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Cradock in 1976
|Born||Phyllis Nan Sortain Pechey
26 February 1909
Apthorp House, Fairlop Road, Leytonstone, Essex, England
|Died||27 December 1994
Ersham House, Hailsham, East Sussex, England
|Spouse(s)||Sidney A. Vernon Evans (1926–1927) (his death)
Arthur W. Chapman (1928 – ?) (separated)
Gregory Holden-Dye (1939 – ?) (annulled)
Johnnie Cradock (1977–1987) (his death)
Phyllis Nan Sortain Pechey (26 February 1909 – 27 December 1994), better known as Fanny Cradock, was an English restaurant critic, television cook and writer frequently appearing on television, at cookery demonstrations and in print with Major Johnnie Cradock who played the part of a slightly bumbling husband.
Fanny Cradock came to the attention of the public in the postwar-utility years, trying to inspire the average housewife with an exotic approach to cooking. She famously worked in various ball-gowns without the customary cook’s apron, averring that women should feel cooking was easy and enjoyable, rather than messy and intimidating.
In her early anonymous role as a food critic, working with Major Cradock under the name of ‘Bon Viveur’, Fanny introduced the public to unusual dishes from France and Italy, popularising the pizza in England. She is also credited as the originator of the Prawn Cocktail. She and Johnny worked together on a touring cookery show, sponsored by the Gas Council, to show how gas could be used easily in the kitchen and, as their fame increased, Fanny’s shows transferred to television, where she enjoyed 20 years of success.
In the course of her shows Fanny made frequent concessions to the economic realities of the era, suggesting cheaper alternatives which would be within reach of the housewife’s purse. The BBC published her recipes and suggestions for dinner-parties in a series of booklets, consolidating her reputation as the foremost celebrity chef of her day.
Fanny adopted a combative persona, with dramatic make-up, waspish comments to Major Cradock and her assistants, and advised viewers, when showing them how to pierce a turkey with forks, to think of a neighbour they didn’t like. Her theatrical style was ripe for parodies, such as Betty Marsden's 'Fanny Haddock' radio-sketch in Beyond our Ken. It also led, at the height of her fame to a spectacular crash-and-burn on The Big Time, where Fanny disastrously brought her acid wit into play when dealing with housewife Gwen Troake.
As a result of The Big Time Fanny alienated the public, lost her contract with the BBC and became fair game for a drubbing by the media, which revealed that she and Major Cradock were not married. A brutal and insufficiently researched entry in the Dictionary of National Biography suggested that she embellished her surname as Primrose-Pechey, when it derived from her paternal grandfather John Thomas Primrose Pechey. Subsequent celebrity chefs have brought a sophistication to British cooking which was not a part of Fanny's repertoire, however they have acknowledged her pioneering work, when purple piped potato brought excitement to a Britain of liver and bacon suppers.
Cradock's family background was one of respectable middle-class trade; her ancestors included the Pecheys (corn merchants and churchmen), the Vallentines (distillers) and the Hulberts (cabinet makers). She was the daughter of the novelist and lyricist Archibald Thomas Pechey and Bijou Sortain Hancock.
Cradock's birth was formally registered in London, in the district of West Ham. Fanny was given the name ‘Phyllis Nan S. Pechey’. The 'S’ was for Sortain, a name that had been passed down through her mother's family.
A plaque, with her name misspelled in the London borough of Leytonstone records at Fairwood Court, Fairlop Road, London E11: "Fanny Craddock 1909–1994. On this site until 1930 stood a house called Apthorp, birthplace of the famous TV cookery expert Fanny Craddock; born Phyllis Pechey." Her birthplace was named after Apthorp Villa, in Weston, Somerset, where her grandfather Charles Hancock had been born.
Cradock's parents did not manage their money well, her mother, Bijou, spent extravagantly, and her father, Archibald, had sizeable gambling debts, many run up in Nice. In attempting to keep their creditors at bay, the family moved around the country, going to Herne Bay in Kent, then to Swanage in Dorset, and on to Bournemouth (which was then in Hampshire), where Archibald's brother, Richard Francis Pechey (1872–1963), had become the Vicar of Holy Trinity Church in 1912. Whilst in Bournemouth the 15-year-old Fanny attended Bournemouth High School (now Talbot Heath School).
Archibald moved the family again to Wroxham in Norfolk, c. 1927, where his creditors caught up with him and by 1930 he was appearing in Norfolk's bankruptcy court faced with debts of £3,500.
By the time of her father's downfall, Cradock had already left the family and set up her own home with her first husband; she married four times, twice bigamously. First she married Sidney A. Vernon Evans on 10 October 1926, she was 17, he was 22. Cradock had adopted a variation on the family name, marrying as Primrose Pechey, which was a form passed down her father’s side. Sidney Evans died in a plane crash on 4 February 1927, leaving her pregnant with their son Peter Vernon Evans, who was adopted by his grandparents. Thanks to Johnny Cradock, Peter later became a sous-chef at the Dorchester Hotel.
By July of the following year Cradock had fallen pregnant again, and was obliged to marry the baby’s father Arthur William Chapman on 23 July. For this marriage Cradock used a form of her name closer to that on her birth certificate, employing her maternally inherited ‘Sortain’, rather than the paternal ‘Pechey’.
The couple had a son Christopher, but their marriage lasted less than a year before they separated. Cradock left her son Christopher and husband Arthur for a new life in Central London. Christopher was brought up in Norfolk by his father, an aunt and grandmother, although he made contact with Fanny in his adult life. Arthur Chapman became a Catholic and so would not give Fanny the divorce she later requested, as it was against the teachings of the Catholic Church. He was given only a single line in Fanny’s autobiography.
Cradock married again on 26 September 1939; her husband this time was Gregory Holden-Dye, a daredevil minor racing driver, driving Bentleys at Brooklands in Surrey. The marriage lasted only eight weeks, and produced no children, as she had soon met the love of her life Johnny Cradock. Greg’s mother had expressed a low opinion of Fanny, and ended up as a loathsome character in Fanny's first novel Scorpion's Suicide. Cradock later concluded that as Arthur Chapman had not granted her a divorce, her marriage to Greg was not lawful, and so never publicised it.
John Whitby Cradock was a major in the Royal Artillery who was already married with four children. He soon left his wife, Ethel, and children to be with her. Unable to marry Johnny, because of Arthur’s refusal to get divorced, she changed her surname to Cradock by deed poll in 1942. When she was misinformed that Arthur had died, she married Johnny on 7 May 1977. (Arthur actually lived until 1978.) For this marriage Cradock went with a pared down version of her name, and also seemed to be having problems with her memory, as the then 68-year-old put her age down as '55' on the marriage certificate, even though she had a son who was nearly fifty.
Having left Chapman, the next ten years of Cradock's 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 proved 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.
Fanny and Johnnie Cradock began writing a column under the pen name of "Bon Viveur" which appeared in The Daily Telegraph from 1950 to 1955. This sparked a theatre career, with the pair turning theatres into restaurants. Cradock would cook vast dishes that were served to the audience. They became known for their 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. She also wrote books under the names Frances Dale and Phyllis Cradock.
In 1955 Cradock recorded a pilot for what became a very successful BBC television series on cookery. Each year the BBC published a booklet giving a detailed account of every recipe Fanny demonstrated, allowing her to say in later years, "You'll find that recipe in the booklet, so I won't show you now." 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 about her audience. Her catchphrases included "This won't break you", "This is perfectly economical", and "This won't stretch your purse". When presenting her Christmas cake recipe she once justified the cost of ingredients, saying "But on the other hand, we do want one piece of decent cake in the year."
As time went by, however, her food began to seem outdated, and her love of the piping bag and vegetable dyes meant that her television show began to border on farce.[clarification needed] As she got older, she applied more and more make-up and wore vast chiffon ballgowns on screen. She became a figure of fun and the BBC was aware of it.
Cradock had always included relatives and friends in her television shows. Johnnie suffered a minor heart attack in the early 1970s and was replaced with the daughter of a friend, Jayne. Another assistant was Sarah, and there were a series of young men who didn't last very long.
Throughout her television career the Cradocks also worked for the British Gas Council, appearing at trade shows such as the Ideal Home Exhibition and making many "infomercials", instructing cooks, usually newly wed women, on how to use gas cookers for basic dishes. Despite the BBC's ban on advertising, Cradock only ever used gas stoves in her television shows and often stated that she "hated" electric stoves and ovens.
Her series Fanny Cradock Cooks for Christmas is the only one of several she made to have been repeated in recent years, on the UK digital television channel Good Food, usually in the run-up to Christmas. Good Food also occasionally show Fanny Cradock Invites You to a Cheese And Wine Party.
The Gwen Troake incident
In 1976 a housewife in Devon, Gwen Troake, won a competition called Cook of the Realm, leading to the BBC selecting her 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, by then a tax exile in Ireland, to act as one of a number of experts giving Mrs Troake advice on her menu.
The result brought the end of Fanny Cradock's television career. Mrs Troake went through her menu of seafood cocktail, duckling with bramble sauce and coffee cream dessert. Fanny, grimacing and acting as if on the verge of retching, claimed not to know what a bramble was, told Mrs Troake that her menu was too rich, and, though she accepted that the dessert was delicious, insisted that it was not suitable, declaring, "You're among professionals now, dear." She also scorned Mrs Troake's use of an ingredient for being too "English", insisting that the English have never had their own cuisine, and that "even the good old Yorkshire pudding comes from Burgundy".
Fanny suggested that Mrs Troake use a small pastry boat filled with fruit sorbet and covered with spun sugar, decorated with an orange slice and a cherry through a cocktail stick, giving the dish the look of a small boat, which Fanny thought would be suitable for the naval guests. In the event, the dessert was a disaster and could not be served properly. Robert Morley had also been consulted on the menu and said he felt that Mrs Troake's original coffee pudding was perfect.
When the dessert failed to impress, the public was annoyed that Fanny Cradock had seemingly ruined Mrs Troake's special day. Fanny wrote a letter of apology to Mrs Troake, but the BBC terminated her contract two weeks after the programme was broadcast. She never presented a cookery programme for the BBC again. (Mrs Troake, by contrast, published A Country Cookbook the following year.) Speaking about the incident in 1999, The Big Time's presenter Esther Rantzen described Cradock as "hell on wheels", and that she had "reduced this poor little lady [Troake] to nothing".
Fanny and Johnnie Cradock spent their final years living at Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex. Fanny and Johnnie Cradock became regulars on the chat show circuit, and also appeared on programmes such as The Generation Game and Blankety Blank. Fanny appeared alone on Wogan, Parkinson and TV-am. When she appeared on the television chat show Parkinson with Danny La Rue and it was revealed to her that La Rue was actually a female impersonator, she stormed off the set. Her final BBC appearance was on Wogan in 1986, and her final television appearance was on The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross in 1987.
In 1991, four years after Johnnie's death, family friend Phil Bradford found Fanny living in a flat in Chichester where she was living in squalor and seemed disorientated. He sought power of attorney and moved her to a nursing home at Ersham House Hailsham, East Sussex. She died following a stroke on 27 December 1994; the cause of death was cited as 'cerebrovascular atherosclerosis'. 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.
Marguerite Patten has described Fanny Cradock as the saviour of British cooking after the war. Brian Turner has said that he respects Fanny's career and Delia Smith has attributed her own career to early inspirations taken from the Cradocks' television programmes. Others are less complimentary and in the BBC series How We Used To Cook in an episode dedicated to Cradock and Graham Kerr, Keith Floyd and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, amongst others, were very disparaging in regard to her method and cooking skill. Despite their extravagant appearance and novelty value, her recipes were extremely widely used and her cookery books sold in record numbers. In the third series of The F Word, Gordon Ramsay held a series-long search for a new Fanny Cradock.
Stage and screen adaptations
In her early years on television Fanny Cradock's husky voice and larger-than-life personality lent themselves to mimicry, for example on two BBC Radio comedy shows in the 1960s, Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne, in which Betty Marsden played Fanny Haddock. Fanny and Johnnie were also parodied by The Two Ronnies and on Benny Hill, with Benny as Fanny and Bob Todd as an invariably drunk Johnnie.
Cradock's life has also been the subject of two biographical film dramas: Doughnuts like Fanny's by Julia Darling and Fear of Fanny by Brian Fillis. Fear of Fanny was originally a stage play. After a successful run by the Leeds Library Theatre Company, touring the United Kingdom in October and November 2003, the play was turned into a television drama starring Mark Gatiss and Julia Davis, broadcast in October 2006 on BBC Four as one of a series of culinary-themed dramas. It was filmed in high definition and was also broadcast on BBC HD.
- Something's Burning (1960)
- Fabulous Fanny Cradock: TV's Outrageous Queen of Cuisine (Sutton Publishing, 2007) by Clive Ellis
- as Phyllis Cradock
- Gateway to Remembrance (1949)
- The Eternal Echo (1950)
- as Fanny Cradock
- Chez Bon Viveur
- Dinner Party
- Fanny Cradock Cooks for Christmas
- Fanny Cradock Invites You To...
- Fanny's Kitchen
- The Cradocks
- Cooking with Bon Viveur (Museum Press Ltd, 1955 – writing as John and Phyllis Cradock)
- Bon Viveur Recipes (Daily Mail, c. 1960)
- Daily Telegraph Cook's Book (Collins Fontana Books, 1964) by Bon Viveur
- Daily Telegraph Sociable Cook's Book (Collins Fontana Books, 1967) by Bon Viveur
- Fanny & Johnnie Cradocks' The Cook Hostess' Book (Cookery Book Club, 1970)
- Modest but Delicious (Arlington Books/The Daily Telegraph, 1973)
- Common Market Cookery: France (BBC Books, 1973) ISBN 0-563-12586-1
- Common Market Cookery: Italy (BBC Books, 1974)
- 365 Puddings (The Daily Telegraph, Summer 1975) by Bon Viveur
- 365 Soups (The Daily Telegraph, Winter 1977) by Bon Viveur
- Fanny & Johnnie Cradock's Freezer Book (W H Allen, 1978)
- A Cook's Essential Alphabet (W H Allen, 1979)
- Time to Remember – A Cook for All Seasons (Web & Bower, 1981)
- Home Cooking with Fanny Cradock (BBC, 1965 – TV Series: April–June 1965)
- Adventurous Cooking with Fanny Cradock (BBC, 1966 – TV Series: April–June 1965)
- Ten Classic Dishes (BBC Worldwide, 1967 – TV Series: January–March 1968)
- Problem Cooking with Fanny Cradock (BBC, 1967 – TV Series: 1967)
- Eight Special Menus with Their Accompanying Wines for the Busy Cook-Hostess (Mendham Bros/Gas Council, 1967)
- Colourful Cookery (BBC, 1968 – TV Series: October–December 1968)
- Giving a Dinner Party (BBC Worldwide, 1969 – TV Series: July–October 1969)
- Fanny Cradock Invites (BBC, 1970 – TV Series: July–October 1970)
- Fanny Cradock's Nationwide Cook Book (BBC, 1972)
- Fanny Cradock's Christmas Cooking (BBC, 1975 – 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
- Fanny and Friends (Channel 4, 21 October 2012)
- 'Something's Burning: The Autobiography of Two Cooks’ by Fanny Cradock and Johnnie Cradock (1960)
- ’Fabulous Fanny Cradock: TV's Outrageous Queen of Cuisine’ by Clive Ellis
- ’The Daily Telegraph Cook's Book by Bon Viveur’ by Fanny Cradock and Jonnie Craddock (1964)
- ’Common Market Cookery: France’ by Fanny Cradock (22 Nov 1973)
- ’ Time to Remember: A Cook for All Seasons’ by Fanny Cradock and Johnnie Cradock (10 Aug 1981)
- ‘Giving a Dinner Party’ (Publications/British Broadcasting Corporation) by Fanny Cradock and Johnnie Cradock (Jun 1969)
- 'The Independent' Thursday 19 February 2009
- GRO Register of Births: June Qtr, 1909, Phyllis Nan S. Pechey, at W. Ham, vol 4a, page 369
- "FreeBMD Entry Info". Freebmd.org.uk. 21 May 2010. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
- Crockford's Clerical Directory, 1923, page 1173-74
- "Bournemouth: a town with so much character! (From Bournemouth Echo)". Bournemouthecho.co.uk. 3 November 2010. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
- GRO Register of Marriages: 1926, December Qtr, Phyllis N. Primrose Pechey & Sydney A. V. Evans, in Sheppey, Kent, vol 2a, page 2368a
- GRO Register of Deaths: MAR 1927 2b 309 NEWHAVEN – Sidney A. V. Evans, aged 22
- GRO Register of Births: DEC 1927 4b 78 ERPINGHAM – Peter S. Evans, mmn = Primrose-Pechey or Pechey
- Marriage: 1928, September Qtr, Phyllis N. S. V. Evans & Arthur W. Chapman, in Norwich, Norfolk, vol 4b, page 316
- GRO Register of Births: SEP 1929 4b 422 DOWNHAM – Christopher A. J. Chapman, mmn = Primrose-Pechey
- Marriage: 1939, September Qtr, Phyllis N. S. Chapman & Gregory L. E. Holden-Dye, in Fulham, London, vol 1a, page 1615
- Marriage: 1977, June Qtr, Phyllis Chapman & John Cradock, in Surrey South Western, vol 17, page 1154
- "Fanny Cradock - People - Scotsman.com". Heritage.scotsman.com. 9 September 2006. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
- The Craddocks were still using this byline at the end of their Telegraph career (Daily telegraph cooks' book-London, W.H.Allen, 1978 ISBN 0-491-02472-X
- "Fanny Cradock Cooks For Christmas- Christmas Cakes part 1". YouTube. 1 February 2008. Retrieved 24 June 2012.
- "Kitchen Magic – Fanny Cradock 1960s Part 1". YouTube. 19 January 2008. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
- "Fanny Cradock on TV-am – 1985". YouTube. 19 February 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
- The Daily Telegraph, 18 December 2007, 'Fanny Cradock – a Christmas cracker', 
- London, McDonald and Jane's ISBN 0-354-08513-1
- Presenter: Paul Merton (3 September 1999). "Esther Rantzen". Room 101. Series 4. Episode 7. 3:57 minutes in. BBC. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnbX2Me5tOA. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
- "The Real Hell's Kitchen: The shocking truth about flamboyant TV chef Fanny Cradock". London: Daily Mail. 8 October 2007. Retrieved 23 August 2011.
- "The Knight Hall Agency Limited". Rodhallagency.com. 23 October 2006. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
- TV Heaven Review
- Theatre Review
- Nancy Banks-Smith (24 October 2006). "Nancy Banks-Smith on last night's TV | Culture". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
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