BBC

Jennifer Paterson

Jennifer Paterson

Chain-smoking, hard-drinking, outspoken, politically incorrect, jolly and ever so slightly dotty, Jennifer Paterson was one of our most-loved TV chefs.

Jennifer was an unlikely TV food celebrity who claimed she had never had a cookery lesson in her life. She was, though, an enthusiastic cook from the age of four, spending hours hovering in the kitchen concocting what she described as 'little messes' and 'horrible little pies'.

Born in London, the daughter of an army officer, she spent the first four years of her life in China before her family returned to live in Rye, East Sussex. She was expelled from her convent boarding school at the age of 15 for being disruptive.

She developed her talent for cooking when she later lived abroad, in Berlin, Portugal, Venice, Sicily and Benghazi in Libya, looking after the children of various friends and family.

In 1952, she returned to England and worked for various magazines before working behind the scenes for the ITV show Candid Camera and as an assistant stage manager at the Theatre Royal in Windsor. Other jobs included the unlikely role of matron at a girls' boarding school near Reading and housekeeper to a Ugandan diplomat.

She was a familiar face on the London party circuit in the 1960s. In 1977, she became the cook for Spectator magazine, cooking for star guests from a tiny kitchen on the top floor, and stayed for 15 years.

Despite meeting Clarissa Dickson-Wright at a party in Tuscany in 1991, it was several years before the Two Fat Ladies series was conceived by producer Patricia Llewellyn, and the pair was brought together to forge a partnership that lasted four and a half years.

Jennifer was a devout Catholic who would ride for miles to go to mass during filming. She died 'peacefully, painlessly and full of caviar' on 10 August, 1999 at the age of 71 after losing her battle with lung cancer.

Such a huge personality is sorely missed, but take comfort in the words of her culinary chum, Clarissa Dickson-Wright. Writing about her friend's death in Scotland on Sunday, she said: "Jennifer is no doubt sitting on a cloud, with her bike parked beside her, smoking a fag and discussing menus with St Peter, singing hymns with St Lucy and writing recipes with St Honoré before going off to lunch with Noel Coward."

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