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Almost larger than life
Clarissa Dickson Wright: ''If you're fat,
In her drinking years Clarissa
Dickson Wright claimed to have
once had sex behind the Speaker's
chair with an unnamed MP. After
she gave up alcohol, she took a
blood test that revealed perma-
nent damage to her adrenal glands, and
it was to this that she attributed her
tendency to put on weight.
The specialist was puzzled to find
Dickson Wright suffering from a con-
dition associated with the excessive con-
sumption of malaria tablets. The culprit
was the quinine in the six pints of tonic
water that she had downed daily.
Dickson Wright had distinguished her-
self in her youth by becoming the
youngest woman ever to be called to the
bar. However, it was in her late forties
-- after her battle with alcohol addic-
tion and having drained a substan-
tial inheritance -- that she
achieved fame as an eccentric
television chef and cookery
Squeezed into the sidecar of a
vintage Triumph Thunderbird
that was driven by Jennifer Pat-
erson, she toured Britain in
search of culinary inspiration.
When the pair reached points
of interest -- an army bar-
racks, a bicycle rally or pub-
lic school -- they would stop
off to prepare strongly
flavoured meals with
alarming calorie counts.
They scorned low-fat
ingredients such as yoghurt
-- only good for bad
tummies -- and particularly
always get rid of all the
lentils. You have no idea
how randy it makes
vegetarians," Dickson Wright
Commissioned by the BBC in
the mid-1990s, Two Fat Ladies
flouted the conventions of the
television cookery genre.
Dickson Wright, who had
already attracted a cult follow-
ing through her appearances on
Radio 4's Curious Cooks, and
Jennifer Paterson, a former
girls' school matron and cook
for the Ugandan legation in
London, had met just once at a
lunch when they united on a
wet day in London to make a
Paterson lost control of the
motorcycle combination and
they veered into a camera. Both
were upper-class women of a
certain age with cut-glass
voices; both were allergic to pol-
itical correctness. As the title of
the show implied, they were
ladies of considerable girth.
One of the show's main
attractions became their banter,
which gave Dickson Wright an
opportunity to demonstrate her
ability to talk entertainingly and
knowledgeably about everything imagin-
able, including sex and chat-up lines, as
they chopped, fried and sloshed their
Cooking for the Brazilian Ambassa-
dor, she introduced herself in
Portuguese concluding: ''I might have
said, 'We're two fat tarts'.''
Two Fat Ladies proved immensely
popular, with viewing figures of 70
million, and ran for three series before
Paterson's death from cancer in 1999.
The show was sold to networks all over
the globe. To Dickson Wright's amuse-
ment, in the Japanese version a man's
voice was used to overdub her own.
With an apparent absence of concern
about what other people thought of her,
Dickson Wright's defining characteristic
was her razor-sharp wit.
She was fearlessly and sometimes
confrontationally candid -- especially on
alcohol and her abusive father -- and this
was the quality that most endeared her
to her admirers. Once when picking
mushrooms with Paterson, she warned:
''You can't eat those. They're the sort I
would pick to poison my father.''
She campaigned unapologetically for
field sports despite sacks of hate mail.
''At one point I could scarcely get
through my door.
''It stopped when I said I was going to
exhibit the letters to raise money'' - and
was once arrested for hare coursing.
She faced outrage after she suggested a
recipe for cooking badger -- ''treat it like
After Patterson's death, she formed an-
other successful partnership, this time
with Sir Johnny Scott, a lifelong friend
who farmed sheep in the Scottish
Borders. Together, they made three
series of Clarissa and the Countryman,a
show based on their shared love for the
traditions of the British countryside.
Dickson Wright had scant regard for
her physical appearance. The attire in
which she presented herself for one in-
terview in a smart hotel was entirely
typical. It consisted of an oversized blue
polka dot blouse with a grey vest poking
between the buttons, mismatched red
leggings and a pair of plimsolls.
She denied that she was an eccentric,
believing that the epithet should be re-
served for the likes of her paternal
grandmother, who had lived in a cam-
paign tent nailed into the parquet floor
of her drawing room.
Sometimes she appeared to play up to
her reputation, as in her Who's Who en-
try, in which she described herself as
''barrister and pheasant plucker''.
In her latter years, Dickson Wright
lived in a coach-house owned by
relatives in Inveresk, Midlothian. As she
did not have a television set, she regu-
larly walked to the pub to watch rugby.
She thought herself ill-fitted to family
life and so never married, but considered
the love of her life to have been a man
named Clive, with whom she had
enjoyed a six-year relationship while in
Clarissa Teresa Philomena Aileen
Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby
Louise Esmerelda Dickson
Wright was born in London in
1947, the youngest of four
siblings by a margin of 13
Her father, Sir Arthur
Dickson-Wright, KCVO, was
already 50 and an eminent
surgeon whose patients in-
cluded members of the Roy-
al Family. Her mother,
Molly, was an Australian
Dickson Wright was
brought up in affluence in
St John's Wood. There
were cooks and nannies
and regular gatherings of
well-known figures. She
recalled her childhood as
far from happy. She dis-
closed in memoirs that
her father had been a viol-
ent alcoholic who had regu-
larly beaten her and her
mother and had threatened to
have his wife certified if she
tried to leave him. ''It was like
having a wild animal in the
house,'' she recalled.
She witnessed at first hand the ro-
mance between Tony Blair, ''a poor
sad thing with his guitar'', and
Cherie Booth, whom she described
as ''desperately needy''.
When she encountered Blair later
in life she said that he had devel-
oped ''psychopath eyes. You know,
those dead eyes that look at you and
try to work out what you want to
Dickson Wright read law at Uni-
versity College, London, and was
called to the Bar at Gray's Inn at 21.
However, her precocious legal career
came to an end when she inherited
what she described as ''an obscene
amount of money, £2.8 million, from
her mother in 1975.
On the evening of her mother's death,
Dickson Wright drank alcohol for the
first time in her life. She later described
the experience as a kind of homecoming.
''The beginning of my drinking career
was rather enjoyable,'' she said. ''I was
rich, good-looking and kept the pain at
bay on a wave of champagne and gin.''
She abandoned the law in favour of a
hedonistic lifestyle that revolved around
wild parties, extensive travel -- she fre-
quently chartered planes and yachts in
the Caribbean -- and the consumption of
two bottles of gin a day.
By 1982 she was bankrupt, but finding
that her talent for cookery remained un-
affected by her alcoholism, she sustained
herself by working as a private caterer
and running a luncheon club in London.
Eventually, she hit the wall and contem-
plated joining the down-and-outs on the
Embankment. Instead she checked her-
self into Doctor Robert de Fivo's drying-
out clinic in Kent. Her treatment was
successful and she never drank again.
She moved to a halfway house for
recovering alcoholics and worked at the
Books for Cooks bookshop in Notting
Hill where her encyclopaedic knowledge
of cookery writing was put to full use.
She became the manager and then the
proprietor of a similar concern in Edin-
burgh. It was during this phase that she
was picked up by the BBC, first as a
guest on Curious Cooks, then as the co-
presenter of Two Fat Ladies.
After Paterson died, Dickson Wright
renewed her television career in Clar-
issa and the Countryman. After it ended
she filed for bankruptcy again.
When asked if she regretted the title
Two Fat Ladies she was adamant. ''If
you're fat you're fat.''
Clarissa Dickson Wright, broadcaster and
cookery writer, was born on June 28, 1947.
She died after a short illness on March 15,
2014, aged 66.
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