Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Clarissa Dickson Wright's SPILLING THE BEANS in Dallas Morning News

The irrepressible Clarissa Dickson Wright shot to fame as one half of The Two Fat Ladies, an enormously popular cooking show broadcast in both the UK and the U.S. Her new memoir is reviewed by Michelle Jones in the Dallas Morning News: "Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson became famous for traipsing around the United Kingdom in motorcycle and sidecar, cooking multicourse traditional English meals and showing bits of gorgeous scenery along the way. Their wry comments drew legions of fans to Two Fat Ladies, even those who didn't cook. Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright escaped life's problems traveling the English countryside in search of great food and high adventure.

The same irreverence and wit so loved in TFL, as the TV series was fondly called, is also found in Clarissa Dickson Wright's memoir, Spilling the Beans. The book reached the top spot on British book charts and is now being released on this side of the Pond. Before TFL, which was translated into 11 languages and shown around the world, including on the Food Network, Wright's life had all the ups and downs required for a juicy memoir: abuse, addiction, the loss of a great love and-or large sums of money, and subsequent recovery. Despite all that personal history to cover, Wright's book manages to transcend its genre and enter the realm of cultural history, offering insight into the British aristocracy (Wright's background) and legal community (her former profession) as well as London in the 1960s and 1970s.

She recalls meeting Queen Mary (the current monarch's grandmother) and going to Paddington Station to see the coffin of George VI (QEII's father). Her family home was filled with politicians, entertainers, artists and other fashionable people. Wright's father was a distinguished surgeon descended from a formidable medical family. Ancestors had found cures for malaria and hung out with Arthur Conan Doyle (and, Wright suspects, supplied him with cocaine). Her father attended the Queen Mother and developed a procedure for treating varicose veins. The family also had a darker side. Her father's drunken abuse of Wright and her mother hung over her childhood and adolescence. She writes matter-of-factly about the attacks; the worst part, she says, was the wearying, crushing anticipation of the next episode, of having to be on constant alert. She chose a profession mainly to spite her father, but it also suited her. "It was 1969 and life was brilliant," she writes. Paul and Linda McCartney lived next door, and Cherie and Tony Blair were fellow law students. Wright began to unravel upon the sudden death of her mother, but did so with humor and panache. She was "rich, good-looking and kept the pain at bay on a wave of champagne ..." Her downfall was a whirl of parties and a surprising amount of good food.

Food plays an integral role in Spilling the Beans, whether Wright is preparing meals, railing against supermarkets or remembering delicious salmon sandwiches. Food also helps her recover once she's spent her inheritance, gotten disbarred and become homeless. Reading about co-star Jennifer Paterson and various behind-the-scenes tales are, of course, a treat for any Two Fat Ladies fan.

Paterson was 20 years older, an avid motorcyclist and a heavy drinker with no intention of getting sober. She was brusque but also enormously protective of Wright. Spilling the Beans is less compelling after Paterson's death and the end of the TV show; the author's passion and campaigning for the English countryside holds less interest than the dramatic events of the first part of the book. But that's life. For the most part, Spilling the Beans is wonderful, written very much in Wright's unique and fascinating voice.

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