Drama tells how moody studio cook kept control
She was one of TV's first celebrity chefs and remains one of the most famous, flamboyant and formidable cooks ever to grace the small screen. New research into the life of Fanny Cradock suggests, however, that her explosive, unpredictable personality was largely due to an addiction to appetite-suppressing and mood-enhancing amphetamines.
Sources close to the late cook have revealed to the writer of a forthcoming TV drama about her that she was addicted to the pills - known among her inner circle as her 'uppers and downers' - for most of her adult life.
'A number of people who worked with her said she kept a basket of pills by her bed which they used to call Fanny's hundreds and thousands,' said Brian Fillis, writer of the drama who spoke to many of Cradock's 'associates and helpers'.
'One reason most thought she did take them was to control her moods which swung wildly, but they may have been a way to keep thin because amphetamines are obvious appetite suppressants,' he said. 'She always insisted that her food never made anyone fat.' The 'downers' are thought to have been sleeping pills.
If true, these suggestions would help to explain the explosiveness of Cradock, who mixed furious disdain with extreme tenderness towards her on- and off-screen partner, Johnnie, who became her third husband. Johnnie, played by actor Mark Gatis, was the TV 'stooge' who stood behind the chef, obeying her instructions and drinking wine while she cooked on her shows.
In the drama, Fear of Fanny, Cradock is played by the Nighty Night actress Julia Davis as emotionally brittle, frequently swearing in front of the camera and at home. She is repeatedly seen taking the uppers to perk her up in the morning and downers, probably sleeping tablets, to help her rest.
One of her sons from an earlier marriage, Christopher, spoke to the production team, and his revelations helped shape the 90-minute drama, which is said to offer the first in-depth profile of the woman credited with introducing a new wave of more sophisticated foods to Britain.
It charts Cradock's decline after she ridiculed a member of the public on The Big Time, a Seventies BBC show that gave amateurs the chance to operate in professional environments. Cradock was seen physically gagging and rolling her eyes after a woman was criticised for preparing a poorly balanced menu for a restaurant. The BBC decided that it was fine to be rude to paid people but the public were off limits. Cradock was sacked.
She did not appear regularly again, ending a career which began in 1955 with Kitchen Magic and spawned other shows including The Cradocks, Dinner Party and Fanny Cradock Invites. Her private life was little better. Cradock was said to have no friends except Johnnie, and she and Christopher fell out when she objected to his choice of second wife. Her other son, Peter - she had both before marrying Johnnie - declined to co-operate with the production, to be broadcast on BBC4 next month.
'Christopher told me that his mother was evil, but I wasn't sure how serious he was being,' Fillis said. 'He certainly knew what kind of person she was, and the picture from all the people we spoke to was clear.' Now aged 77 and living in Devon, he has vivid memories of his mother.
Her last public appearance before she died at 85 in 1995 was on the Parkinson Show alongside Danny La Rue who was dressed in drag as Shirley Bassey. Fanny had no idea at first that 'the woman' was actually a man, and when she found out she stormed out of the studio.