Nowadays they would probably give us bruschetta, the luvvies. They would offer us griddled tuna with salsa verde, maybe, or caramelised belly pork with Puy lentils, and a rocket and parmesan salad on the side.

Perhaps with a little cold first-pressing extra virgin olive oil drizzled thereon.

We'd expect nothing less. But when Britain's acting community produced a book of its favourite recipes more than half a century ago, it was a simpler, more innocent age. It came up with dishes such as ginger cake and corned beef hash, spotted dick and stew.

Scanning the gastronomic preferences of the thespians of the 1950s is like looking into a lost world, and a taste can be had at a new restaurant offering the dishes. For the 1952 book in which they appeared, Our Favourite Dish: The Theatre Recipe Book, long out of print and now a rare item, has been discovered.

It was produced by the wife of Prince Littler, the theatrical impresario who ran the London Palladium, to benefit the Actors' Orphanage charity. Its 250 recipesincluded contributions from the then Sir Laurence Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh, Noel Coward and Dame Sybil Thorndike.

Although much of their taste was for the homely - there are two stew recipes - it also extended to the 1950s-glamorous, which was invariably expressed in that nearly extinct language "Menu French". Sole fécampoise from Margaret Leighton and sole Marrakesh from JB Priestley. .

Half a dozen recipes are now on the pre-theatre menu of a new London restaurant, the Astor Bar and Grill in Soho, to benefit the Actors' Charitable Trust, the successor to the Actors' Orphanage.

Lord Olivier's contribution - blanquette de veau - is the most ambitious, showing a fine disregard for post-war austerity. Vivien Leigh, a star of Gone With The Wind, goes to the opposite extreme with a recipe for brandy snaps, needing only "4oz sugar, 4oz margarine and 4oz golden syrup". Noel Coward offers Warsaw concerto, which involves fried onions and eggs, while Richard Attenborough (now Lord Attenborough, the only donor known to be alive) gives chicken risotto.

The Actors' Charitable Trust gets £1 for each person who tries one. Robert Ashby, of the trust, said: "The recipes were presumed lost, as no copies of the book could be located in the UK, and not even the Littlers were aware of its existence. Eventually a copy was located at a specialist cook shop in the US."

They certainly do convey the flavour of a lost world. Reading them, you can almost hear the voices, the theatrical cadences of half a century ago, clipped, precise, half an octave higher.

"Heppy, darling?" "Too, too heppy. One couldn't be heppier. Especially after traying one of the divine Miss Leigh's ebsolutely scrumptious brendy sneps."

Famous feeds


4oz sugar

4oz margarine

4oz golden syrup

Melt together in a heavy pan, add 2oz of sifted flour and a heaped teaspoon of sugar. Put small teaspoons of the mixture on a greased tin in a moderately hot oven. In a few minutes, when they have spread themselves, remove them. Before they are cold, roll round the handle of a wooden spoon.


1 cup chicken scraps

4oz rice

1 small onion

1 clove garlic

1/4lb mushrooms

2oz margarine

2oz dry cheddar or Parmesan (for preference)

1/2 a green pepper (not essential but an improvement)

1 1/2 pints of stock made from chicken bones

1/2lb firm tomatoes

Skin the mushrooms and tomatoes, cut into small pieces. Chop the onion and chicken finely. Heat the margarine, stir in the onion, rice and chopped garlic. Cook over a low heat, stirring until the fat is absorbed by the rice. Make the stock moderately hot and pour on to the rice, stirring all the time. Simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the chicken, mushrooms, shredded pepper and tomatoes. Simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the rice tender. Add cheese. For four.


Make 1/2 a pint of mayonnaise sauce. Chop three small sections of garlic and sprigs of parsley. Take three tablespoons of sauce Robert (Escoffiers for choice), mix in mayonnaise with chopped onion and parsley. Place lettuce leaves on a dish. Tear heart into small pieces, adding chopped celery. Put shrimps attractively on lettuce. Dress edge of dish with ring of peppers and watercress in middle, 1/4 lemon, 1/4 tomato and 1/4 hard-boiled egg. Sprinkle egg with parsley and paprika. Cover shrimps with sauce.