Food in the Sixties: The Enigma of Mr and Mrs Fanny Cradock


There was so much to admire about Fanny Cradock. And then it all went wrong…

I can’t quite make up my mind about Fanny Cradock. I’m on the fence about this one. There are many things to admire: the innovative cookery programmes, the slick, ball-gowned cookery demonstrations presented to packed audiences at the Albert Hall (ground-breaking stuff at the time), her grasp of the complexities of French gastronomy- oh she knew her stuff all right. Utterly professional, in those scary days of one-take television she could talk directly to the camera in a continuous stream without fluffing her lines, an extraordinary task for a cookery presenter. And she was one of the very first.

And then in the latter days it all went wrong. Very wrong. The world moved on, leaving Fanny behind. I’m watching an old YouTube clip as I type. Fanny lampooning dear old A J P Taylor on the Parkinson show; pancaked make-up, grimacing Dan Leno eyebrows, all the glamour and snobbery of caustic coffee mornings and gin-sodden bridge parties at The Club. Strange. Aggressive. An excruciating performance.

But that might be part of the fascination. In those days, the servant less middle classes aspired to sophisticated gluttony- to black tie dinner parties held in honour of The Boss, graced by the food of Escoffier, as re-packaged and regurgitated by the Cradocks in their numerous books. Today, aspiration is dead, unless you count the current vogue for both the manners and diet of the Mediterranean peasantry. Fanny would flounder in the brave new world of dancing Hairy Bikers and guitar strumming, long-haired River Cottagers. Or would she have done battle?


Johnnie strikes me as an enigma. He left his wife and four children to shack up with Fanny, and if The Independent is to be believed, apparently never saw them again. Fanny was the star, Johnnie the claret quaffing, henpecked stooge. Does he not seem like a minor character from a Dornford Yates thriller, or one of those blazer-wearing characters propping up the bar at the local Rotary Club? Murder in the Vicarage. An Old Harrovian and Major of Artillery- the Cradocks liked to remind you of this fact, often. Funny that. But then ‘bi-lingual’ Fanny was supposed to have been born in the Channel Islands, when, in truth, her birth was formally registered in West Ham.

There’s a blurry black and white photograph of the couple: Fanny’s in an early 70’s Liz Taylor trouser suit, (slightly plump, helmet hair); Johnnie’s sporting a monocle and a Conan Doyle tweed cape. Slightly shell-shocked. Unaware of his predicament. Planet Nine.

I’ve got some inside info. My mother once spent a day with the Cradocks. Back in 1967 my mother wrote to Bon Viveur declaring her ‘ever-lasting gratitude to The Daily Telegraph and Bon Viveur if they could teach her how to bake cakes’.  She won the competition, but was forced to make bread instead- which she knew how to do perfectly well as it was. The event took place at the Cradock’s Georgian dower house, near Watford. Johnnie – I quote- was a ‘sweet old boy’, but the silly sausage forgot to turn on the oven and Fanny gave it to him: all two barrels of her scorn. It makes you wonder if this was all part of the act. Or was this the reality behind their marriage? But then, they weren’t actually married, were they?

I turned to Time to Remember, a year in the life of- a monthly account of their Continental excursions. There’s a bizarre moment when Johnnie, at the wheel of  “the Duchess” (their Bentley Flying Spur) is attacked by a huge flock of enraged owls. It’s also a catalogue of outrageous name-dropping:

“We brooded over what to give to Somerset Maugham when he came   to luncheon…we unearth a dinner we gave for Mrs Douglas Fairbanks…a dish of very fine asparagus set Nubar Gulbenkian in a wilful humour, debating the perils of striving for a place in heaven….”

And in a later television interview, Fanny lets slip:

“Mr Heath has a very discriminating palate…”

Despite all this- or again, because of it, Britain has to be a better place for the Cradocks. Anyone who reveals the Mirabelle’s over-complicated recipe for a bog-standard Irish Stew has to be a good egg. In Fanny Cradock Invites you to a Wine and Cheese Party, the camera lingers on the Cradock’s West Highland Terrier, Mademoiselle Lolita Saltena, lolling by their front door. As Fanny herself said (of her dog): ‘Not quite a lady, but we adore her’.

Luke Honey blogs about food and culture at The Greasy Spoon Blog, and also on art and antiques over at his Luke Honey antiques site.



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20 thoughts on “Food in the Sixties: The Enigma of Mr and Mrs Fanny Cradock

    October 28, 2013 at 07:45

    That Parkinson sequence is impossible to stop watching. She is so prickly and dogmatic, but why? What had happened to her to make her feel the need to throw down each statement like a gauntlet?

      October 28, 2013 at 10:23

      Stage fright, she was petrified, the Cradocks preached to the unconverted, except for we fortunate ones who were married to Davidistas, think early missionaries in the wilderness. Rank alongside Armand and Michaela Denis or Chisholm and his trail in the prototyping stakes.
      Today’s TV cooks are teaching their grannies to suck eggs, don’t think the penny has dropped yet.

        October 30, 2013 at 21:54

        You may be right, Malty – looking at the Stroake clip in that light, she begins to look like a shy person who feels she has to evangelise, despite being quite afraid of people. Those terrible smiles she suddenly switches on, in a hopeless attempt to disarm, those strange glassy eyes.

  2. October 28, 2013 at 08:06

    An excellent article. I’m sure that readers would also like to know about the notorious ‘Gwen Troake Incident’, which ended Fanny’s career.

    Two weeks after this programme, the BBC cancelled Craddock’s contract:

    • Worm
      October 28, 2013 at 10:43

      even the name ‘Gwen Troake Incident’ is redolent of a very different time

      October 28, 2013 at 16:29

      I don’t think Fanny was especially rude in the infamous Gwen Troake incident, or no more than her usual self. It was more that she forced poor Gwen to make a poncy boat-shaped naval pudding (Edward Heath and Mountbatten were guests), which ended up as a disaster.

      I suspect Mountbatten would have preferred Gwen’s original coffee cream thing, but as Fanny herself once said: ” I hear that Mr Heath has a very discriminating palate…” By 1976, Fanny was out of fashion, and I suspect that the BBC were keen to move on.

      Many thanks for the link.

      • October 28, 2013 at 23:01

        Yes, she didn’t seem any worse than she was with A.J.P.Taylor. It was good to see him get the upper hand.

        I think you’re right that the BBC were keen to move on – a new young cook called Delia seemed more in tune with the times. Also, the BBC were obsessed with retirement age, forcing Adrian Boult to step down from his position as Chief Conductor of the BBC SO when he was at the peak of his career. At 65, Fanny’s card must have been marked.

          October 29, 2013 at 12:41

          I didn’t know that about Adrian Boult. Appalling, when you think about it, really dreadful. Terrific Elgarian.

    October 28, 2013 at 09:05

    Because my own father had ‘done a Johnnie’, having sired my sister and I and vanished, my own childhood was shaped entirely by women, and this extraordinary woman was close to a role-model to the gin-drinking women in our house when she first appeared in the corner of our ‘sitting room’ on the 14″ Ecko.
    My ‘nan’ in particular idolised her, mimicking her hair style and colour and her unfortunately strident delivery – the bonus being an almost constant stream of great food emerging from a kitchen the size of an outside loo, with no fridge. After Fanny’s cue was put back in the rack by the BBC, my nan did what Fanny would have done – she switched her affections to Mrs Thatcher. Obvious really.

  4. Worm
    October 28, 2013 at 09:31

    Her older, ‘drawn on eyebrows face’ has the same startled drunken look as Edith Piaf and Judy Garland. Or a pierrot clown

    great article!

    October 28, 2013 at 13:28

    Baked to perfection, Luke.

    Did anyone have any time for Johnny? Wasn’t he just the classic bounder? Trying to hard with his shawl collared Smokings, monocle and regimental ‘tache. The fifties was awash with dubious Majors and Squadron Leaders, pretending to a station and a record – in reality, usually a Private in the Pay Corps who saw out the war in Ketering – they didn’t have.

      October 28, 2013 at 15:24

      Thank you, that’s kind.

      Like you, I’m fascinated by that dubious 50’s spitfire pilot type, as described brililantly by Patrick Hamilton. Also- think Neville Heath and the South Kensington Vampire, Haigh. As Betj said: ” It’s not their fault they often go…To Maidenhead…And talk of sport and makes of car in various bogus Tudor Bars’.

    October 28, 2013 at 15:46

    The mixed pleasure of having seen them first time round (and having even then seen them as something to be mocked, E. David and P. Gray having already taken up residence on my mother’s kitchen bookshelf), and the pain of being old enough to have seen them that same first time. Moving on a few culinary eras, I suppose there’s no hope of a Honey disquisition on the Galloping Gourmet?

    October 28, 2013 at 18:14

    I guess from your comment Jonathon that you and I must have been viewing these two gargoyles at about the same time, at the same age, but ‘seeing them’ (Fanny in particular) in a totally different way. I rather admired the way that Johnnie was prepared (well before the age of the liberated woman) to play the part of the Rotary Club stooge, to Fanny’s astringent-tongued battleaxe (‘Johnnie’s dropped his monocle in the souffle’). I remember being taken (or was I dragged?) down to the first department-store in Coventry, Owen-Owen, by my nan (see above) who worked as a manager there ‘in fashion’. Fanny and Johnnie were doing a demonstration, and the crowds were as great as when I saw the Beatles just down the road at the Hippodrome, tho’ of a later vintage of course. I learned that Fanny’s heroic life story and lineage (‘of course, I’m half-French dear’) didn’t stand-up to close scrutiny….but that didn’t matter. Here was a woman who behaved more like a man (and in a certain light, looked like one), who dragged herself from punury and destitution, and into the light. If I may say so, not someone to be mocked. Titter ye not…..

  8. Brit
    October 28, 2013 at 21:48

    Wonderful post, Luke.

    That advert with Fanny and Johnnie… oh god the sheer browney orangey screaming awfulness of 70s Britain.

  9. Brit
    October 28, 2013 at 21:56

    Incidentally, I had no idea that owls flock.

      October 29, 2013 at 08:12

      Yes, that clip. The spikey, staccato delivery. “Do you want to keep up with the Jones?”

      The owl incident. Bizarre. Neither did I. But did it ever happen?

    John Honey
    October 29, 2013 at 11:44

    I don’t know the authenticity but I did hear that when Johnnie tasted Fanny’s demonstrated doughnuts he was alleged to address the audience saying that he hoped their doughnuts looked like Fanny’s. (Sorry, Luke!)

    November 18, 2013 at 00:44

    Hideous woman. I reckon she had narcissistic personality disorder. Loved the comment about Neville Heath – there used to be a barmaid one of my locals who remembered him. Her act on ‘The Big Time’ was just so misjudged. Of course these days, I don’t think a woman could ever be famous with a first name like that…

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