Obituary: Clarissa Dickson Wright

Clarissa Dickson Wright. Picture: Jane Barlow
Clarissa Dickson Wright. Picture: Jane Barlow
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TELEVISION chef Clarissa Dickson Wright made the switch from barrister to become a household name as one of the nation’s top celebrity cooks and a star of the popular Two Fat Ladies series.

Born in London in 1947, she studied law at University College London and became the youngest barrister at Gray’s Inn.

During her legal career, however, Dickson Wright struggled with alcoholism, and was drinking two pints of gin a day at one point.

After leaving Gray’s Inn, she worked at cookbook shop Books For Cooks in Notting Hill Gate as she made her first inroads into a career in the food world.

She became popular with foodies such as Jane Grigson and Delia Smith and once the shop was sold in 1992, she moved north, setting up home in a cottage in Inveresk before opening her own shop – Cooks Bookshop – near the Grassmarket.

A short time later, TV producer Patricia Llewelyn approached Dickson Wright with an idea for a new show. The suggestion was that Dickson Wright and her good friend Jennifer Paterson travelled the country on a motorbike and sidecar.

Two Fat Ladies was born, and Dickson Wright once recalled: “We fell about laughing.”

The pilot episode of what would become a hit TV show on the BBC was filmed on a pouring wet day and featured Paterson driving the bike into a field.

Tours included visits to Lennoxlove House, where Dickson Wright cooked Duntreath roast grouse, and East Fortune, where she brewed up some exotic chocolate egg snowballs.

In 1999, Dickson Wright made a Barmbrack with rhubarb at Floors Castle in Kelso in what proved to be the last programme she ever made with her friend. Within a few weeks, Paterson died at the age of 71 after a short battle with cancer.

Dickson Wright – who published her autobiography Spilling the Beans in 2007 – said of the series: “It was a great achievement for the two old bats who the press labelled eccentric.”

Dickson Wright’s shop in the Grassmarket proved too much for her and she was forced to close after being declared bankrupt for the third time in 2004.

During her years in the spotlight, she was appointed as the first woman rector of Aberdeen University in 1998 and went on to hold the post for six years.

She was highly regarded amongst the student population and hosted an annual medieval feast to raise cash for the student hardship fund.

Her television career wasn’t finished, however, and she appeared in Clarissa And The Countryman with Johnny Scott in 2012 and presented a BBC4 series on the history of British meals.

Dickson Wright, who never married, died on Saturday at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary aged 66.