"Worth our weight in gold, dear."
March 17, 2014 7:43 AM   Subscribe

Clarissa Dickson Wright has passed away, aged 66. The surviving half of the BBC cooking show Two Fat Ladies, she "was utterly non-PC and fought for what she believed in, always, with no thought to her own personal cost," her agent said in the announcement.

She was once the country's youngest female barrister, at the age of 21. She saw both her career and the man she loved "more than any other lover I have ever had" fall victim to alcoholism, and began a new life in cooking.

Reruns of "Two Fat Ladies" pop up on Cooking Channel from time to time, and there are a few on YouTube, including the delightful Christmas episode; meanwhile, you can enjoy some of her other work, including "Clarissa and the King's Cookbook," in which she prepares recipes from a 14th-century scroll, and the "Great British Food Revival."
posted by jbickers (52 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:46 AM on March 17

posted by Madamina at 7:49 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]


I loved this show so much and I am so mad that they both died so young.

I wish there was a motorcycle-sidecar dot.
posted by hydrobatidae at 7:53 AM on March 17 [14 favorites]

posted by arcticseal at 7:54 AM on March 17


I should make a pork mitten in her memory.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:56 AM on March 17

I wish there was a motorcycle-sidecar dot.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:59 AM on March 17 [13 favorites]

Her 2012 Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner series was also good fun.
posted by rory at 8:00 AM on March 17

As well as two surnames, Dickson Wright was christened with 11 middle names: Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright. Her parents apparently had great trouble deciding on a first name, eventually blindfolding her mother, Molly, and "turning her loose in the library". She pulled out Clarissa, the 1748 novel by Samuel Richardson. Dickson Wright said she believed her parents were then "so delighted that they'd finally found a name, they got pissed on the way to the church"


posted by zarq at 8:01 AM on March 17 [16 favorites]


I remember two things about the show, which my mother watched religiously:
1. The motorcycle with the sidecar (my mom really wanted one)
2. A pretty incredible sentence I overheard once: "If it tastes good, it's probably good for you."
posted by dismas at 8:10 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I love that show. It is the most English possible thing. They were both relics of another time, and they're always tossing off flip anecdotes about cooking for 50 Army officers on a camp stove at a junior diplomats' house in Benghazi in 1950-whatever or how to apologize to a duke for accidentally potting his peacock when it went for a nibble in your garden. Sometimes I put it on when I'm feeling low and want to mentally escape to another world, full of Agas and caviar and lashings of cream.
posted by Diablevert at 8:18 AM on March 17 [17 favorites]

posted by Smart Dalek at 8:23 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Was sad to hear this today, but also surprised she was only 66. I didn't realise she was only in her 40s when she made TFL. She was devoutly religious so I hope she's in her Heaven, with full-fat double cream for all eternity.

posted by billiebee at 8:25 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

What a fun show. I have the cookbook, too!

. for both of them.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:25 AM on March 17

When I think about this show I immediately get a vision of hands squeezing ground beef while still wearing rings and nail polish
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:28 AM on March 17 [15 favorites]

posted by me3dia at 8:30 AM on March 17

I love this detail from Wikipedia:

"The motorbike sported the registration N88 TFL (the British bingo call for number 88 is "Two Fat Ladies")"
posted by DanCall at 8:31 AM on March 17 [10 favorites]

I remember reading in her autobiography that she had sex behind the Speaker's Chair in the Houses of Parliament. And I'm not at all surprised by that.
posted by Solomon at 8:41 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]


I remember the first time I saw an episode of Two Fat Ladies. One late night, flipping through channels with a big group of friends, all of a sudden we're in an old, dim Victorian (or possibly pre-Victorian) kitchen of metal and wood and these two enthusiastic chefs are talking joyously about the benefits of lard. The sheer joyousness with which they embraced cooking compelled all of us to watch the entire episode, if only to find out what we'd been watching, and then one episode turned into several and all of a sudden it was well past midnight. Even people with no interest in cooking watched it, rapt; their utter happiness in the kitchen was captivating.
posted by cjelli at 8:43 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

I like to think of the two of them having a reunion in some magical place far better than this one. They were both delightful, and I'm thankful they shared themselves and their cooking and personalities.

posted by xarnop at 8:45 AM on March 17

posted by jquinby at 8:47 AM on March 17

Man, I loved that show. It was total British ridiculousness, though - "tonight, we will cook Game Hen, stuffed with lard and stuffing, wrapped in bacon and deep fried. Also, crumpets."

The memory is hazy, but I want to say that our local PBS played this show after Ballykissangel.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:53 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

She barked an order at me once. I had a summer job lugging folding chairs and trestle tables out of vans for a marquee hire company. I was carrying a stack of eight chairs (they were light, it looked way more impressive than it was) and she came out of the kitchens of the grand old estate house we were delivering to, where I think she was managing a massive crew of cooks.


Then she waved her walking stick at me and went back inside.

posted by Happy Dave at 9:04 AM on March 17 [38 favorites]

Sad news. I still love watching Two Fat Ladies, and in fact just watched an episode where Clarissa mentions "putting her wig back on again." Now, thanks this FPP, I know what she was talking about.

posted by Otis at 9:05 AM on March 17

Eat that meat, Clarissa.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:17 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

these two enthusiastic chefs

Both Jennifer and Clarissa (it seems only right to refer to them by their first names) identified as cooks rather than chefs. They were amateurs in all senses, lovers of food and practitioners by choice, at play. Cooking with them was a leisure, to be savoured, not work.

There's nothing wrong with a professional chef at all, but these two great ladies embodied English amateurism at its enthusiastic best.
posted by bonehead at 9:22 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]

I still love watching Two Fat Ladies so much. I was in the hospital last week and couldn't sleep, and found myself comfort-watching it on YouTube at two in the morning. Thanks, ladies.

posted by MeghanC at 9:26 AM on March 17

posted by lalochezia at 10:21 AM on March 17

I loved that programme!

posted by Renoroc at 10:44 AM on March 17

My love of food, simply prepared with nary an eye towards measuring anything, I can trace directly to watching these two goddesses doing what they do.

I remember watching Cooking Live with Sara Moulton (RIP that amazing show) when news came in (live, via her earpiece I guess) that Jennifer had died. Sara basically tossed aside what she was doing and scrambled to make something appropriate in homage.

A beautiful moment, honouring a beautiful pair of people.

I'm not going to put a moment of silence here, because it just doesn't seem to me to be like something she'd want. Instead I'm going to hoist a dram (of something non-alcoholic) in her memory and seek joy in the joy she brought to others.

(Also in my head they're both still alive and they join Gennaro and the other guy doing Two Fat Ladies and Two Greedy Italians. Because that would be perfection.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:47 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I miss Sara Moulton, too. And David Rosengarten! Basically, that whole era of the Food Network, before it became...whatever it is now.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:50 AM on March 17 [6 favorites]

Oh my god yes Chrysostom. I miss afternoons of back-to-back Molto Mario followed by the incomparable Sara. David was always in there somewhere. And Emeril prior to becoming a self caricature--just him, in a small kitchen, making magic.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:53 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

oh and jbickers, thank you for a very nicely written post about someone who (for me at least) was incredibly important. I think it's time for me to dig up their show and wallow. Thank you :)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:55 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Jennifer Patterson was in her 70s i think, during the show. I'm surprised Dickson Wright was so young - much too young to have cooked anything in Benghazi in the 50's.

I'm sure I've read somewhere her father was a dreadful man, physically abusive and alcoholic, and she had to grow up quick. I can also vaguely remember a throw-away comment from her about the drawbacks of throwing the young person you find in your lover's bed out of the window...

The beeb invented the show, the quirks, the format - Patterson had never ridden a motorbike before the producers suggested it, and I think Dickson Wright writes somewhere about her being drunk the first time she tried, with both of them ensconced - but they had great chemistry. Thanks for the links.
posted by glasseyes at 11:22 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Belatedly googling, I find Jennifer Paterson was 71 when she died in 1991 so was 68 when the show started. That hardly seems any age now! Certainly not really old :-(

She smoked untipped Woodbines like my mother-in-law and me too for a while, which, to be harsh, probably won't let you get much beyond your early seventies.

These 20 years later it would be nice to say Clarissa Dickson Wright had a good innings but 66 is a bit young for that. But she did have a full and interesting life and achieved a lot, in spite of painful obstacles.
posted by glasseyes at 11:42 AM on March 17

Time for a memorial viewing of the box set.
posted by MILNEWSca at 11:48 AM on March 17


Like others, I find Two Fat Ladies is one of my comfort-go-tos.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:51 AM on March 17

Apologies if already linked to but I thought the Telegraph obit for Clarissa was masterful and shines a light into an interesting life I knew little of.
posted by numberstation at 12:59 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


What a life! All of it, the good, the bad, the undeniably ugly. I would love to have had a chance to chat with her.
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 1:24 PM on March 17

I could go to sleep every night just listening to their comforting gaggle....
R I P sweet Miss...
posted by shockingbluamp at 2:10 PM on March 17

Amongst her many accomplishments, Clarissa was also a fully accredited cricket umpire (she umpired a game on one of the TFL episodes) and one of the few female Guild Butchers in Britain.

My favourite quote in all of the TFL shows, was uttered in ringing tones "Now THERE'S a sight I like to see - a pint jug of full cream!"

posted by ninazer0 at 2:58 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

posted by TwoStride at 3:03 PM on March 17

posted by Rabarberofficer at 3:21 PM on March 17

It makes me think. If what we loved best about her was her love of high-fat foods, and if she then died of heart disease or clogged arteries or whatever, we kinda loved her to death, didn't we? And yet at the same time, she has a certain amount of responsibility to promoting a lifestyle of unhealthy eating, too, right?

When the other half of Two Fat Ladies died of lung cancer after a notable history of smoking, it did cause public discourse about smoking. Wonder what will happen this time? News columns stated that she'd blown out her adrenal gland with too many gin and tonics (which results in a difficulty in losing weight), but she also publicly stated that she never even tried to bring her weight down.

Sixty-six is awfully young to die. I hope something good comes out of it.
posted by Houstonian at 3:22 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

posted by cool breeze at 3:49 PM on March 17

My dearly departed Mother loved Two Fat Ladies and introduced me to the show. I learned quite a bit from them. Most importantly that it's not a full meal unless there's dessert.

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace.Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:52 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]

88 44 0
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:35 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

If what we loved best about her was her love of high-fat foods, and if she then died of heart disease or clogged arteries or whatever, we kinda loved her to death, didn't we?

But that's an if. Intending this not as criticism of her, but I was very surprised to learn she was only 66. I'd have thought that she was in her sixties when the show aired, but her bio makes it pretty plain that she accumulated a lot of mileage in those years. While obviously something obesity-related is possible, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that she sickened and died from something more related to her years of drinking and smoking or just one of those random whatevers.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:16 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

The Telegraph's obituary is well worth reading - they tend to do eccentric English Tories rather well. For example:
Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmeralda Dickson Wright was born on June 24 1947, the youngest of four children. “My parents had great trouble deciding what to call me in the first place,” she explained about her abundant christening, “but then they were so delighted they had finally found a name, they got pissed on the way to the church.” To decide which name should come first, “they blindfolded my mother and turned her loose in the library, where she pulled out a copy of Richardson’s Clarissa”.
If you haven't seen "The Two Fat Ladies" in action this clip on the use of lard is wonderful and their views on vegetarians equally eccentric in this clip.

On a more serious note, her account of her abusive childhood at the hands of her father makes for both harrowing and heartening reading.

RIP dear Clarissa, you were unique, courageous and wilfully different!
posted by vac2003 at 11:42 PM on March 17 [5 favorites]

I loved her very much. She chose her life and was both unlucky and very lucky. Once you devote a good few decades of your life to getting shitfaced it goes without saying that it probably won't be a particularly long one and I have no doubt she was fully aware of that.

I'm glad her third act found her doing something she loved and being celebrated for it. She was a proud middle-aged woman who never allowed herself to become invisible or even particularly concerned about critics of her appearance once the fat stuck and the wrinkles increased. Not an attitude to be sniffed at, I think.
posted by h00py at 6:23 AM on March 18 [7 favorites]

My dearly departed Mother loved Two Fat Ladies

As did mine. Ma said that what she loved most about TFL was that no matter where they went, their oven was always dirty. Gave her hope, she said.

Godspeed, Ms. Wright. I hope St. Peter meets you at the Pearly Gates with a tub of lard, a mess of quality sausages, and a bushel of good onions and mushrooms. I know you'll make something fabulous with those ingredients!

posted by magstheaxe at 9:38 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]

posted by rogueepicurean at 9:32 PM on March 19

Clarissa Dickson Wright didn't just survive an abusive father, she outed him

Clarissa Dickson Wright, or "Krakatoa", as she was called by some because of her temper and dare I say shape, I can't imagine was a fan of the Guardian. She was a hunting, shooting and fishing Tory toff with attitude, who got done for hare-coursing and offended many with her remarks about Muslims.

Some of her views, like some of her recipes on TV show Two Fat Ladies, could best be described as "meat in cream". With butter. And yet of course there was something magnificent about her. Her embrace of life. Her lack of moderation meant she nearly destroyed herself with alcoholism. After all, this is a woman who blew nearly £3m inheritance on yachts, gambling and all kinds of debauchery, mostly involving drink.

Good for her.
posted by glasseyes at 3:06 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]

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