THE BETTER HALF
When Peter was 11 he had acute Nephritis, a disease of the kidneys, and he had to miss a year of school. During which time he learned from his mother to cook, and it remained a lifelong passion. He was a great cook. He was so inventive, he loved cooking a new dish created from what was in the kitchen without planning ahead. He was wild and enthusiastic and noisy, inventing each dish as he went along. Our courtship was by post, writing to each other every day. And it became increasingly clear to me that Peter was brilliant in every field, and I wanted to be better than he was at SOMETHING. I latched on to the notion that I could type, I could drive, and I could cook--I hoped that in those fields I could excel. Until one day a letter from him told me he had just made a hamburger for himself and he listed the ingredients....at least 12 spices, herbs, meats...and I had to accept that he could cook much better than I.
I had learned to cook by taking two courses at the Cordon Bleu, and my way of cooking was to weigh the ingredients and follow recipes. That gave Peter the idea that we could do a joint cookery show on TV. ATV accepted the proposal, and put us into an afternoon programme run by Jean Morton and recorded in Birmingham. Peter's notion was that the TV company would phone all different sorts of housewives, such as a Pensioner, Jewish, Vegetarian etc. They were asked what food they had in their fridge when they received the call. ATV conveyed the information to us, and we were to prepare 2 dishes from those ingredients , one cooked by Peter in his style, and one by me in my style. I would help him when he cooked, and he would assist me. He called it THE BETTER HALF, not only because we were married, but with the vision of taking a chicken, hacking it in half with a large cleaver, half to be cooked in his style and half in mine.
It was the hardest job I have ever done! We had only a few days--first to decide what we would cook, then to shop for the food, then to cook it and try it out on friends, who knew they were coming to eat two meals. Then we had to cook the dishes to take along all ready prepared and cooked, to show at the end, and then we had to prepare all the ingredients for the demonstration--every onion chopped and so on. We recorded two programmes in a day. Our preparation rarely finished before 11 at night, when everything had to be packed in the car and we had to drive to Birmingham, to start early the next morning.
I must emphasise that there was no chance of a re-take if anything went wrong, as we had only one lot of prepared ingredients! We had a kitchen set in the studio. On the very first programme I was demonstrating, when I knocked the plate of flour over the back of the table onto the floor. It so happens it wasn't important, but Jean Morton decided to save the day. She crawled under the cameras and cables and scraped the flour from off the floor, and then appeared through the door of the kitchen smiling brightly; "To the rescue!" she chirped. The camera was about take a close up when the Director spotted all the dirt, dust and bits in the flour and screamed "No, no close-up!"
On another occasion I was demonstrating how to make "Gnocchi Parisienne", one of my favourite dishes. The butter and milk are brought to the boil, and then all the flour is whooshed in together to make the paste. Our stove was run by calor gas. And the lights in the studio were very bright. Peter was standing by, with the flour in a cone of paper, ready to whoosh it in. But the butter and milk wouldn't come to the boil. I hadn't realised that the stove hadn't lit--the calor gas flames were hard to see and I thought it was alight because the hot lights of the studio had melted the butter just a bit. Peter: "Can I whoosh now?" Me, in a panic: "No, the milk isn't hot enough. I can't understand it. I have made this dish dozens of times!" Peter: "You know what Disraeli said, 'Never apologise, never explain'" And he whooshed in the flour. You have never seen such disgusting mess! I had to explain what I would have done, and took the finished dish out of the oven. Many of the letters we received said how much they loved it when things went wrong!
How sorry I am that these programmes were made before we could record them. How I would love to see them again now.
IN THE AIR I
The offer came through of a wonderful job. To play Golde opposite the Tevye of Topol in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at the Apollo Victoria theatre in London. But Peter and I had already agreed to do a tour of Canada and America with our two-actor show based on the life of Golda Meir, MOMMA GOLDA. The final performance of the tour was to be at the Jewish Reform Temple in Albany for our great friends, Bill and Mary Barnet. Bill's father and mother, Henry and Selma, had financed my stay in the U.S. with my mother during the war, although they had been complete strangers, and firmly refused to be repaid after the war when my father was allowed to send them the money. It was unthinkable that I could let down anybody from that family.
The Albany performance was scheduled for the Saturday of the first week of rehearsals for FIDDLER. The previous weekend I appeared in Ottowa, flew to New York, leaving Peter behind, and overnight to London. Straight off the plane to rehearse, back to Heathrow on the Friday to fly to New York and on to Albany, for a Saturday night performance. I boarded the plane in London, and settled down in Tourist class on a huge Jumbo plane, with empty seats all around me. I got out my script and started to learn my lines. A charmingly waspish and bright Air Steward came over to me. "Is that a script you are learning? What is it?" I explained. "Oh, how great" he clapped his hands "I was in musicals before I became an Air Steward. I played Freddie on the tour of MY FAIR LADY. Why don't we switch off the screens and you and I will entertain the passengers???" He disappeared, and came back with a full bottle of champagne. As there was nobody to share it with, I got through it alone, as he gave me the First Class menu to choose from.
After the meal he said: "Would you like to drive the plane?" and he took me to the flight deck, which was very exciting. Then he sat me in a First Class seat and plied me with brandy and iiqueurs. When we landed in New York I felt no pain!!! Somehow I got onto the Albany plane, and there at the airport in Albany to meet me were Peter, Bill and Mary. "You poor girl, you must be exhausted!" With slurred speech and a huge smile, I sang "Not al all. Not at all!"
The next evening we did our show, and at the reception afterwards I made a speech, telling everyone what Uncle Henry and Aunt Selma had done for me, and how much it meant for me to perform in Albany and for the Barnet family. I was presented with a lovely bouquet. We stayed with Bill and Mary, and I gave the bouquet to Mary. Next morning, very early, they took us to the airport to fly back to England and for me to be on time for Monday's rehearsal. Mary wrote to me, and told me that they left the airport and went straight to the cemetery, where they put my bouquet on the grave of Uncle Henry and Aunt Selma, who rescued me from wartime England and were my mentors and inspiration.
IN THE AIR II
One summer, Jay and I were invited to spend a weekend with good friends Jen and Barrie Gosney and their young children in Alderney in the Channel Islands. I am a bad traveller, and feel ill on a choppy sea or in a turbulent aeroplane. There are not enough wild horses in the world that would get me onto a Big Dipper. We arrived at Gatwick in a storm---driving rain and high winds. When our flight was called, I was shocked that we were to travel in a tiny propeller plane, 6 seats on either side. When we were seated, a stewardess stood at the front with the usual speech about seat belts and safety. THEN SHE GOT OFF!!! As soon as we took off we were buffeted around and I felt worse and worse, I was very ill, and prayed for death! Jay was a good traveller, but even he was white.
The airport at Alderney was a field, and at the end of the field was a cliff with a sheer drop into the sea. As we came down to land, the plane was swinging from side to side, and looming was that sheer drop into the ocean. As the wheels were about to touch the ground, the pilot gunned up the engine and up we went again. He circled around and came in again to land, and through the window I saw Barrie, Jen and the children fleeing in terror. Once again the pilot gunned up the engine and announced that the side winds had made it impossible for him to land, and he was taking us to Guernsey. Where we sat in the airport building for several hours, until the wind dropped.
Once we recovered, the rest of the weekend was lovely!
IN THE AIR III
Soon after the war I went to the British Zone of Germany to entertain the troops with a revue called INTIMACY AT EIGHT. I was one of the 4 leading performers, the other 3 were Naunton Wayne, Walter Crisham and Hy Hazell. We stayed in hotels. The supporting cast had to stay in hostels...they included Anthony Newley and Edward Woodward! We were there for 4 weeks, and each week in a different centre, but each night long, long journeys in the mini-bus to perform. It was a full production, with fast scene and costume changes. The German crew were incredible. Instead of complaining at a difficult quick change, they would say "Let's try to do it even more quickly!" I had 22 costume changes, and for the cast of 8 there was only one lady who was both the wardrobe mistress and the dresser.
The long journey, the show set up, the performance, the scenery and costumes all packed up, the long journey home.....I never saw Naunton Wayne awake, except for the performance, during the whole 4 weeks!
Word came through that the show was so successful, they had organised for us to go to the European Headquarters of the Air Force in Fontainbleu to do 2 performances in the historic theatre which was part of the Palace. And we were to be flown in the same plane as used by the parachute regiment when they had to drop. It was very frightening..we sat on wooden benches round the sides, and in the middle was the hole to jump out of!
In Fontainbleu, which is near Paris, we went to rehearse in a gem of an old theatre. But soon voices were raised. We were scheduled to perform that evening, but the French crew said that they refused to let a German crew work in their theatre. And nothing would persuade them to change their minds. So the first performance was cancelled, the German crew taught the French crew how to run the show, and we had a lovely evening in Paris.
I had the idea that I would like to stay in Paris for an extra couple of nights, and return on the Monday. At the reception after the show, an Airforce Officer said he would be flying to England on the Monday, taking his wife, and he would be only too pleased to give me a ride. He met me at 6 in the morning at a railway station just outside Paris, and drove me to the airfield. When he parked, he bumped the car into a wall, and I couldn't help thinking "If he does that in a car, how will he drive a plane??"
I climbed into a tiny plane..just room for 2 passengers. The weather was bad, the little plane was bumping arund, all over the place, and you know from the story above what that means for me. But I had bought a bottle of Brandy to take home, and I kept swigging it back, not only the illness, but the terror! When we landed at an airfield I think was called Dunfold, we were met by Neville Duke, a famous Test Pilot, and his wife, who lived on the Field, and they invited us in. I asked if I could use the phone. It was about 8 in the morning, English time. I phoned my Aunt Mona, with whom I shared a flat. She was in a panic. She hadn't known where I was or what had happened to me, and she had accepted a job for me, a part in a film starting NOW! Somehow I pulled myself together and got over to the Film Studio in Walton-on-Thames for a part in a film called JOHNNY YOU'RE WANTED. It turned out I had a double part--a policewoman and a smuggler who looked just like her. And the first shot was the policewoman putting on a wig to look like the smuggler. Of course there was no wig, as there had been no chance of a fitting, but we discovered that if I pulled the front of my hair onto my forehead with sharp jerks, it looked like I was putting on a wig! So if ever you are up very late and see a very old film called JOHNNY YOU'RE WANTED, look out for my breathless and somewhat drunken performance!
AND IN THE AIRPORT
Last January was the first time I flew to Ahmedabad without having to spend the day and change airports in Mumbai. I stayed on the plane, and after a 3 hour wait in Mumbai the same plane flew to Ahmedabad, landing at 2.30 a.m. local time. Because of a bad knee, I was using a wheelchair, and with about 30 other disabled people we waited on the plane until a lift contraption on wheels appeared. Only a few people at a time could be taken down in the lift, and the hand luggage was flung over the side. I was the only Westerner, and the Indians were mostly very old and disabled. A bus took us to the Terminal, where we were led over sand, broken paving and builders' rubble into the Terminal building. I was lucky I could walk, but the others were in great trouble.
We were told to sit and wait for a wheelchair, but it was evident that I would have to wait for hours. But the immigration area for able bodied people was a heaving crowd, no queues, everybody shouting, pushing. There was no way I could have attempted to get through Immigration in that way. Then I spotted a special entrance for disabled, and I got into that queue. Just as I got to the desk, the man clapped his hands and shouted in Gujarati that he was closing! I stopped him and pleaded in English---of course he didn't understand a word. I told him I had been travelling for more than 12 hours, I was 83 and disabled and it was the middle of the night....anything I could think of. Eventually he took pity and opened up again and stamped my Passport.
The baggage hall was absolute chaos. There were no Baggage Trolleys available, and the crowds were about 9 deep around the carousel. All screaming and shouting. A boy offered to get my luggage, and in desperation I gave him a luggage tag. But as soon as he went I realised that I had to be there to identify the luggage. I went after him, but I never saw him again. I asked at the Exit where I could find a trolley, and the man said to wait. Which I did. And after about 15 minutes I got one, but no way could I push my way through to the carousel. Eventually I did push through, and the man in front pulled my cases off and put them on my trolley. But then I couldn't get out!
Luckily a boy helped me, clearing the way, and I got out exhausted and tearful. It was 4.30 (in the morning). Mrinalini's devoted driver, Amrittbhai, was there to meet me--he had been standing there for 2 1/2 hours. When I told the story to the family at breakfast the next morning, Mrinalini insisted I tell THE TIMES OF INDIA, who sent over a reporter and photograher, and the story was published the next morning. That is the sort of publicity I could well do without!