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 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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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!

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    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)...

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    Comment number 46.

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

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    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#segments

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

    Cheers
    Fiona, TV blog editor

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    Comment number 48.

    http://641cookery.blogspot.com/2011/01/toast-bbc1-thursday-30th-december.html

    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.

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    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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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

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    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.

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    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.

 

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