« Previous | Main | Next »

Toast: The magic and humour in memoirs of my childhood suppers

Post categories:

Nigel Slater Nigel Slater | 09:00 UK time, Thursday, 30 December 2010

When I started writing Toast it never crossed my mind it might one day become a film, let alone one starring Helena Bonham Carter and Freddie Highmore.

The book had started life as a short story about the food of the 1960s and 1970s for my weekly Observer column, but I soon realised that the food I was writing about was impossible to separate from what was happening in my life at the time.

Helena Bonham Carter as Joan Potter in Toast

Whether I was writing about marshmallows or canned fruit, picnics or barley sugars, I couldn't help but tell the story that surrounded them. My short story soon escalated from a catalogue of childhood food into a childhood memoir.

When Alison Owen at Ruby Film and Television first suggested asking Lee Hall to turn my book into a film script I was thrilled, but nervous.

Lee had just enjoyed a huge success with Billy Elliot, but I was unsure about seeing what was an intimate and indeed personal sad story brought vividly to life.

As soon as I read the first draft I relaxed a little. Lee had captured not just the initial sadness of the story of a little boy who loses his mother at Christmas but had captured the humour of the book too.

I felt an immediate bond with the director SJ Clarkson too, partly because she had created or worked on so many of my favourite television programmes from Mistresses to Life On Mars, but also because we shared a vision for the film: neither of us wanted it to end up as a grey and gritty drama.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

She immediately recognised the magic of the story, the humour and fairy tale element. I knew at once my story was in safe hands.

It was SJ who first suggested Helena Bonham Carter for the role of my stepmother.

Helena is full of surprises as anyone who has seen her in Fight Club or Enid knows and I was excited at the prospect.

Casting Victoria Hamilton as mum was a little more straightforward. I immediately recognised mum's quiet elegance and gentle nature in her.

The casting continued in this original and spirited manner.

Ken Stott proved to be the perfect reincarnation of my father, and Oscar Kennedy and Freddie Highmore who both play me at different stages of my life, turned out to be an extraordinary piece of déjà vu for me, both of them showing the determination and vulnerability I had at that age.

The sexual element of Toast - it is, after all, a coming of age story - was an integral part of the book and I was concerned how it would translate onto the screen.

The film touches on the sexual thread of the book, but in a more subtle way. This may disappoint a few readers who are hoping for a visual romp through the book's more colourful and varied sex scenes but it makes it easier viewing.

The days I spent on set were enjoyable but emotional.

It is one thing to read the last words you ever said to your mother on paper, another thing altogether to hear them being shouted over and over again through headphones.

That said, it is extraordinarily comforting to turn around with tears in your eyes and find everyone else crying with you.

Nigel Slater is the author of Toast.

Toast is on BBC One at 9pm and on BBC HD at 11pm on Thursday, 30 December.

The producer of Nigel Slater's Simple Suppers, Jennifer Fazey, has written a post on the BBC Food blog about how Nigel takes classic recipes and gives them a new twist.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    An enjoyable drama showing life in the past and the special love between a mother and son. Good to see Nigel follow his interest and heart. Excellent casting.

  • Comment number 2.

    A totally absorbing, apetising and time-travelling story that unfolded to reveal the formative years of the gentle TV chef, Nigel Slater. His journey from wolverhampton to London’s Savoy was totally enjoyable. Triumph over adversity.
    A notable mention has to also go to the atmospheric soulful soundtrack – I feel a Dusty Springfield revival coming along This is my first review that I ever written, but I felt compelled to express my appreciation for a well-written piece that was totally enjoyable with excellent acting. As Nigel would say... 'Sublime'.

  • Comment number 3.

    i just love watching nige cook he seems so nice. and i just watched toast and i thought it was brilliant didnt know much about him untill then what a moving story about his life! brillant little nige what a star. enjoyed it thanks x

  • Comment number 4.

    I absolutely loved this! I cried loads, laughed loads and enjoyed reminicising about my own youth in the 60's. Another piece of BBC at it's best.

  • Comment number 5.

    Thanks to everyone involved in providing this Christmas treat! Perfectly judged with Nigel's cameo giving a wonderfully hopeful and life-enhancing final touch.

  • Comment number 6.

    Tonight programme was JUST BRILL it was a moving film. And to see Nigel at the end was icing on the Lemon Meringue. Nigel Slater Just the best.....
    Thanks for making my nights veiwing great...

  • Comment number 7.

    "Toast" was absolutely brilliant! Great performances all around, excellent art direction and full of emotion. And it was also one of the most beautiful on-screen kiss between two men.

  • Comment number 8.

    Didn't know what to expect but found it funny and sad at various times. Excellent and well done to all!

  • Comment number 9.

    Absolutely loved this - touching, funny, properly scripted, and made me really hungry

  • Comment number 10.

    Really enjoyed this. Some great comic moments but I was crying or close to tears throughout. I'm not usually a weeper nor a poster of comments but think I've been particularly moved by it being a true story. So glad it all seems to have turned out well for Nigel in the end! Thanks to all concerned.

  • Comment number 11.

    Thank you, really enjoyed it, great cast and brilliantly acted, pleased to see Nigel himself at the end, a bit of a Hitchcock moment, must read the book.

  • Comment number 12.

    This is what I have been waiting for! A wonderful dramatisation of the extraordinary relationship between a lovely mother and her son who grew into the Nigel Slater we know and love. The casting was excellent, the film heart wrenching but so so inspiring. I must get the book... more tears on the way no doubt..

  • Comment number 13.

    Toast took me through every possible emotion. My mother died when I was a child and I endured an unwelcome stepmother, similar to Nigel's experience. First class acting. First class writing. Thank you, Nigel, for sharing your early life. I'm so happy that you followed your dream and wish you continued success.

  • Comment number 14.

    The book was absorbing, evocative and poignant. This television adaptation was entertaining but failed to covey so much that was important to the autobiography. Too many liberties with the text, too sanitized and too many omissions. In fact it stopped several years too early. Will we get Toast II at some point?

    To all those that enjoyed this, please go and buy the book: it's brilliant!

  • Comment number 15.

    A superb adaption of Nigel Stater's book. BBC Drama at its best

  • Comment number 16.

    That was the best, it really took me on an emotional roller coaster. I love watching Nigel's cookery programmes and wonder if next time I watch there will be a tear in my eye. Thank you Nigel for sharing this with us. I am glad Nigel found the strength to stand up to all the adversity he faced, I certainly find him an inspiration and since watching him cook have changed my ways in the kitchen!
    I dont think this could have been cast better either

  • Comment number 17.

    It was absolutely lovely enjoyed every min and the soundtrack made it cos im the worlds biggest dusty fan ever! nigel LOVE YA ALL THE CAST WERE BRILLIANT TOO!

  • Comment number 18.

    "Toast" is one more Gem in the BBC crown.

  • Comment number 19.

    I watched 'Toast 'last night the story of Nigel Slater and his struggle with childhood,family tragedies and Nigels rise to the culinery star that he is.I was utterley blown away with how the story gripps you,beautiful piece of television.I utterley enjoyed every minute of it.Well done BBC.All BBC programmes are brill,but now and again something comes along that is pure perfection, and 'toast' is that.The last thing i watched that was this good was probably 'Good Night Mr Tom'with John Thaw. I have a message for Nigel Slater,your a wonderful person,and a blumming fab cook

  • Comment number 20.

    Fantastic piece of TV Laughter and Tears the best production this Christmas. Sets and costume amazing and photography breathe taking. Hats off to Mr Slater and team, just one thing could we have seconds please!

  • Comment number 21.

    What a fantastic piece of TV this was. A truly sad but wholly inspirational story of Nigel's life. Hats off to everyone . For me, the best programme on television this Christmas.

  • Comment number 22.

    Thank you for showing toast on the BBC which I enjoyed enormously. Thank you also for showing (briefly) a particular picture by the well known railway poster artist Claude Buckle called the "Angler" and printed by Royles in the 60's. It would be interesting for us to know who owns this picture and why it was used in the program.

  • Comment number 23.

    Best thing on TV this Christmas. Well done BBC!!

  • Comment number 24.

    Food, families and fights. Perfect for Christmas.

  • Comment number 25.

    I enjoyed the play very much. The great disappointment, having been brought up in Coalway Road, near where Nigel Slater lived (Percy Salt was our butcher and grocer), was apart from Helena Bonham-Carter and a lady at the wedding party, there were very few Wolverhampton accents. The accent is so distinctive that it would have greatly added to atmosphere of the piece

  • Comment number 26.

    Excellent !!!!!
    What more can I say. Great Chef, Love your programs, The music got me afloat again, must admit I did shed a tear.

  • Comment number 27.

    I thought Toast was excellent...I really enjoyed the book when it came out in 2003...Helena Bonham Carter was excellent as were the rest of the cast...the sets were spot on....I loved the soundtrack...Dusty..so evocative of that time..well done to everyone involved at the BBC..and especially Nigel Slator....nice touch at the end...employing his young self!!

  • Comment number 28.

    I knew nothing about Nigel Slater until I watched Toast last night. I must say that I did not take to his character at all.

    He was argumentative and difficult even with his sick mother. His relationship with his father was poor and he made every effort to ensure that it did not improve. His attitude to the cleaning lady, Helena Bonham Carter, who became his father's second wife was one of horror and revealed an incredible level of snobbery in someone so young. He all but declared war on his step mother, and also his father, despite the fact his father's behaviour improved with the remarriage. His role was destructive and never constructive. Anyone sensible would have realised that his step mother, a very good cook, would have been a great asset in helping become a chef.

    I had every sympathy with the character played by Helena Bonham Carter. She did not deserve that treatment from him. I could not understand why, despite everything he had done to undermine her and her marriage to his father, she still wanted him to stay after his father died. I would have been absolutely delighted to see the back of him!

  • Comment number 29.

    Brilliant it was the best programme shown all over Christmas , thank you xxx

  • Comment number 30.

    This is the BBC at its best. A great British drama taking you through a whole gambit of emotions 90 minutes. Fabulous screenplay, simply stunning acting and thoroughly compelling viewing, just superb. Well done and much much more of this please.

  • Comment number 31.

    The Toast adaption was moving, funny and inspiring! Thanks for everything in 2010 Nigel!

  • Comment number 32.

    I was really annoyed that the credits were shrunk and powered through so fast that I was unabl to read them.I think that shows total disregard of the contribution of everyone involved and arrogance of what the viewer might want to see.This happens too frequently , why bother with any credits if we can't read them
    I enjoyed the film ,the acting was good and the clothes and sets were really good but I thought it was very slow .

  • Comment number 33.

    loved this...ken stott is one of my favourite actors and helena b-c was a real scene stealer!!

  • Comment number 34.

    Wonderful production - but I agree with #32: I was extremely annoyed that the credits were shrunk because I wanted to see who made up the superb cast. I was also extremely irritated by the immediate "leaping-in" of the continuity announcer the moment the indiscernible end credits started to roll, rudely intruding on the "afterglow" left by the film's uplifting ending. This happens all too often, and I would advise all those similarly annoyed by this practice to use the BBC website to register a formal complaint - as I did.

  • Comment number 35.

    Wow!! wicked. A truly good Christmas treat. How to make Nigel Slater!

  • Comment number 36.

    this was the bbc at its best, it was a truly memorable and beautiful piece of work, very moving. the acting was superb, the actors brilliant and the nostalgia it evoked for me as a child in the 50s with the shops, I could just about smell them!
    I think this will go down as an award winning piece.
    the only thing to spoil it was, as others have said, minimising the credits at the end so you couldn't see the names of the actors.
    I have written to points of view in the past, but no-one seems to take notice. it is time they did!

  • Comment number 37.

    It was a truly moving film in every aspect, with wonderful actors, true story, sadness, happiness, laughter, a film that one won't forget. It should have been a major film. I will read the book. I do watch Nigel Slaters cookery programmes when I can. He seems a lovely person, his mother would have been proud of him. Thanks to everyone.

  • Comment number 38.

    BRRRRILLIANT. Bought back so many memories of my childhood, the clothing, the cookery classroom and the behaviour of people. What was acceptable and not. Well done all involved.

  • Comment number 39.

    Toast was probably one of the best television programmes I have ever seen. Well done BBC.

  • Comment number 40.

    deliciously warm and painful with sorrow all at once, toast was tv gold, thankyou one and all

  • Comment number 41.

    Thought the programme was great but I must agree with comment #28.

    I thought Nigel Slater's character was obnoxious. A spoilt, selfish child who as soon as he was challenged decided to wage war on everybody - and unfairly so.
    At every stage I was waiting for him to grow up and to reconcile with his father or step mother but instead he continued to be and arrogant brat. Worst part of all, his poor attitude and behaviour resulted in him getting possibly his dream job in the Savoy hotel.

    Once again, would like to say the show was brilliant and absorbing but if the show's (or the original book's) intention was make us empathise with Nigel Slater then I'm sorry it had the opposite effect.

  • Comment number 42.

    I absolutely loved this play. Like others, I shed a tear or two. OK Nigel didn't come over as perfect but that made it better in my opinion.

  • Comment number 43.

    I absolutely loved this portrayal of Nigel's early years - depicted so well the early years of the time - fantastic, stunning BBC at its' absolute best!! I so enjoyed reading the reviews and want to thank Nigel for this superb drama. Everything has been quoted in the reviews that I wanted to say. It was a moving story of his life and so well acted by all. It touched on one's childhood of the time and would like to thank and wish Nigel Slater all the best for the future. My wish is for a follow up to this exquisite story. I so enjoyed watching it so much that I had to watch it again for a second time.

  • Comment number 44.

    My mum likes Nigel Slater's cookery programmes and I would like to read the book that this was based on! I liked the choice of Dusty Springfield songs too.

    Ken Stott is a very versatile actor - I couldn't believe Nigel's dad was portrayed by the same man who was Steady Eddie in Takin' Over The Asylum!

  • Comment number 45.

    Living abroad and away from your true British broadcasting really makes you appreciate the broad scope and the depth of the British drama in general. Compare this with the usual American menu...No where near son...No where near. Alas I put up my sateilte late this year, but boy was I glad I did so & yes it was worth the 750€. I had missed all of this & hats off to you again BBC for taking me back to my childhood in England and all things good...I only have one request (from anyone)...Pleas PLEASE tell me who sang the tracks in this as I have been looking high and low and cannot find anything concrete on Ruth Berrett (Facebook, Youtube etc etc)...

  • Comment number 46.

    It was Dusty Springfield. She was the singer throughout the programme. Much missed too.

  • Comment number 47.

    Hello everyone, thanks for all your feedback here.

    For those interested in the music in Toast, the tracklistings are now published here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00wylpf

    zeldalicious #46 is right - it's all Dusty Springfield.

    Fiona, TV blog editor

  • Comment number 48.


    The best TV Drama I've seen for a long time. So good I wrote a review of it, partly in response to AA Gill's in the Sunday Times.

  • Comment number 49.

    I quite enjoyed the programme and found a few parts very funny....but was left at the end feeling what the point was

  • Comment number 50.

    Philip #34 - thanks for your comment. I manage the BBC's Media Planning dept and we are responsible for scheduling promotional messages on TV. I can't answer your point about the production of the credits themselves but I can explain what we call the ‘credit squeeze’ ie when a continuity announcer talks about an information graphic on a corner/part of the screen while credits roll.

    Our research shows credit squeezing on TV programmes is an effective way to direct our viewers to other content they may like on the BBC. In each case, we choose messages which we think will be most relevant to the audience watching, such as information about upcoming programmes on BBC TV and radio or related posts on this very blog. Our intent is never to spoil the "afterglow" but to highlight additional content which would be of value to our viewers.

    In the case of “Toast”, we used a promotion in the end credits to tell viewers about World Book Night and how you can take part in this celebration of books and reading. Nigel Slater's “Toast” is one of 25 great titles selected for World Book Night and so we thought this message would be of great interest to our viewers.

  • Comment number 51.

    Very nice movie, brilliant performance by Oscar Kennedy, unfortunately, the second part is rather dissapointing mainly due to bad work by Highmore (esp. in the scene Nigel learnt about the death of his farther).
    I am not British and did not know who is Nigel Slater but this is a good movie to show epoch and a strong family drama as well (again, the first half of the movie).
    I see that most of comments above agree with this marking the young Nigel as "destructive", "spoilt", "selfish". Dear fans of Helena Bonham Carter! She is a good actress, but please, keep in mind that in real life 9-years old boy who lost his mother and failed to find support in his father will behave exactly like this, protecting the last he was left with.
    Hope BBC will put it on DVD.

  • Comment number 52.

    My food-related book group here in Sacramento, California, just read Toast. Very touching. When is the DVD of Toast going to be made available...to us in the states as well? Very eager to see this. Thank you.

  • Comment number 53.

    Fab I have the Marguritte Patten book briefly shown in the drama, he reads it under the bed clothes.
    It has all those wonderful recipies in great colour.
    Bonham-Carter was very good...but I felt for that character what happened to her?
    he did seem rather 'Lord Snooty' with her

  • Comment number 54.

    I first read Toast a few years ago and it made such an impact on me that I started to write my own book.
    Like Nigel, I found refuge in the art of cooking when I lost my husband and then my mother. Their recipes were lost but their love for cooking inspired me to carry on the passion.
    The dramatisation of the book is a good adaptation because it captures the essence of the story - dealing with loss and finding creativity in the art of cooking. I love the simplicity of Nigel's writting. Like his cooking - it makes sense & warms the heart.

  • Comment number 55.

    I really enjoyed the TV screen play and have just been told that I've been chosen to give away 48 copies of Toast on World Book Night. 5th March 2011.


More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.