Unappetising secrets of Fanny and Johnnie

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The Independent Online
THE "SECRET LIFE" of Fanny Cradock, the husky-voiced television cook who introduced post-war Britain to the cheese souffle, is to be revealed in a television documentary.

It will show that as a young mother she abandoned her children to seek fame and fortune; and for nearly 25 years "she lived in sin" with her partner Johnnie, while the two presented themselves as married.

On screen their relationship seemed a high-camp portrayal of ordinary British life, the kitchen version of saucy seaside postcards, with Fanny bossing Johnnie around incessantly and never being reluctant to deal him a quick smack across the fingers.

Her thick make-up, splendid ball-gowns and voice, once described as sounding like "a circular saw going through a sheet of gin-soaked cardboard", made the programme compelling viewing. It was a fine achievement, never giving any suggestion of the tough and brutal route that Fanny had taken to secure television stardom, which will be revealed in The Real Fanny Cradock, to be shown on Channel 4 next Saturday.

At 17 she eloped to marry an RAF pilot, Sidney Vernon Evans, but he soon died in an air crash, leaving Fanny a pregnant widow. Within a year of giving birth to her son Peter, she was married again, to Arthur Chapman. A second child, Christopher, was born, but when he was only four months old Fanny abandoned him and Arthur in favour of a more exciting life in London.

She took Peter with her, but his grandparents were concerned about Fanny's neglect of him and later adopted him. One condition of the adoption was that Fanny was not to see Peter again until he was 21.

In London, life did not blossom as Fanny expected. For 10 years she was destitute until she set up a dress-making shop in Kensington Church Street. In September 1939 she married for the third time, but after only eight weeks she met Johnnie and fell in love with him. He was also married and had four children, but he left his children and had virtually no contact with them for the rest of his life.

Fanny was still set on becoming famous, and tried her hand at romantic novels and children's stories. She also posed as an expert on hair care and beauty, as well as spiritualism and the lost city of Atlantis.

Then, with Johnnie, she took up cookery, and the pair sold their "Bon Viveur" column to The Daily Telegraph. Their success was put down to the fact that most of the nation had no idea of how to cook tasty food and was hugely impressed by tomatoes cut in the shape of flowers.

Having adopted Johnnie's surname, Fanny's next step was to get a nose- job and to audition as a television presenter. Her 25-year career as the country's favourite kitchen battle-axe was launched.

Occasionally she was suspected of making her recipes very complicated to deter people from actually following them - and some of her culinary tips were highly suspect. Gazpacho, the spicy Spanish soup, was, according to Fanny, a non-alcoholic beverage suitable for drinking with hors d'oeuvre. And the "thimbleful of saffron" she recommended for half a pound of rice was, in reality, enough for several bucketsful.

Her shows, mainly on the BBC, were never short on drama. She recommended violinists' wrist-loosening exercises to improve dexterity, and the "Third ballet position" as a good stance to adopt to avoid spilling soup.

Her career went into decline in the 1970s when a new wave of television chefs such as Graham Kerr, the galloping gourmet, made Fanny and Johnny seem old-fashioned. When Johnnie, whom she did eventually marry in 1977, died of cancer she was left alone, embittered and with virtually no visitors in a nursing home. She died in 1994.