The late, great TV chef Fanny Cradock (1909-1994) spent an unhappy year in Chichester towards the end of her life, as a new book reveals.
It seems it is quite possible that she tried to end her life while she was living in the city.
Edinburgh-based writer Kevin Geddes is the author of Keep Calm and Fanny On! The Many Careers of Fanny Cradock, released by Fantom Publishing.
“She lived in Stockbridge in Chichester in a sheltered flat. It was not a mystery time in her life, but she had disappeared a little bit. It was not long after her husband Johnnie died. She was in Chichester for a year or so (in 1991) and then she moved from there into a care home where she lived for a number of years.
“I was never really able to find out why Chichester. It was perhaps just a nice location, just somewhere she wanted to be. Her friends had a restaurant nearby, and maybe that’s why she chose it.
“But it was a difficult time for her. Friends found her living in not the best conditions. Some of her friends said she was living in squalor. They feel that looking back perhaps she had dementia at that time, so you really couldn’t say it was the happiest time of her life. Her career was over, she was in her 80s, her husband had died and she was trying to maintain a semblance of a normal life but was not really managing to do it.
“There are some stories that she tried to take her own life while she was in Chichester. Friends found her surrounded by a number of pills. It was not long after her husband’s death. They assumed that she was either trying to kill herself or it was a cry for help. She then went to live in the care home.”
Kevin remembers seeing her on TV in the 70s. He believes part of the attraction for people was that they were a little bit frightened of her: “She had an edge. You might well feel a little bit apprehensive that she would come round and knock on your door if you didn’t follow the instructions exactly.”
By the 70s, she had been on TV solidly for 20 years: “She was really into techniques and cooking skills. Her big thing was to encourage people, just after the war, to learn how to make good use of the available produce at a time when things were still limited. She started off with very homely cooking, but then as things became more available, she started to get more fanciful. She particularly liked French cooking, but she also liked Swedish cooking and German cooking.”
And there was certainly a bit of snobbery going on, as Kevin says. She would be encouraging people to outdo their neighbours and “put their noses out of joint. She moved into that snobbery thing. She wanted the food to look glamorous. She was well known for adding food colouring and strange garnishes. She wanted that wow factor.”
Keep Calm and Fanny On! The Many Careers of Fanny Cradock takes an amusing, entertaining and lively look at her life and work, Kevin promises – meticulously researched in her own archives and others and through speaking to those who knew her best, friends, family, colleagues, and “those fortunate enough to experience her charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent over the decade.”
Cradock and Johnnie were famously parodied on the Benny Hill show with Benny as Fanny and Bob Todd as an invariably drunk Johnnie. Before that, Round The Horne also had a few laughs at their expense.
“But I think she would have been flattered and pleased that people were talking about her. I think she understood that things like that really helped celebrity which is what she wanted. And the comedians were all part of that. She appeared on lots of game shows and TV chat shows. She was the first TV chef to do that, so I think she would have been pleased that the comedians were having a go at them.”
Kevin’s books are available from http://fantompublishing.co.uk.