Monday, 21 September 2015

Diamonds Are Forever - Sixty Years of Kitchen Magic

Somewhat unbelievably, 2015 marks the simply sensational sixtieth anniversary of Fanny Cradocks first ever proper TV show. Well, proper in Fanny's own special way. Prior to 1955 she had been a regular on radio of course, dispensing Hints for Housewives on Womans Hour, cooking up 'dishes which can be done in a flash'. However, it wasn't long before Fanny (then know plainly as Phyllis) and Johnnie transferred to TV. Their first 15-minute BBC show, The Cradocks with Kitchen Magic, was interestingly even then billed as 'an unusual style of TV cookery to a TV audience', but the ratings delivered with them scoring 73% of the potential audience despite its after dark time slot. I don't think any footage exists, although they later recreated it for Gas Board promotional film, but what a treat if it ever turned up!

Fanny and Johnnie filmed a follow up, the crackingly titled The Cradocks are Frying Tonight ('an evening dress version of their afternoon show') for the BBC before switching to independent TV for Associated Rediffusion who lured them with the glory of full half hour shows. Fanny felt they were much more suited to them than the measly 15 minutes the BBC offered. Chez Bon Viveur and Fanny's Kitchen were independent hits, but they soon returned to the BBC with Challenge in the Kitchen - where Fanny was pitted against a French male chef to explore 'if men cooked better than women' - and their very first Christmas show, the Bon Viveur Gala Christmas Dinner broadcast from the Royal Albert Hall.

The 1950's ended with yet more TV appearances with Fanny and Johnnie introducing their soon-to-be-well-established cookery club idea to the Mainly for Women afternoon show by making assiette de crudités and boxes of chocolates. Presumably these were particularly called for back then. They continued to make appearances on a variety of programmes, among them making exciting party feasts For Deaf Children and making a case for elegant presentation on Home at One Thirty. It was here that Fanny introduced her idea to make three course meals in 15 minutes. Beat that Jamie! Fifty years before his quick-fire series, just saying.

Fanny was still developing her unique persona and style, personally, as a TV cook and as a TV personality, confusingly popping up as a gardening expert in Living Today before returning to radio for Beginning to Cook, following another familiar future theme of six elementary lessons. The 1960's were a boon time for Fanny and TV however, with Kitchen Party, Home Cooking, Adventurous Cooking, Problem Cooking, Ten Classic Dishes, the ground-breaking Colourful Cookery which Fanny was surely born for and Giving a Dinner Party all airing. All with the essential accompanying booklet of course, and all in between popular appearances on Juke Box Jury or Call My Bluff. We just couldn't get enough Fanny.

The 60's also saw Fanny's first full Christmas series, Christmas Cooking, which covered the Pudding, The Cake and the Birds - all the festive fundamentals. The 1970's are often seen as the glory years for Fanny on TV, but perhaps this is simply because most of the footage still exists? With Fanny Cradock Invites, she invited us to a range of parties each episode from Cheese and Wine, Sunday Brunch and even one for Teenagers. very much the Nigella of her day. Again, it was all in the booklet. Fanny jumped from Generation Game appearances to frolicking around Europe exploring their cuisines and giving expert advice to other cooks for Nationwide. This new role as 'advice giver' would come back to haunt but, but as 1975 continued we saw perhaps her most famous shows, the wonderful Fanny Cradock Cooks for Christmas, which are still shown regularly each festive season, often to collective gasps from TV audiences and Twitter alike.

The 1970's also saw the demise of Fanny's TV career with the ill-judged Gwen Troaks Banquet on the Big Time. It is often cited as her final TV appearance, following a rude demolition of poor Gwen's ideas and skills. In scenes which would be popular for 'judges' today, the viewers in the 70's found it hard to swallow. However, during the 1980's she popped up on Pebble Mill, Wogan and the unusually titled Sin on Saturday to name but a few. I'd love to see that one particularly! Her final TV cooking slots were for independent breakfast TV, introducing the early morning TV-am viewers to the wonders of filo pastry.

Rather sadly, most of Fanny's TV appearances remain either in the vaults or have disappeared forever, sometimes popping up in a welcome manner on compilation shows and tribute programmes like TV Heroes, Look Who's Cooking and the Way We Cooked. I'd love to have a rummage around in the archives though, and I'm sure we'd all enjoy the televisual treats that could be uncovered. Perhaps the BBC are already planning a suitably splendid Fanny Cradock Diamond Anniversary Celebration? We are still hungry to see Fanny's unusual style of cookery... Aren't we?


  1. Lovely to see some clips of the old girl - just wish we could get our hands on more Fanny. Maybe one day...