Delia Smith is a well-known, almost iconic, food writer in England, but remains largely unknown across the Atlantic in North America.
She focusses on English classics, while being open to new approaches and ingredients. Her focus has mostly been to raise the fundamental standards of everyday cooking by educating people about the basics, step by step. Her word became law on how to do particular tasks in the kitchen. “Doing a Delia” is a phrase that means you are doing something exactly as she had instructed it to be done. When she recommend a food or kitchen item, supermarket shelves get ransacked for it throughout England.
Delia is always dressed neat, plain and tidy on TV. In fact, some describe her as looking like a grown-up Head Girl from school, and building on her being a Catholic, others call her “Saint Delia.” But the saint image isn’t sexy, in a day and age when food presenters are increasingly so, so she has tried to shake it off. In September 2000, she said, “I am not some prim Brownie pack leader. In fact I am a bit of a bitch.” And her fellow food star, Anthony Worrall Thompson, called her the “coldest woman on television.” In response, she said that he was “dreadful and repulsive.”
Together with her husband Michael Wynn Jones, she created a company called New Crane Publishing Limited, of which he was the Managing Director. She and her husband later sold the company, and became large shareholders in the Norwich City football club in Norwich, Norfolk. The couple have no children; they live near Stowmarket, Suffolk (as of 2007.)
Delia was born 18 June 1941 in Woking, Surrey. Her mother’s name was Etty Smith. Delia grew up in Bexleyheath, Kent and went to Bexleyheath School there.
In 1957, she left school at the age of sixteen without a single qualification. She trained as a hairdresser, then worked in retail as an ordinary shop assistant, then worked at a travel agency.
In 1962, at the age of twenty-one, she got a job in a small restaurant in the Paddington area of London called “The Singing Chef”, owned by Leo Evans. She washed dishes and and served tables. ”I used to have a mini-skirt on. If I did waitressing and I couldn’t pull the cork out of the bottle, I would put it between my ankles like this – and I used to get told off because I had a mini skirt.” — Delia Smith: boss told me off for short skirts. London: Daily Telegraph. 4 January 2010.That got her interested in food. She started studying cooking books at the British Museum.
Delia had been baptized Church of England, had gone to Methodist and to Congregationalist churches, but in 1963 at the age of twenty-two, she converted to Catholicism.
During the mid 1960s, she boarded with a family on Harley Street in London.
Delia Smith enters world of food writing
In 1969, Delia became a food writer for The Mirror in London. Her first column gave recipes for cheesecake, beef in beer, and kipper pâté. The deputy editor was a fellow from Wales named Michael Wynn Jones (born approximately 1942.) In the same year, she baked a cake which was used on the album cover of the Rolling Stone’s eighth album, “Let It Bleed.” ”I was just a jobbing cook who did food photography for advertising. It was just a phone call saying ‘Come to the studio, we need a very gaudy cake’. I didn’t know what it was for.” In “Delia Smith awarded CBE.” London: Daily Telegraph. 20 November 2009.
Delia married Michael Wynn-Jones on 11 September 1971.
In the same year, 1971, she published her first cookbook, “How to cheat at cooking.”
In 1972, Delia began writing for The Evening Standard in London. She would write for them from 1972 to 1985.
Delia enters the world of food television
In 1973, Delia started teaching cooking on a TV series for BBC1 called “Family Fare.” The series ran until 1975. Around this period, she also became a food columnist for the BBC’s Radio Times, which she continued until 1986, and got a job helping to make a TV food commercial. Just before they started filming the commercial, she stepped in and whipped up a pie when one needed for the shoot was dropped on the floor.
In 1978, Delia did the “Delia Smith’s Cookery Course: Part One”, through BBC Further Education, on TV and through accompanying books. The “course” went on to have three parts.
In the 1980s, Delia published a string of books.
In the 1990s, there was no book or TV programme she could do that wouldn’t be a huge success, often breaking sales records. In 1990, Delia gave viewers a recipe for “truffle torte” that called for 5 tablespoons of liquid glucose. Within days you couldn’t find liquid glucose anywhere in the UK.
In the same year, Delia did the programme, “Delia Smith’s Christmas on TV.”
In 1993, Delia started consulting for Sainsbury’s grocery stores. She and her husband established “New Crane Publishing Limited.” Through it, in May 1993, they launched Sainsbury’s (Food) Magazine for the store. This formal, frequent association with Sainsbury’s lasted until 1998. In the same year, she did “Delia Smith’s Summer Collection” on BBC 2, a ten-part series. The photography for the accompanying book was actually done in Provence by Peter Knab at his placed called “Le Baou d’Infer” twenty minutes outside of St. Tropez, where the light was more dependable. Delia was present, with her food stylist doing most of the cooking. Peter Knab would later do the photography for the Winter Collection as well.
In 1995, she did the “Delia Smith’s Winter Collection”, a twelve-part series on BBC 2 TV, along with an accompanying book. In “Winter Collection”, she mentioned cranberries, causing a run on them across the UK, with sales spiking up by 30%. In the same year, she received the Order of the British Empire from the Queen.
In 1996, Delia received several more honours: an honorary university degree from Nottingham University, a Fellowship from St Mary’s College at the University of Surrey, and a Fellowship from the Royal Television Society.
In 1998, Delia launched her “How To Cook” ten-part series on BBC 2, taking everything back to basics, covering items such as boiling eggs and potatoes. She said that no one knew how to boil an egg anymore, as cooking had dropped out of most school’s curriculums. Other TV cooks such as Gary Rhodes said at the time that she was insulting the intelligence of viewers in dedicating one episode to how to boil an egg. Yet, with Delia having shown people how to cook an egg, egg sales rose that year 10% across the United Kingdom. She also mentioned a particular small aluminum frying pan (called the “Lune Metal”) as being fabulous for omelettes. It was made by a family firm in Lancashire that put out about 200 of them a year. Four months after the TV series, they’d received orders for 100,000 of them.
In 1999, Delia received an honorary university degree from the University of East Anglia, and started catering at the Norwich City Football Club. In 2000, Delia received a fellowship from John Moores University, Liverpool.
In March 2001, Delia launched her own website, “Delia Online” with 820 recipes (increased to 1,000 by 2006.)
By 2004, Delia had sold more than 17,000,000 books altogether. In the same year, she was the co-curator of an exhibit on 18th and 19th century British cookbooks at the British Library (the exhibit ran from 27 February to 25 May 2004.)
At the end of 2004, Delia and Michael sold their “New Crane” company to Seven Publishing at for £13.7 million, but retained ownership of her website.
In the same year, she announced that she was stopping shows teaching cooking on TV, as the demand had shifted to food entertainment shows. Here, Delia Smith tells Channel 5 News why she feels her cooking lessons are better suited to the internet.
Despite that, a few short years later, in November 2007, Delia Smith announced that she would be returning to TV to do a cooking series for the BBC.
In June 2009, Delia was awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire). She received it later that year in November in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace
Also in 2009, the BBC broadcast a five-part series called “Delia Through The Decades”, which was, as they said, “A celebration of Delia Smith’s career and the ways she has shaped what people eat and how they cook it.” Delia through the decades. Accessed August 2019 at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00q08p9
For Christmas 2009, Delia did a Christmas show for television, Delia’s Classic Christmas, broadcast on BBC.
[Further timeline update pending.]
- 1971. How To Cheat At Cooking
- 1973. Recipes from Country Inns and Restaurants
- 1974. The Evening Standard Cookbook
- 1976. Frugal Food
- 1977. Delia Smith’s Book of Cakes
- 1978. Delia Smith’s Cookery Course: Part One (books to accompany TV series)
- 1979. Delia Smith’s Cookery Course: Part Two (books to accompany TV series)
- 1980. Delia Smith’s Cookery Course: Part Three (books to accompany TV series)
- 1980. Food Aid (to raise money for Band Aid)
- 1982. Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course (amalgamating the 3 books from 1978 to 1980 inclusive)
- 1983. A Feast for Advent
- 1983. A Feast For Lent
- 1985. One is Fun!
- 1989. Delia Smith’s Complete Illustrated Cookery Course. An updated and illustrated version of the 1982 Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course
- 1990. Delia Smith’s Christmas book to accompany TV programme
- 1993. Delia Smith’s Summer Collection (to accompany series of the same name)
- 1995. Delia Smith’s Winter Collection (to accompany series of the same name)
- 1997. Delia’s Red Nose Collection (to raise money for Comic Relief)
- 1998. A Journey into God (a book on prayer)
- 1998. October. How to Cook: Book One (to accompany TV series)
- 1999. December. How to Cook: Book Two (to accompany TV series)
- 2001. December. How to Cook: Book Three (to accompany TV series)
- 2001. Delia’s Chocolate Collection (to raise money for Comic Relief)
- 2002. Delia’s Vegetarian Collection
- 2003. Autumn. Start of the Delia collection of books, each focussing on an ingredient or dish. The first four published were Chicken, Chocolate, Fish and Soup
- 2004. Two more books added to the Delia collection, Italian and Pork
- 2004. Delia’s Kitchen Garden: A Beginners’ Guide to Growing and Cooking Fruit and Vegetables (with Gay Search)
Making spaghetti bolognese
Making an omelette
Christmas 2009 part 1
Christmas 2009 part 2
Allen, Vanessa. Delia Smith confesses she flashed customers while she worked as waitress in the 1960s. London: Daily Mail. 5 January 2010.
Conlan, Tara. Delia and the great rice pud flop,by her mum; How Britain’s favourite cook got her recipes wrong as a girl. London: Daily Mail 24 April 2001.
Diski, Chloe. Swapping London fashion for Provençal food. London: The Observer. Sunday, 9 March 2003.
Barkham, Patrick. The Guardian profile: Delia Smith. London: The Guardian. Friday, 4 March 2005.
Hunt, Liz. Delia Smith rises like a soufflé. London: Daily Telegraph. 10 March 2009.
Pierce, Andrew. Delia Smith is made a CBE. London: Daily Telegraph. 13 June 2009.
Poulter, Sean. Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal to star in £10m Waitrose advertising campaign. London: Daily Mail. 4 March 2010.
Waghorn, Rick. What next for Wynn Jones? In “The Pink ‘un”. 18 January 2005. Retrieved 17 July 2006 from www.pink-un.co.uk
Watson-Smyth, Kate. Chef laughs off verbal mauling by ‘bitchy’ Delia. London: The Independent. 26 September 2000.
Reynolds, Nigel. Delia Smith to return to TV kitchen. London: Daily Telegraph. 21 November 2007.
|↑1||”I used to have a mini-skirt on. If I did waitressing and I couldn’t pull the cork out of the bottle, I would put it between my ankles like this – and I used to get told off because I had a mini skirt.” — Delia Smith: boss told me off for short skirts. London: Daily Telegraph. 4 January 2010.|
|↑2||”I was just a jobbing cook who did food photography for advertising. It was just a phone call saying ‘Come to the studio, we need a very gaudy cake’. I didn’t know what it was for.” In “Delia Smith awarded CBE.” London: Daily Telegraph. 20 November 2009.|
|↑3||Delia through the decades. Accessed August 2019 at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00q08p9|