Dining with the famous in the early 1960s (2)


The high-flying Oxford graduate Robert Fearnley-Whittingstall visited Burley Manor in the New Forest a few months before he married gardening writer Jane in 1962. Three years later, celebrity chef Hugh, of River Cottage fame, was born. According to those who approved the hotel, the owners used their own ‘vegetables, cream, poultry and pigs ‘. So doubtless, the merits of locally sourced produce were passed onto the River Cottage presenter. However, it is unlikely that Hugh’s cooking skills were inherited from his Dad, because, according to Jane, the only dish her husband could cook for the young ladies he entertained as a bachelor was devilled kidneys!John Arlott pic

John ‘the Voice of Cricket’ Arlott, who started his career as a policeman in Basingstoke before being discovered by poet and BBC producer Geoffrey Grigson, was a oenophile and gastronome who enjoyed great hospitality at the White Horse Inn, Droxford, which just happens to be a few miles from the ‘Bat and Ball ‘pub in Hambledon, where cricket began in the eighteenth century.

In the early sixties ‘motels ‘ were becoming popular, although one doesn’t expect to find many in the Good Food Guide. However, there are at least two, one of which, ‘The Royal Oak Motel’ at Newington, near Hythe, offered, according to the approvers a delicious, though expensive selection of continental and English dishes, including escalope in Marsala ( 14/-) and frog’s legs ( 10s 6d). It is not known whether one of the approvers, Geoffrey Finsberg, a Tory councillor at just 24, who became a senior government minister in the seventies, dined here on expenses.


Private press expert and BBC producer Desmond Flower was one of many who found the food at the ‘Three Horseshoes’, Thursley, ‘ distinguished ‘. For instance, one guest described the pate maison as ‘ among the top half dozen I have had anywhere in the world ‘. Avocado pears, among the novelty dishes of the time, also featured on the menu.


The name of Philip Harben, ‘ the first celebrity chef ‘ on TV appears among the list of five ‘approvers’ of the ‘Horse and Groom’ pub in Patching. Clearly, there must have been something special about the way grilled food was cooked here to attract such a fine gastronome. However, as the pub’s owner didn’t divulge what else was available, we’ ll probably never know the full truth.

[R.M.Healey] To be continued…

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