," she recalled the inspirations for her numerous given names, including her mother's favorite saint, Philomena, and a woman who cooked for her family, Louise.

She was the youngest child of Dr. Arthur Dickson Wright, a prominent surgeon who treated members of the royal family -- and who was also, she said, abusive and an alcoholic. Her mother, the former Molly Bath, came from a wealthy Australian family. When both her parents died, Ms. Dickson received an inheritance that, she later admitted, she spent much of during her years of alcohol abuse. She quit drinking on her 40th birthday.

Ms. Dickson Wright lived in Edinburgh. Her survivors include two sisters, Heather and June.

Despite her television persona, Ms. Dickson Wright was not all puns and off-color jokes. In 2011, she published a well-received book, "A History of English Food."

The complete Two Fat Ladies is available in a four-DVD set, which includes biographies of both ladies, a documentary tribute to Jennifer Paterson, and a recipe booklet. If you can play PAL DVDs, the U.K. edition is a good deal cheaper.

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