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

Thursday 30 December 2010, 09:00

Nigel Slater Nigel Slater Author

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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.

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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.

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Comments

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    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.

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    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.

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    Comment number 23.

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

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    Comment number 24.

    Food, families and fights. Perfect for Christmas.

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    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

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    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.

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    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!!

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    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!

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    Comment number 29.

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

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    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.

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    Comment number 31.

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

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    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 .

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    Comment number 33.

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

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    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.

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    Comment number 35.

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

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    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!
    susytish

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    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.

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    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.

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    Comment number 39.

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

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    Comment number 40.

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

 

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