Scotsman Obituaries: Muriel Clark, TV home economist described as ‘the Scottish Mary Poppins’

Teacher, home economist, author, radio and television presenter. Born: 17 November 1930 in Banchory, Aberdeenshire. Died: 27 March 2023 in Banchory, aged 92
Muriel Clark didn't enter TV until her fifties but she became an inspiration to thousandsMuriel Clark didn't enter TV until her fifties but she became an inspiration to thousands
Muriel Clark didn't enter TV until her fifties but she became an inspiration to thousands

Muriel Clark made a career out of giving no-nonsense, down-to-earth practical advice, always delivered matter-of-factly in her distinctive North-east accent.

Once interviewed by a London-based broadsheet, the home economist and cook declared: “I have no time at all for recipes that start with the words ‘Take a brace of pheasants and a glass of red wine…’.”

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A former domestic science teacher who taught generations of youngsters the basics of home management, Muriel didn’t become a television presenter until her fifties but she went on to encourage countless women to master do-it-yourself tasks, from changing a tyre to lagging pipes, and to draw praise from men applauding her for helping them adapt to life in widowhood, prompting her to observe: “Great cooks are born, lesser men learn because they are interested, but many, unwitting and unwilling, have cooking thrust upon them!”

Her television programmes attracted many hundreds of thousands of viewers, with more than 40,000 said to have written in to request the practical information leaflets that accompanied the money-saving series Pennywise.

The programme, co-presented by Muriel and Anne Brand, allegedly inspired Victoria Wood’s As Seen on TV McConomy comedy sketch featuring two thrifty middle-aged Scots women offering outrageous penny-pinching advice, ranging from using an elderly person as a draught excluder to turning a battered old brick into an attractive, inexpensive lamp for a newly-wed.

Quite what the doughty Muriel thought of the skit isn’t recorded but it serves to demonstrate just how far her influence reached.

An only child, she was born in Banchory to retailer James Anderson and his wife Irene, a sorting clerk and telephonist.

Educated at Banchory Academy, she gained excellent Higher grades but defied her headmaster who thought she ought to go to university.

Instead, Muriel insisted that her heart lay in domestic science and pursued that path when she went off to Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen, where she gained a diploma in Domestic Science and her Teacher’s Certificate in 1952.

She then taught homecraft at schools in the villages of Torphins and Lumphanan in Aberdeenshire before being appointed visiting teacher of homecraft for the County of Aberdeen in 1957.

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Three years later she moved to Glasgow and taught in Paisley before becoming a lecturer at the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science, later Queen’s College Glasgow, where in 1967 she was appointed principal lecturer and head of department.

Muriel also served on many committees and organisations, including as specialist consultant and deputy chair of the UK National Home Laundering Consultative Council where, often the only woman in the room, she advised the entire industry.

During that time she was responsible for devising and standardising the washing machine care labelling system that is still used today. Her first book, Make Do and Mend, was published in 1979 and led to her becoming a television presenter, initially on Grampian Television’s Do It Herself in 1981.

The series, presented alongside Anne Brand, was designed to give women the confidence to tackle home maintenance and Muriel demonstrated many skills, from cooking to how to use a power drill safely.

That series was followed in the mid-1980s by the channel’s Pennywise, which was also broadcast in various other regions, attracting viewers’ letters from as far afield as London, Dorset and the Midlands

Meanwhile Muriel continued to write – she co-authored Home Management: A Fresh Approach in 1981 – and presented a regular food slot on Radio Scotland’s Jimmy Mack Show, dubbed the Tartan Tin Club, which resulted in the book 100 Recipes From The Tartan Tin.

She was also a regular on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and You and Yours and on Grampian TV’s Flair programme.

Once described as The Kitchen Wonder Woman, she moved back to the North-east and became a regular columnist for the Press & Journal newspaper, writing initially on domestic science issues but later offering her trademark straight-talking opinion and advice on a range of topics.

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In the 1990s she was a secret diner for the Scottish Tourist Board’s Taste of Scotland scheme, travelling throughout the country to help develop and promote Scottish food.

Her godson, the Reverend Craig Downes, said that, for many, she was the Scottish version of Mary Poppins but instead of being practically perfect in every way, she was perfectly practical in every way.

A woman who found herself very often in a man’s world, Muriel Clark was a real presence and a born communicator, a pioneer for other women and one who inspired many to challenge the glass ceiling in previously male-dominated areas of industry.

Predeceased by her husband John, whom she married in Banchory in 1955, she is survived by her godson Craig, her niece Pamela and nephew Christopher.


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