Transcript of Interview from 'Desert Island Discs'
The following interview from Desert Island Discs was transcribed
as part of a University project into the literature of cookery writing.
Clarissa Dickson-Wright, one half of the Two Fat Ladies, formed
part of my studies and this interesting interview with Sue Lawley looks
at Clarissa's life and her views on our great cookery writers.
From BBC Radio Four's 'Desert Island Discs', transmitted 03 September
Presented by Sue Lawley.
[Opening Theme Music]
SL: My castaway this week is a cook. Her father was a brilliant surgeon
but an alcoholic, and his daughter suffered in the same way. Inheriting
a small fortune in her late twenties, she drank it all away within a few
years. Though her money disappeared, her intelligence, wit and culinary
skills survived, to be discovered eventually by television. In the programme
'Two Fat Ladies', she famously partnered Jennifer Paterson in a series
of highly entertaining and eccentric cookery adventures. Jennifer died
earlier this year, so what now for the lady left behind? The lady with
the pathological hatred of carrots, who once knocked out an Alsatian with
her bare fists, and who rejoices or suffers in the name of 'Clarissa Theresa
Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson-Wright'.
Forgive me Clarissa, but it is a completely ridiculous handle. What were
your parents thinking of?
CDW: Well they had great trouble deciding what to call me in the first
place. I mean they went through all the sorts of various things like Verbena
and Nigella and then they blindfolded my mother and turned her loose in
the library and thank God she pulled out Richardson's 'Clarissa' and not
the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica'. And then I think they were so delighted
that they'd finally found a name, they got pissed on the way to the
church. (SL laughs)
SL: What is it that you have against the humble carrot?
CDW: Well... (laughs) I just don't... as I get older I have this more
and more pathological hatred of them. My father used to pull them out
of the ground and sort of dust them off and feed them to me, still with
the slugs on them. Erm... and so I think I got sort of put off them. Now
of course I would quite readily eat the slug, though I still have this
thing against the carrot.
SL: And why do you go around beating up Alsatian dogs?
CDW: No, no, I didn't! Um, I was working for somebody who had this very
badly behaved Alsatian, erm... it had already taken out the gardener's
bicep, and I was coming home from the dustbins and this thing came racing
towards me with its ears back and its teeth bared and there was nobody
but me and the Alsatian anywhere for miles, and I remembered what my grandmother
had said that if you hit a dog on the right point of it's jaw, you knock
it out. So I thought, well I had nothing to lose so I went right down
and went WHAM and the thing somersaulted over. (SL laughs) When it came
to, of course, I was it's pack leader: it followed me everywhere, I was
inseparable from it. (SL laughs)
SL: Well obviously Clarissa, television when it discovered you, sought
to exploit some of what, I think, most people would call eccentricity,
but also with your collusion it was deeply politically incorrect in calling
you 'Two Fat Ladies'. You didn't mind this at all did you?
CDW: Well, people used to say, like journalists hate the word 'fat',
especially American journalists, and they used to say "Don't
you object to the title?" And I said "well there are two of
us, I... I had problems with ladies 'cos it sounds like a public convenience,
umm... but which bit do you object to, you know? Are you saying I'm
thin?" (SL laughs) And they get terribly embarrassed, and there was
actually one journalist who couldn't say the word fat, we had to sort
of re-educate him to say it.
SL: Of course it's been tremendously successful, very unusual for a British
cookery program to be successful in America...
SL: Is it unique?
CDW: Totally unique, yeah. I mean I now can't go out, because when I
go out I am always accosted by groups of Americans or Canadians or Australians
or South Africans... and the Americans come up and say (mock American
accent) "Oo, we love you", and when I was walking to the rugby
the other day, South Africa and Australia match, everyone: all the Australians
were going (Australian accent) "Oh geez, hey it's you!" and
all the South African's going (South African accent) "eets the leedy
on the teely". (SL laughs)
SL: And in Japan you've become a man?
CDW: No, only a man's voice. Erm, Japanese women have little, breathy
voices so that when they were recording it they couldn't use women's voices,
so they had men's voices going (Japanese impression) "Ho ha ha! Ho
ho, ha ho, ha ho ho ha!" (She laughs)
SL: So it's been a great success, and then sadly, sadly Jennifer upped
and died in August. Was it on the cards? Did you know it was coming?
CDW: No. Um, when we were filming at Knowsley Safari Park, which was
the last one we did, she was in cracking form, and she loved it because
she loved elephants and they had these elephants and lions and things.
And then, you know, I said "well I'll see you in a couple of weeks"
and then halfway through the following week she said "Oh I don't
feel very well, I think I'm going to bed" and I said "well
you must go and see a doctor, and don't let them bully you into filming
if you're not well enough". And she said "I don't think I could
darling" and it was that moment I realised that she really was ill
and so she went to the doctor, and they did the tests and of course discovered
that she had rampant cancer and three and half weeks later she was dead.
But she died magnificently.
SL: Did she?
CDW: Oh, she was wonderful, I mean she was an example to all of us. If
I can die that well I shall be very happy.
SL: Tell me about your first record.
CDW: My first record is Kenny Rogers' 'The Gambler'. Erm, Im a
great fan of Country and Western music and er people always used to say
to me, you know, "are you a gambler?" And I said "no, no",
because I don't gamble on the horses or tables or whatever, but I realised
that I actually take quite considerable risks with myself and with my
career. And um, I think this sums up the philosophy of my life.
[Music: Kenny Rogers - 'The Gambler']
SL: Kenny Rogers and 'The Gambler'. Another part of the secret of your
success really Clarissa, is of course that you championed all that er
unhealthy food, all that fat stuff, all those artery cloggers. Do you
genuinely like that sort of stuff?
CDW: (Laughing) I would disagree with 'it's unhealthy food', but yes,
I do genuinely like it and I do believe that, I mean, I would rather eat
a cream cake than take Prozac. You know, the only thing that stimulates
the seratonin in the body is animal fat. And I'm quite certain that the
increase in antidepressants is directly relatable to the decrease in eating
SL: That's quite a theory, I've never heard that one before.
CDW: Well, it's a scientific fact that that's what stimulates the seratonin.
SL: But it's interesting that because you do champion butter and eggs
and cream and so on, that you've always rubbished Mrs Beeton, because
of course she was the supremier of 'take two dozen eggs', wasn't she?
CDW: Yeah, but Mrs Beeton didn't cook. Tom Beeton was the, the um...
the Robert Maxwell of his day really...
SL: Her husband?
CDW: Her husband and um, he had all these magazines including Mrs Beeton's
'Household Management' which was a fifteen part magazine for the Victorian
yuppie. Mrs Beeton's mother was a famous cook: she ran the, um grandstand
at Epsom. Mrs Beeton herself died at twenty-six, having had five children
in four years...
SL: Not a lot of time for cooking.
CDW: No, you know, so she took all these sort of recipes that were sent
SL: He was obviously just a marketer wasn't he...
CDW: He was just a marketer, yes.
SL: He spotted a good idea: get the wife to write a book or put her name
CDW: Put her name on it, put her picture on it. She had a good face for
SL: But, but you say that she, or that book, made us overcook our vegetables
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