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Media: They'll be Two Rich Ladies

Britain's Two Fat Ladies have served up suet pudding in the land of the clinically obese and the diet-obsessive. US fans have taken our telly tubbies to their hearts and a revolt against fat-free living has begun, says Paul McCann.

In America they have people who are so fat that when they walk on the beach their footprints are wiped away by their buttocks. For that reason Two Medium Women might be a more appropriate name for Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Patterson, the Two Fat Ladies of the BBC's cookery programme, as they tour America promoting their show.

Americans have taken the two cooks to its ample bosom and they have been hailed as a hit by no less a spotter of moneymaking trends than the Wall Street Journal.

The big girls were big hits on the otherwise blandly svelte Good Morning America. Rosie O'Donnell, the ample daytime TV host, hailed them as icons for the plump and Jay Leno let them cook a meatloaf that looked like a hedgehog on his Tonight Show, currently America's biggest talk show.

The reason for this whirlwind assault on the sensibilities of the thin and healthy is the launch of their series Two Fat Ladies on America's Food Network. The cable channel loves the show so much they've even built a "Big Fat Friday" segment around it.

"When we're out at dinner they're getting recognised and people are flocking to tell them they love them," says Two Fat Ladies producer Patricia Llewellyn from Los Angeles. "I was concerned that the country is too health conscious and wouldn't be able to take them. But I think some kind of backlash is going on and people really, really love them."

Part of the appeal is their Britishness. The American's love the two women's plummy accents and - to them - dangerously eccentric ways: smoking while cooking or sticking their fingers in the food as they go along.

"There is no PC squeamishness about them at all," says Ms Llewellyn. "They don't get the bingo call reference of `two fat ladies', and the Food Network is planning an Internet site where some of Jennifer's more nutty, made-up words will be translated for American viewers, but people are laughing with them, not at them."

In the land that bred Mr Kellogg's mad dietary concoctions, the monitoring of what you put into your body has frequently taken on a spiritual dimension. Ms Dickson Wright and Ms Patterson represent the sinning side of the American dietary paradox.

By being British, and plummy, which American's can't get enough of, the Two Fat Ladies' recipes, laced with lots of cream and red meat, give consent to the side of Americans that likes a good scoff.

Despite years of fat-free everything, including the invention of a fat- free fat that passes straight through you without touching the sides, America remains the Land of the Fat and Home of the Bulky. Only a country with an unhealthy obsession about staying slim and youthful would make a spaghetti sauce with turkey mince because it is "virtually fat free".

The paradox is best expressed by the country's fast-food munching President who is always out jogging to undo the fast food's effects. In Britain not even William Hague, master of the photo inopportunity, has been stupid enough to jog publicly.

"There seems to be a cookery show boom here too," says Ms Llewellyn. And it looks like the Two Fat Ladies may have timed their unhealthy pitch to Americans perfectly. Cigar bars are opening up to cater for those suffocating under smoking restrictions, steak houses are becoming trendy again and slackers like those featured in the cult hit movie Swingers are reclaiming the Martini lunch.

Nice as it must be for the tubby two to get residuals and repeat fees from the sale of the series to America, the real money will be made in the books that accompany the cookery series. The Two Fat Ladies' first recipe book sold a staggering 154,000 copies in its first three months on sale. And that was achieved with just 4.5 million British viewers.

Because 70 per cent of Americans get cable television, our first cookery exports to appear on Food Network will benefit from tremendous exposure. And if the Two can cash in on America's guilty love affair with fatty foods, they could easily make Delia Smith's millions look like a bowl of cranberries.