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Fanny Cradock

Fanny Cradock (born Phyllis Nan Sortain Pechey on February 26 1909 Apthorp House, Fairlop Road, Leytonstone, Essex, EnglandDecember 27 1994 Ersham House Hailsham, East Sussex, England) was an English restaurant critic, television cook and writer who mostly worked with John "Johnnie" Cradock, whose surname she adopted long before they married. She was the daughter of the novelist and lyricist Archibald Thomas Pechey. Fanny’s family background was one of respectable middleclass trade; her ancestors included the Pecheys – corn merchants and churchmen, the Vallentines – distillers, and the Hulberts – cabinet makers.

Early career and marriages

There has been some confusion over her birthplace. One national newspaper obituary records the Channel Islands; the borough of Leytonstone specifically records at Fairwood Court, Fairlop Road, London E11: “Fanny Craddock [sic] 1909-1994. On this site until 1930 stood a house called Apthorp, birthplace of the famous TV cookery expert Fanny Craddock [sic]; born Phyllis Pechey." Fanny's birthplace was named after Apthorp Villa, in Weston, Somerset, where her grandfather Charles Hancock was born.

Her birth was formally registered in the district of West Ham.

The first ten years of her life in London began with her living in destitution, selling cleaning products door to door. She then worked in a dressmaking shop. Things finally picked up for her when she began to work at various restaurants and was introduced to the works of Auguste Escoffier, which would prove influential. She later wrote passionately about the change from service à la française to service à la russe and hailed Escoffier as a saviour of British cooking - although she would fiercely defend her opinion that there was no such thing as British cuisine: "Even the good old Yorkshire Pudd'n comes from Burgundy".

Fanny married four times, the first in 1926 to an RAF pilot named Sidney A. Vernon Evans. The marriage was shortlived as he died in an air crash after a few months . This left Fanny a pregnant widow. Within a year of giving birth to her son Peter , Fanny married again, in 1928 , this time to Arthur W. Chapman. Another child was born, Christopher , and when Christopher was four months, Fanny abandoned him and Arthur for life in central London. In September 1939 she married Gregory Holden-Dye whilst still legally married to Arthur, but the new marriage only lasted eight weeks. By that time she had met Johnnie Cradock, a Royal Artillery major. Johnnie was already married with four children. He left his wife and family and had no contact with them for the rest of his life. Fanny and Johnnie married in 1977 after the collapse of her television career .

Fanny carved out a minor reputation as a novelist and children's author under the pseudonym "Frances Dale". As "Phyllis Cradock" she was an authority on the lost continent of Atlantis (she had a lifelong belief in spiritualism). But it was her first recipe book, The Practical Cook, that opened the door to Fleet Street in 1949. The Daily Telegraph already had a cookery expert, Claire Butler, so Fanny's first contributions were as "Elsa Frances", a fashion writer, and "Nan Sortain", a beauty consultant - "all acne, leaking scalps and curious inquiries made on behalf of a mysterious 'friend'", she recalled.

It is believed that Fanny met Johnnie Cradock at a food exhibition but this is uncertain. Evelyn Garrett, the woman's editor of the Daily Telegraph, asked whether she and Johnnie would like a few weekend breaks in the country "to find out if there is anything left that is worthwhile in the inns of England." and they soon began writing a column under the pen name of "Bon Viveur which appeared in the Daily Telegraph from 1950 to 1955. This gentle experiment evolved into a five-year voyage of discovery, during which Fanny and Johnnie visited thousands of hotels and restaurants, home and abroad.

The paper also provided a wider stage for her showman's flair, staging "Kitchen Magic" extravaganzas across the country in which the pair turned theatres into restaurants. Cradock would cook vast dishes that were served to the audience. They became known for roast turkey, complete with stuffed head, tail feathers and wings. Complete with French accents, their act was one of a drunken hen-pecked husband and a domineering wife. At this time, they were known as Major and Mrs Cradock. The Cradocks' most prestigious event, when they filled the Royal Albert Hall for their International Christmas Cookery show in 1956, was dedicated to the Frenchman, Georges Auguste Escoffier.

Television

In 1955, Fanny recorded a pilot for a BBC television series. It was a winning format and each series came with a printed booklet that gave a detailed account of each recipe Fanny demonstrated. In later years, she would simply say, "You'll find that recipe in the booklet so I won't show you now". Cradock's TV programmes were popular in the late 1950s. Fanny advocated bringing Escoffier-standard food into the British home and gave every recipe a French name. Her food looked extravagant but was generally cost effective and Fanny seemed to care for her audience. Catchphrases were; "This won't break you", "This is perfectly economical", "This won't stretch your purse". She insisted that "Everyone [was] entitled to a piece of really good cake at least once a year".

As time went on, her food became outdated. Her love of the piping bag and vegetable dyes meant her television show began to border on farce. As she got older, she applied more and more make-up and wore vast chiffon ballgowns on screen. Her apronless cry, both on screen and on stage, was that "cooking is a cleanly art, not a grubby chore". Using language that would never have found its way into her Bon Viveur columns, she spat: "Only a slut gets in a mess in the kitchen."

By this stage, when Fanny spoke, the world listened. She campaigned against artificial flavourings and fertilisers - the Cradock tomatoes were fed on tea and pee dubbed "Madam's Tonic" - and in 1974 she sent the Ayr fishing fleet into panic after revealing that monkfish was being widely used in scampi as a cheaper alternative to prawns. She had firm views, too, on what viewers and readers should do at Christmas. In Fanny's book, there was no beginning or end to the preparations: Christmas puddings should be prepared a year in advance, although a batch Fanny made for Harrods in the early Sixties had to be returned when they went mouldy. Every month had its tasks: pickling walnuts, preserving angelica, making potpourri. Her fervour for DIY was also reflected in her accent on wreaths, flamboyant table designs and home-made decorations - an enterprise that she claimed could keep children "absorbed throughout the long winter evenings".

Fanny had always included her relatives and friends in her television shows. Johnnie suffered a minor heart attack in the early 1970s and it was the opportunity for the BBC to request "Fanny-only" shows. Johnnie was replaced with the daughter of a friend - Jayne. Another was Sarah and there was a series of young men who didn't last long.

Fanny Cradock's last television cookery programmes should be Christmas-themed. Her series Cradock Cooks for Christmas is the only of her programmes to have been shown in the past decade - enjoying an annual Christmas re-run on the UK digital television channel UKTV Food.

Gwen Troake

In 1976, Devon housewife Gwen Troake won a competition called "Cook of the Realm", the prize being to organise a banquet to be attended by Edward Heath, Earl Mountbatten of Burma and other VIPs. The BBC filmed the result as part of a series called The Big Time, and asked Fanny Cradock (then a tax exile in Ireland and aged 66) to act as one of a number of experts giving Troake advice on her menu. The result brought the end of Fanny Cradock's TV career. Mrs Troake went through her menu of seafood cocktail, duckling with bramble sauce and coffee cream dessert. Fanny told Troake that her menu was too rich, and while accepting that the dessert was delicious, insisted it was not suitable, declaring: "You're among professionals now". Fanny grimaced, acted as if on the verge of retching, and claimed not to know what a bramble was. She suggested that Troake use a small pastry boat filled with cream and covered with spun sugar. It was completed by an orange slice and a cherry through a cocktail stick, giving the dish the look of a small boat, which Fanny thought was suitable for the naval guests.

In the event, the pudding was a disaster and couldn't be served properly. Robert Morley had also been consulted on the menu and said he felt Troake's original coffee pudding was perfect. When the pudding failed to impress, the public were annoyed that Cradock had seemingly ruined a potential success for the Devon housewife. Coupled with the rude manner in which Fanny had spoken to Troake, the public demanded her shows be axed from the BBC. Fanny wrote an apology to Troake but the BBC terminated her contract two weeks after the programme. She never presented a cookery programme again .

Later Years

Fanny and Johnnie became regulars on the chat show circuit and appeared on programmes such as The Generation Game and Blankety Blank. Fanny appeared alone on Wogan, Parkinson and TV-am.

She wrote several novels, the Castle Rising series which had recipes as footnotes but they were not well received. When she appeared on the television chat show Parkinson, her co-star was drag artist Danny La Rue. When it was revealed to her that La Rue was actually a female impersonator, Cradock stormed off set. This was her final BBC appearance, her final television appearance of all being on The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross.

Fanny and Johnnie spent their final years living at 95 Cooden Drive Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex. She stayed with The Telegraph until the early 1980s by which time her main source of income was a series of novels chronicling the life and hard times of the aristocratic Lormes family. After Johnnie's death in 1987, she spent her last years in residence at Ersham House Hailsham, East Sussex, after a television reporter found her living in squalor. She died on 27 December, 1994. Both Fanny and Johnnie were cremated at Langney Crematorium, Eastbourne. There is a memorial plaque and a rosebush in the grounds of the crematorium for both of them.

Culinary Legacy

Marguerite Patten has spoken about Fanny Cradock being the saviour of British cooking after the war. Brian Turner has said that he respects Fanny's career and Delia Smith has attributed her career to early inspirations taken from Cradock's television programmes. Despite her extravagant appearance and novelty value, her recipes were extremely well used and her cookery books sold in record numbers.

In 2008, Fanny Cradock's works again received minor press attention after singer Amy Winehouse announced "I'm all about Fanny Cradock, and that she had purchased several of Cradock's cookbooks to prepare a meal for husband Blake Fielder-Civil upon his release from prison.

Stage and Screen Adaptations

In earlier years her husky voice and larger-than-life personality lent itself to mimicry: for example, on the 1960s BBC radio comedy show, Beyond Our Ken, Betty Marsden could regularly be heard in the guise of "Fanny Haddock".

She and Johnnie would be parodied by The Two Ronnies, Benny Hill (with Benny as Fanny and Bob Todd as an invariably drunken Johnnie) and most famously by Betty Marsden in Beyond Our Ken with the character "Fanny Haddock".

Fanny's life has also been the subject of two biopic dramas; Doughnuts like Fanny's written by Julia Darling and Fear of Fanny written by Brian Fillis

Fear Of Fanny was originally a touring UK stageplay. After a successful run touring the UK in October and November 2003 with the Leeds Library Theatre Company, the stageplay was turned into a drama starring Mark Gatiss and Julia Davis (playing Fanny Cradock), and was broadcast in October 2006 on BBC Four as part of a series of culinary-themed dramas. It was filmed in high definition and also broadcast on BBC HD.

Food for Thought

  • "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." Daily Telegraph 1964
  • Predictions for 1965: "More dehydrated, deep-frozen and pre-prepared foodstuffs, the end of the Chinese restaurant and the dawn of cous-cous parties." Daily Telegraph 1964
  • "When it comes to cooking, the best friends of a working woman with a family are a three-tiered steamer and a casserole." Daily Telegraph 1976
  • "We approached our new microwave oven with the trepidation of two people returning to a reactor station after a leak." Daily Telegraph 1979

Books

Autobiography

  • Something's Burning (1960)

Biography

  • Fabulous Fanny Cradock: TV's Outrageous Queen of Cuisine by Clive Ellis (2007)

Novels

  • as Phyllis Cradock
    • Gateway to Remembrance (1949)
    • The Eternal Echo (1950)
    • The Lormes of Castle Rising ISBN 0-8415-0437-7
    • Shadows Over Castle Rising (1985) ISBN 0-491-03184-X
  • as Fanny Cradock
    • The Windsor Secret (1986) ISBN 0-352-32064-8

TV shows

  • Fanny's Kitchen
  • Chez Bon Viveur
  • The Cradocks
  • Dinner Party
  • Fanny Cradock Invites
  • Cradock cooks for Christmas

Cookbooks

  • Cooking with Bon Viveur 1955 Museum Press Ltd (writing as John and Phyllis Cradock)
  • Bon Viveur Recipes circa 1960 Daily Mail
  • The Daily Telegraph Cook's Book by Bon Viveur 1964 Collins Fontana Books
  • The Daily Telegraph Sociable Cook's Book by Bon Viveur 1967 Collins Fontana Books
  • Fanny & Johnnie Cradocks' The Cook Hostess' Book 1970 Cookery Book Club
  • Modest but Delicious 1973 Arlington Books/The Daily Telegraph
  • Common Market cookery France (1973) BBC, ISBN 0-563-12586-1
  • 365 Puddings by Bon Viveur Summer 1975 The Daily Telegraph
  • 365 Soups by Bon Viveur Winter 1977 The Daily Telegraph
  • Fanny & Johnnie Cradock's Freezer Book 1978 W H Allen
  • A Cook's Essential Alphabet 1979 W H Allen
  • Time to Remember - A Cook for All Seasons 1981 Web & Bower

BBC all rights reserved

Booklets

  • Home Cooking 1965 BBC (TV Series April - June 1965)
  • Adventurous Cooking 1966 BBC (TV Series April - June 1965)
  • Ten Classic Dishes 1967 BBC (TV Series January - March 1968)
  • Problem Cooking 1967 BBC (TV Series 1967
  • Eight Special Menus for the Busy Cook-Hostess 1967 Gas Council
  • Colourful Cookery 1968 BBC (TV Series Oct - December 1968)
  • Giving a Dinner Party 1969 BBC (TV Series July - October 1969)
  • Fanny Craddock Invites 1970 BBC (TV Series July - October 1970)
  • Fanny Cradock's Nationwide Cook Book 1972 BBC
  • Fanny Cradock's Christmas Cooking 1975 BBC (TV Series November - December 1975)

Works about Fanny Cradock

  • Doughnuts like Fanny's - play by Julia Darling, 2002. Later renamed Fanny Cradock - The Life and Loves of a Kitchen Devil
  • Fear of Fanny - play by Brian Fillis, 2002, adapted for BBC Four in 2006 starring Julia Davis as Fanny Cradock

Notes

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