Stephen Jardine: Classy and sassy

TV Chef Clarissa Dickson Wright who sadly died last week. Picture: Getty
TV Chef Clarissa Dickson Wright who sadly died last week. Picture: Getty
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It WAS 17 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Beef on the bone had just been banned by the British government amid fears about the spread of BSE. I was working as a TV reporter and my producer decided we needed a voice of reason to challenge the growing hysteria. Cue Clarissa Dickson Wright.

After some cajoling she agreed to see us and a couple of hours later I arrived with a TV crew at her home on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Clarissa greeted us warmly and invited us in for tea and biscuits. Over the next hour, she was charm itself, regaling us with outrageous stories about TV idiocy before settling down to the job in hand.

During a barnstorming interview, she lambasted the government, calling the BSE ban the worst example of nanny state intervention.

Sound bites in the can, we then moved on to the obligatory set-up shots which would normally involve someone reading about the ban in the paper or doing something similarly innocuous to give us footage to cover the introduction.

Predictably, Clarissa had an alternative idea. Deep in the freezer she found an enormous joint of beef on the bone which looked like it dated from the Ice Age.

Clarissa’s plan was to cut a piece, fry it, then eat it on camera to prove the meat was perfectly safe and the ban was stupid.

For the next ten minutes, she hacked away at the frozen block with a giant cleaver, sending ice and fragments of bone flying everywhere.

Failing to make much of an impression, she uncharacteristically eventually admitted defeat, but we had the footage we needed and an interview that later led the news.

That incident exemplified her larger-than-life approach to everything.

A tragic early life with an abusive father led to a lost legal career and descent into alcoholism, but she pulled back from the brink and found a new lease of life in the unlikely world of television

After some occasional appearances, a chance piece of casting paired her with Jennifer Paterson and the pair exploded on to our screens with their infinite enthusiasm for great grub.

Alongside Keith Floyd, the duo changed food on TV for ever and proved cooking didn’t have to be po-faced and serious. Instead it could be fun, outrageous and hilarious.

Ten years on, food on TV is now big business, dominated by chefs pushed into place by agents as part of complicated deals to support publishing and restaurant empires.

For Clarissa, television was an end in itself and not something she ever courted or desired. We will never see her like again, but we were all lucky to have her.

It was fun while it lasted.