Post # 76 Two Fat Ladies and Two Chubby Guys

November 26, 2012 at 1:01 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 76 Two Fat Ladies and Two Chubby Guys

In one of my earlier posts (number 12), I answered a question that I get a lot about who are my favorite chefs.  I mentioned these two in passing, not because they’re low on my list, but because they deserve a full post of their own.

The Two Fat Ladies had a cooking show on BBC1 for four seasons.  They went from place to place and made meals for people in the traditional British style.  The two fat ladies were Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson-Wright.  They were a couple of characters and kept things on the set lively.  Neither was the “star” of the show.  They had a friendship and respect for each other that went beyond that kind of thing.  They were just two ladies in the kitchen preparing foods and talking to each other while explaining to their audience what they were doing.  And what a sense of humor they had!

Jennifer was a drinker and smoker and drove a motorcycle with a sidecar.  Clarissa rode in the sidecar in all their shows, but one  which I’ll talk about later.  Jennifer also had a wonderful singing voice, a raspy brandy and cigar induced torch singing style that featured in nearly every episode.  The producers kept asking her to sing but she refused.  Clarissa finally told them that if they left her alone, she’d sing all they wanted.  Singing was in her blood.  She loved to cook and loved to tell stories about the dishes she was sharing.  Sadly, the smoking caught up with her and she passed away shortly after the fourth season ended.   There was no talk of Clarissa continuing with Jennifer; the show was about the pair.

Clarissa led a privileged life of the stuff British novels are written about.  She’s done everything and enjoyed it heartily.  She came to cooking later in life after she lost the family fortune to drinking and gambling.  She found that she loved to cook and after she sobered up, she became a professional chef in various venues.  Through the course of the shows, you learn that she was a successful sitting barrister in the London court system, once owned through her family an estate in the Caribbean, was an accomplished horsewoman as a pre-teen and teenager, and is a certified cricket umpire!

The two ladies did not know each other before the show started but their instant friendship shone through.  The shows were formatted the same way.  The first few minutes set up the meal, the ladies would then inspect the kitchen and tell the audience what they were planning and then get started.  About halfway through, the ladies would take a short jaunt somewhere then return to finish the meal.  The last couple of minutes always had the ladies standing apart from the dining and reflecting on the day and the meal.  In one episode, Clarissa in an ongoing effort to get Jennifer more active, convinced Jennifer to take a short walk to gather some fresh eggs nearby.  Nearby meant two miles and once they had left the farm with the eggs, Jennifer sat on a stone bench and resolutely refused to budge another inch.  Clarissa saved the day by finding the milkman on his rounds and begging a lift back to the kitchen for Jennifer and herself.

They were constantly talking politics of the day.  In one episode, Clarissa was making “lovely boudoir sandwiches” out of minced chicken, beef tongue, mustard butter (butter with a bit of french mustard blended in by hand), and watercress.  She told the story of how one king’s wife was so stalwart that she invited his favorite concubine to his deathbed.  She mentioned the names but I don’t recall what they were.  Jennifer then added that the concubine was the great-great-grandmother of Camilla.  Clarissa said, “Yes, I’d heard that.  Apple doesn’t fall too far, does it?”

In another episode, they are killing time before they go on a crabbing boat by going to a beach to have fresh winkles and mussels.  However, the tide catches them and because of their combined weight, the motorcycle becomes mired in the sand.  They leave safely, of course, but with the dramatic music in the background, it provides a little dramatic humor.

In an episode where they are making lunch for a pony club gymkhana, their menu goes a little heavy on the chiles and the chocolate.  Jennifer notes at the end that they’ve probably given the dear little tykes the collywobbles.  Clarissa notes that’s likely to be true, but they themselves would be far away when it struck.

Despite her girth, Clarissa was an amazingly athletic woman during the show’s run.  She put her hand to chopping down trees with some lumberjacks they were feeding.  She dug some potatoes.  She convinced Jennifer to assist in gathering strawberries right off the vine, which if you don’t know, grow very close to ground so must be harvested on your hands and knees.  They climbed into airplanes and raced with the owner/pilots guiding the planes.  They used their legs to guide a barge through a tunnel on an elevated lock.   They churned fresh butter and milked goats.  There was very little these two ladies would not take a try at.

The settings they were in also became a major part of each show.  They served in an embassy.  They fed scouts in a field at a jamboree.  They went to Jamaica to spend Christmas and floated in the ocean.  They walked a pier when they fed a group of nuns on lobster.  They climbed a large hill in Scotland to shoot grouse.  They listened to a male choir in Wales.  They fed a group of London barristers who were friends of Clarissa’s.  The fed the Cambridge rowing team lunch after their record 7th win over some other team in a row.  Maybe Oxford?  Maybe Eton?  I don’t remember.  You never knew where these two fat ladies were going to end up.

The thing that is truly remarkable about this show is the way it endures.  We have the DVD set and have had to replace it once because we wore it out.  It’s still shown on the BBC, and Clarissa is still highly in demand as a speaker and advocate.  As I said, Jennifer passed away, but her legacy continues as part of the most-loved television teams in BBC history.  Their style of cooking was so nonchalant, and so easy to follow that it makes everyone who watches want to try their hand at the recipe just to see if they can do it.  Partner/spouse and I have made several of their dishes and the one I wrote about just before Thanksgiving as a potato side dish came from their show.  If you have an opportunity to watch the show, I recommend you do so.  It’s a half-hour well spent with gentle good humor and learning thrown in.




Just realized I forgot to talk about the motorcycle!  Jennifer had a motorcycle and sidecar that became the iconic image for the show.  The ladies traveled all over in that thing with Jennifer driving and Clarissa seated in the sidecar.  Occassionally, they offered rides to people who climbed on behind Jennifer.  Clarissa constantly teased Jennifer by telling the guests that Jennifer didn’t have handle grips for them so they were forced to hold onto Jennifer.  Jennifer very drily replied, “There’s not a bit of truth in that.”  Once, Clarissa thought she had forgotten one of her treasured kitchen implements back at the place they had left and Jennifer cried “Hold on!” and performed a picture perfect braking 180 degree turn and without losing a moment of time continued in the opposite direction to collect the forgotten item.  Clarissa just grinned through the whole manuver.  Another time, as they were driving off into the sunset at the end of a show, the two ladies were discussing the fact that Clarissa had never driven the motorcycle so they decided that needed to be corrected.  Without stopping the bike, they switched places with no loss of speed or direction.  They never told the producers when these things were going to happen and it added an element of surprise and fun to the show.

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