Fanny Cradock 1976.
Credit: Allan Warren
Life and Times
Fanny was one of the first, and most original, celebrity TV food personalities ever. Descriptions of her range from “charmingly bizarre” to “camp” to “imperious battleaxe.” She started a tradition in the UK of a macabre fascination with not-so-nice celebrity chefs on TV, such as Keith Lloyd and Gordon Ramsay. Her show became more about her personality than her cooking. Some people even had nightmares of being chased by her through Harrods. Yet, she more than had her following: when she gave cooking demonstrations at the Royal Festival Hall, the house was packed to see her cook and sweep about in ballgowns, white fur capes, and diamond bracelets.
Fanny appeared on television in 1955, at a time when cooking was only done by housewives, and when people might watch cooking shows with a pad and a pen to get the recipes down. In fact, many people swore by her recipes, and learned how to cook from her. She authored over thirty cookbooks as well, using pictures to give step-by-step illustrations of how to make such then-exotic dishes as chicken Kiev and shrimp cocktail.
She was born Phyllis Primrose-Peachy in Leytonstone, Essex on 26 February 1909 (Alfred Hitchcock had been born in the same area ten years earlier, in 1899.) Her father was a novelist, who published under the pen name of Arthur Valentine — at least, according to her . Her mother was Bijou Sortain. Until 1930, she lived with her family in a house called “Apthorp” on Fairlop Road in Leytonstone (now the site of Fairwood Court.)
In 1926, at the age of 17, she married her first husband, Sidney Evans. A pilot in the Royal Air Force, he was killed in a place crash (she says five days later; other sources say four months.) In any event, their son, Peter was born after Sidney was killed. Fanny got a job going door to door selling the proverbial hoovers and encyclopedias. In July 1928, she remarried. She had a second son from this marriage, but abandoned both the son and the marriage, and went off on her own to manage a dressmaking shop. In 1939, she married again for the third time (perhaps illegally, as there had reputedly been no divorce from the 1928 husband.) A few weeks after that marriage, however, she left him for the man that she would finally stick with — Major John Whitby Cradock (born 17 May 1904.) Aged 35 at the time, John (later known simply as “Johnny” to all the fans) was married himself at the time — with four children in fact, but he left wife and children for Fanny. Fanny just adopted his surname, without having bothered to get a divorce from either the 1928 or the 1939 husband. She and Johnny did not actually marry until 7 May 1997, even though she would insist that everyone call her “Mrs Cradock.” Some speculate that perhaps she waited that long perhaps to make sure that both undivorced husbands had shuffled off — in order to not trouble the courts with any trifles such as double-divorce and double-bigamy (though the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says that the 1939 husband was in fact still alive in 1977.) It’s not known when or if Johnny got his divorce. Their marital — or non-marital — status was a well-kept secret.
Around 1950, she and Johnny began writing a cooking and restaurant review column for the Daily Telegraph under the pen name of “Bon Viveur”, which they continued until 1955. Sometime in the early 1950s she had her nose bobbed. Sometime around 1954 she started using the name “Fanny.” And in the first half of the 1950s, they started as well doing cooking demonstrations for the British Gas Council, created in 1949 after the labour government forcibly nationalised over 1,000 gas companies and merged them into one.
In 1955, Fanny and Johnny parlayed their journalistic and Gas Council fame into a TV cooking programme called “Kitchen Magic.” It was the right time to start interesting Britons in cooking a little better. In 1955, incomes were just starting to rise a bit, and most things had finally come off war-time rationing. The programme started on BBC, but in the same year, they accepted a better offer and moved to ITV. Their TV series would last until the mid-1970s, though in the 1960s, the name was changed to “Adventurous Cooking.”
The kitchens she and Johnny cooked in seemed magnificent for the time. To set the tone further, both of them had learned to speak with the BBC accent, called “Standard Received English.” Fanny always dressed in evening gowns to cook, and Johnny matched her in full evening attire. 
Phrases describing her cooking style range from “wildly eccentric” to “preposterous.” Her food was as flamboyant as she was: brandy butter dyed green, mashed potatoes dyed mauve or green, whole salmon, boned, covered with thin cucumber slices serving as scales and with fins and eyes piped back on for presentation, cooked pigeon breasts served at the table with real pigeon wings attached back on. She showed people how to make a Taj Mahal out of meringue, and a box lined with velvet to store their Melba toast .
Incongruously, perhaps, she bemoaned impractical men who were useless because they couldn’t carve a turkey. She would advise when in a recipe you could use dripping instead of butter to save money, or recommend custards that were economical because they only called for 3 eggs. On one show, reputedly, she dropped a chicken on the floor. Looking straight in the camera, she picked it up and said, “Remember, you are alone in the kitchen — no one will ever know.”
Fanny had a strong nasty streak that she didn’t hide. She had a helper, a woman named Sarah, who she bossed around a great deal. But Johnny, her right-hand man on all the shows, got the brunt of her tongue, constantly being scolded. The Benny Hill Show did many parodies of Johnny getting into trouble. In fact, some people said they tuned in only for two reasons: to see what outlandish outfit she was wearing, and to see what Johnny would be scolded for that night. Fanny herself was not fun, but it was fun to laugh at her.
Marguerite Patten, the English food writer, recounts going once to work at a Home Economists Show in Birmingham. Fanny had been there a week before her. Some of the girls seemed wary of Marguerite, almost gun shy, and when Marguerite asked why, she was told that Fanny had had a tantrum and had literally been throwing knives around.
There came a time in 1976, however, when she crossed the line. Fanny was hosting a national live programme called “The Big Time.” The idea was that regular, every-day amateur cooks would try to produce something professional for someone important. In the episode in question, Gwen Troake, a farmer’s wife from Devon, had won a chance to cook a three-course for the Prime Minister at the time — Edward Heath. Her menu was a seafood platter, roast duck and for dessert, a coffee cream pudding with rum in it. Mrs Troakes idea was that with the seafood, the water fowl and the rum, the meal had a water or sea theme to it, which would appeal to Mr Heath’s love of sailing. Fanny, though was scathing and humiliated the farm wife by saying, “You could kill pigs with that menu. Do you have any friends in Devon, dear? Living?” While such a line would be acceptable now in reality TV, it wasn’t for the time, and the audience and viewing public turned immediately against Fanny. Fanny demonstrated a French dessert instead of the coffee cream that she felt the woman should make instead, but the dessert went all wrong, as well. But it didn’t matter. With her treatment of Mrs Troake, live and in colour, hearts and minds that had stuck with her in spite of herself for twenty years, in spite of her food having fallen behind the times several years prior, had had enough, and turned against her in that moment. All the people she’d been nasty to over the years started spilling the beans in public. And she was never asked to appear on television again.
Having alienated her cooking audience, Fanny turned her interest in the 1980s to writing fiction, particularly her eight-part novel series, “Castle Rising.”
Johnny died on 30 January 1987. Fanny died on 27 December 1994 at a nursing in Hailsham, East Sussex.
In 2003, Brian Ellis wrote a play “Fear of Fanny – the Life and Supper Times of Fanny Cradock”, in which the role of Fanny is played by a man in drag.
At Christmas, there are still often re-runs of their series, “Cradock Cooks for Christmas.”
- Kitchen Magic (1955)
- Fanny’s Kitchen (1955, 1957, 1961)
- Chez Bon Viveur (1956)
- Lucky Dip (1958. A children’s entertainment TV series, she and Johnny appeared as the cookery experts)
- Happy Cooking (1961 – 1963, a regular spot on the children’s programme called “Tuesday Rendezvous”)
- The Cradocks (1962)
- Giving A Dinner Party (1969)
- Fanny Cradock Invites (1970)
- Score with the Scaffold (1970, Fanny and Johnny appeared in episode #1.9)
- The Generation Game (1971, Fanny appeared on this game show on 30 October 1971 )
- Cradock Cooks for Christmas (1975)
- Wogan (Fanny appeared as a guest on Terry Wogan’s Saturday evening chatshows on 9 August 1986)
- 1937. Where to dine in London. By Bon Viveur. Geoffrey Bles: London. (As Francis Dale) 
- 1949. The Practical Cook. John Lehmann: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1950. Bon Voyage. How to enjoy your holidays in Europe with a car. John Lehmann: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1951. Daily Express Enjoyable Cookery. London Express Newspaper: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1952. The Ambitious Cook. John Lehmann: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1952. Around Britain with Bon Viveur. John Lehmann: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1953-60. Continental Holiday Series with Bon Viveur, etc. Frederick Muller: London. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1954. An A.B.C. of Wine Drinking. By Bon Viveur. Frederick Muller: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1954. Bon Viveur’s London 1954. London. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1955. Bon Viveur’s London and the British Isles. Andrew Dakers: London. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1955. Cooking with Bon Viveur, etc. Museum Press: London. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1956. Bon Viveur Recipes. Daily Mail: London. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1958. The Bon Viveur Request Cook Book. Museum Press: London. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1959. Wining and Dining in France with Bon Viveur. Putnam: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1959. Mr. Therm’s Encyclopædia of Vegetable Cookery. Housewife: London. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1960. Something’s burning. The autobiography of two cooks. Putnam: London. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1962. Cooking with Can and Pack. Museum Press: London. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1964. The Bon Viveur Guide to Holidays in Europe. Arthur Barker: London. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1964. The Daily Telegraph Cook’s Book. Daily Telegraph & Morning Post: London. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1965. Fun with Cookery. Edmund Ward: London. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1967. The Daily Telegraph Sociable Cook’s Book. Daily Telegraph & Morning Post: London. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1968. Coping with Christmas. London: spanana. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1970. Daily Telegraph Cooks’ conversion chart. London: Daily Telegraph & Bon Viveur. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1973. Modest but delicious. A cookbook for today. London: Arlington Books. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1973. Common Market Cookery: France. London: BBC; Wakefield: E.P. Publishing. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1974. Common Market Cookery. Italy. London: BBC; Wakefield: EP Publishing. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1974. Lessons for a cook. A series of articles reprinted from The Daily Telegraph. Bon Viveur. London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1976. The Sherlock Holmes cookbook. London : W.H. Allen. (As Fanny Cradock)
- 1978. Cooking is fun. London : W.H. Allen. (As Fanny Cradock)
- 1978. Fanny and Johnny Cradock’s freezer book : cook first, freeze afterwards. London : W.H. Allen. (As Fanny Cradock)
- 1979. A cook’s essential alphabet. London : W.H. Allen. (As Fanny Cradock)
- 1981. Time to remember : a cook for all seasons. Exeter : Webb & Bower. (As Fanny Cradock)
- 1985. A lifetime in the kitchen. London : W.H. Allen. (As Fanny Cradock)
- 1942. Scorpion’s Suicide. Hurst & Blackett: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1944. Women must wait. Hurst & Blackett: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1944. The Rags of Time. Hurst & Blackett: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1945. The Land is in Good Heart. Hurst & Blackett: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1946. My Seed — Thy Harvest. London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1947. O Daughter of Babylon. Hurst & Blackett: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1949. The Echo in the Cup. Hurst & Blackett: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1949. Gateway to Remembrance. Andrew Dakers: London. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1950. The Shadow of Heaven. Hurst & Blackett: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1950. The Dark Reflection. Hurst & Blackett: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1950. The Eternal Echo. Andrew Dakers: London.. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1975. The Lormes of Castle Rising. London: W. H. Allen. (As Phyllis Nan Sortain Cradock)
- 1976. Shadows over Castle Rising. London : W.H. Allen. (As Fanny Cradock)
- 1977. War Comes to Castle Rising. London : W.H. Allen. (As Fanny Cradock)
- 1978. Wind of Change at Castle Rising. London : W.H. Allen. (As Fanny Cradock)
- 1979. Uneasy Peace at Castle Rising. London : W.H. Allen. (As Fanny Cradock)
- 1980. Thunder Over Castle Rising. London : W.H. Allen. (As Fanny Cradock)
- 1981. Gathering Clouds at Castle Rising. London : W.H. Allen. (As Fanny Cradock)
- 1985. The Loneliness of Castle Rising. London : W.H. Allen. (As Fanny Cradock)
- 1987. The Windsor Secret. London : W.H. Allen. (As Fanny Cradock)
- 1945. When Michael was Three. Hutchinson’s Books for Young People: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1946. When Michael was Six. Hutchinson’s Books for Young People: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1947. Always. The enchanted land. Hutchinson’s Books for Young People: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1948. The Dryad and the Toad. Macdonald: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1950. The Gooseyplums by the Sea. Hodder & Stoughton: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1950. The Gooseyplums of Duckpond-in-the-Dip. Hodder & Stoughton: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1950. Brigadier Gooseyplum goes to War. Hodder & Stoughton: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1950. The Story of Joseph and Pharaoh. Hodder & Stoughton: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1952. Fish Knight and Sea Maiden. A children’s romance. Hutchinson’s Books for Young People: London. (As Francis Dale)
- 1959. Happy Cooking, Children. Putnam: London. (As Francis Dale)
 Paul Levy, in his entry on Fanny Cradock for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, says that Fanny made this up. There is no evidence to support any claim that Arthur was an author; that in fact his trade was “corn merchant”; and, that also, in fact, their last name was just plain “Pechey”: that Fanny had later embellished the family last name by adding the “Primrose” part to it.
 Men in evening attire may not have entirely unusual to television viewers at the time: even the weathermen on BBC TV would wear evening dress.
 The 1937 date is not a typo here. It is listed in the “New General Catalog of Old Books and Authors” (www.kingkong.demon.co.uk/ngcoba/ngcoba.htm, Feb 2007.) Given that “Where to dine in London” was a yearly publication, with various pieces attributed to various authors, it could be that Fanny had contributed a piece to that year’s edition.
Literature & Lore
“THE LORMES OF CASTLE RISING by Fanny Cradock. Count Henri de Lorme came to Britain with William the Conqueror. He married Thyra, a Danish aristocrat and together they settled in England and built the first Castle Rising. Eight hundred years later the family has reached the peak of its fortune — despite (and sometimes because of) its share of hushed-up renegades and scoundrels. This is the story of life at Castle Rising at the beginning of the twentieth century. The volatile and loving Lord Anythorp leads a close family which counts among them a bishop, a woman suspected of being a suffragette, and a scoundrel who requires hushing up. Sawby, the butler, heads the large staff that serves the family. With exciting narration, fine characterization, and an unnerving sense of period detail and social history, Fanny Cradock explores the subtle relationship that once existed between good employers and their employees and the loyalty and devotion that flowed between society not yet torn by class strife.” — Caron, Barbara (Austin Public Library). Library Revue Column in “Austin Daily Herald”. Austin, Minnesota. Saturday, 17 September 1977. Page 4.
In North American English, “fanny” is a cute, old-fashioned word referred to anyone’s behind. You can use it in polite company. In British English, “fanny” is a word you still can’t use in polite company: it refers to the front of a woman’s private parts.
In the early 1970s, Fanny hosted the “Home & Garden” slot that was part of a talk show on Scottish Television hosted by a man named Bill Tennant. The show always ended with her handing out food, and a recipe, to the audience. In one show, she demonstrated how to make doughnuts. That night, as Bill closed the show, he said goodbye to his viewers, and said, “The recipe will be on the screen in a moment …and I hope all your doughnuts turn out like Fanny’s”. Apparently the audience sat there in shocked silence while Bill slowly realized what he’d said.
In popular mythology, it’s now become Johnny saying to an audience on an unspecified, “Great cooking, is making doughnuts like Fanny’s.”
The writer Julia Darling (1956-2005) wrote a play in 2002 about Fanny called “Doughnuts Like Fanny’s” (aka “The Life and Loves of a Kitchen Devil”.)
Fanny’s last name is often mispellt with two “d’s”, as Craddock.
BBC Radio 4. Fanny Cradock. Woman’s Hour, Friday 16 November 2001, 10:00 am to 11:00 am. Panellists: Stephanie Theobald, Marguerite Patten and Rick Stein.
Theobald, Stephanie. Sucking Shrimp. London: Flame. 2001.