Gilbert Harding’s Treasury of Insult

Gilbert Harding

When we last discussed the late great broadcasting personality Gilbert Harding we focused on how his studied rudeness was in most cases utterly defensible. He ensured that those people who annoyed him and were duly given the treatment they deserved, were the same kind of people that were likely to annoy most other thinking people. Thus he became a sort of hero to many who could only fantasise about emulating  Harding’s rudeness. 

There is a general perception today that Harding  reserved this brutal honesty for TV and radio appearances, but like so many ‘ celebrities ‘ of our own times, he added to his earnings by bringing out books that encapsulated the Harding personality. In a previous Jot we looked at a book of his musings on the inanities of everyday life. This time we are going to pick some of the best bits from Harding’s Treasury of Insult (1953), which is not so much an anthology of invective as  a distinctly superior miscellany of quotations and anecdotes from the sixteenth century to the nineteen  fifties. .

Some of the extracts are prefaced by a piece of Harding scorn. Others need no such introduction. We will begin with what we now call the ‘ hospitality sector’. Harding’s love of dining out and his attraction to pubs was almost wholly responsible for his corpulence, which led to his suddenly death in a taxi aged just 54 ?

We could start with Dr Tobias Smollett, the eighteenth century novelist:

‘The bread I eat in London is a deleterious paste, mixed up with chalk, alum and bone ashes; insipid to the taste and destructive to the constitution. The good people are not ignorant of this adulteration; but they prefer it to wholesome bread because it  is whiter than the meal of corn; thus they sacrifice their taste and their health, and the lives of their tender infants to a most absurd gratification…I shall conclude this catalogue of London dainties, with that table-beer, guiltless of hops and malt, vapid and nauseous; much fitter to facilitate the operation of a vomit, than to quench thirst and promote digestion…’

As Smollett pointed out, shoppers and diners knew about adulteration, but it took a German chemist, Dr Frederic Accum, to tell the whole shocking story in his classic expose, Death in the Pot (1820). Nowadays, of course, we much prefer wholemeal bread to the white loaves made by the infamous Chorleywood process that gave us ‘Mother’s Pride ‘, which though it contained none of the deleterious additives detailed by Smollett and Accum, doubtless tasted little better than eighteenth century white bread. 

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Curries in 1924

Talented artist, friend of Beardsley and writer on cookery, G. F. Scotson Clark ( see previous Jots) , was particularly fond of curries which, though they had been the staple of Anglo-Indian families since the late eighteenth century, were only just becoming popular with restaurant customers in the United Kingdom when his first book, Eating Without Fears , appeared in 1924. Here are his views on curries. 

‘ I was brought up on curry. Mine is an Anglo-Indian family. So fond was my mother of curry, that she used to declare she was weaned on it. In our old home one day we would have” Uncle Edward’s “curry, on another,“ Uncle Charles’s”. Uncle Charles was the only member of the family who was a Madrasi. All the rest were Bengalis, and our early recollections of Uncle Charles—when I was about seven or eight years old—are that his curries were infernally hot. The older he got—and he was close to ninety then—the hotter became his curries, until at last no one but himself could eat them. He lived in a curious old house in Bayswater, a house literally walled with books. The doubled drawing-room upstairs was always scattered with papers. He wrote from morning till night, but what he wrote I know not, except that he was the author of a Telegu dictionary in some twelve volumes, which I am sure no one ever read…

There is no necessity for a curry to be hot—hot with pepper to burn the tongue. Too much curry powder, or curry powder insufficiently cooked, is generally the cause of this. At the same time it should be piquant and not like a  stew with a flavouring of curry.

When the gas was cut off by the Gas Board at his small ‘ Bohemian Club ‘in London frequented  by ‘ artists, writers, barristers, soldiers, sailors, the clergy, including two bishops’, Scotson Clark volunteered to cook an Indian dinner using only a chafing dish and a spirit stove. The menu was: 

                                                                    Mulligatawny Soup


                                                                     Curry of Veal and Rice

                                                            with Bombay Ducks, Chutney, and

                                                                    West Indian Pickles

                                                                     Iced oranges

                                                                      Fruit Curry

The complicated  recipe for mulligatawny soup is as follows: 

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Sound advice and some complaints from Johnnie and Fanny Cradock

Taken from Bon Viveurs’s London and the British Isles (1956).

1) For wine drinkers.

Whenever possible order your wine in advance of your meal so that whites may be properly chilled and the reds brought gently and slowly to room temperature. It ruins a wine to stuff it into a pan of hot water…Do not smoke while drinking wine…Take a mouth of claret or burgundy, for example, draw in a good lungful of cigarette smoke and see how much bouquet and flavour you can detect through the smoke barrage. Now rinse out you r mouth with lukewarm water. Stub out that cigarette, eat a crust of bread and start all over again. If you do not notice a difference, SMOKE; you must be choked with catarrh and would not taste anything anyway. Do you begin to follow now?

Do not obey the final idiocy, which we have heard declaimed in public recently and also read in famous publications,‘ put yourself in the hands of the wine-waiter’! Do nothing of the sort. The chances are ten to one he knows less than you do! Either he knew years ago and is now too old and tired to remember, or care; or else he doesn’t know because he is too young, having grown up through the war years when he could not learn because there was practically no wine. He was, anyway, not a waiter in all probability during the war. Let us remember this with respect, he much more likely was a member of one of His Majesty’s fighting forces.

Avoid at all costs being a vintage or price snob. It is fallacious to suppose that you must purchase great wines in order to have vinous pleasures. You choose how much you want to spend. You keep the wine list and read it as slowly and carefully as you like. You select the wine you want to try. But if this happens to be one which you have never tasted before, copy out the details about it and add your own comments on its colour, nose, bouquet and its flavour. Remember, a wine connoisseur is a man with a long memory, and memory, like everything else, must be helped and trained at the beginning

Arrange your meal—however simple—the way you want. Do not be bullied by us or by anyone else either. Choose the wine or wines and build the meal around it or them. Choose the food and select the wines to blend harmoniously with your chosen dishes. Just remember, wine should not be the boss and food should not be the boss. Your aim is to achieve a happy marriage in which each p-lays a part producing a balanced harmonious whole in which flatters and enhances the other, and does not strive to steal a majority of the thunder.

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London restaurants in Fanny and Jonnie Cradock’s Bon Viveur (1956) that are still open today


1) The Ivy

‘A classic name in the restaurant world and one most significant to the men and women of the theatre, the Ivy has at last changed hands. Since its inception until, last year it was under the administration of M. Abel, who so many will think of in his present-day retirement with affection and respect.

Now an entirely new ‘ character’ takes over—a big, boisterous, gentle, tough, kindly Edwardian fish king with a tremendous laugh, and a fair measure of that divine inheritance which is cockney humour. Waving a vast paw, he tells you, ‘I’m in fish, m’ father was in fish, I know fish, and yet I still put vinegar on my oysters because I like ‘em that way. It’s the fish lark that has given me four restaurants in London.’ Here he is apt to pause and reflect—the four restaurants seem both to astonish and tickle him. In a world overrun with meagre men Bernard Walsh stands out, nor alone for his height and build—nor for his silver side-whiskers and fancy weskits, but for his overall rumbustious largeness. Thirty-eight pancakes is his normal portion. ‘I like pancakes’, he explains. He probably has more friends among the press than any other restaurateur in London, and that speaks as loud and hearty as his laugh.

As he also likes meat, and Bernard, we say ‘gets what he wants’, the meat and the fish are quite excellent at the Ivy. Oysters are opened at the table ( the Bill of Fare states this), gives the prices—12s. No 2 Natives, 15s. No 1 Natives, 21s. Colchester—and Bernard adds as we twinkle at each other, ‘ I take the boast, ‘natives’ off my menu, when every fish-boy knows the town has run out of ‘em—which is more than some restaurants do.’ He is correct.

Correct, too, and good value are his Moules Mariniere ( 6s 6d), superb lobsters ( the scene on one occasion when these were cooked in the morning for evening service instead of in the afternoon!), served Cardinal, Newburg, Mornay and Thermidor for 11s. 6d.; his entrecotes( 7s. 6d.), mixed grill ( 10s. 6d.) , chops ( 7s.6d.) and lamb cutlets ( 7s.6d.).

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Eating without Fears: a second helping

In our first Jot on the artist and cook Scotson-Clark, we referred to the time he spent working in the City just after he had left school. After reading further into his very autobiographical book we now know much more after about this period in his life. It seems that one of his jobs was as a clerk in ‘ a very old-established wine business ‘. He describes the premises with the eye of a painter:

‘ The office was spacious, with large windows. In the winter a comfortable fire burned in the large open grate in the outer office. Green silk curtains screened the lower part of the windows from the vulgar gaze of the passer-by, and corresponding green silk curtains screened the upper part of the desks from the customers or visitors who chanced to call. The ledgers were so large that it was as much as I could do to carry them from the safe to my desk. Quill pens had retired in favour of steel ones on my entry, as had the sand-box in favour of blotting paper. There was no evidence of wine about the place—that would have been vulgar—but the atmosphere was charged with a delicious blend of the sweet aromae of wine, brandy and corks, that came up from the cellar…’

Scotson-Clark then goes on to describe the process of wine-tasting performed by the chief of the business, ‘a most polished gentleman if the old school’.

‘ I have often him with six or seven glasses of wine before him—each glass with a hidden label on the foot, reject four o five on the bouquet alone and then the remaining ones would be tested and arranged in their order of merit before the labels were looked at. And then came the final test of colour. A special old Waterford glass was used for this. It was most beautifully cut, though the lip was as thin as a visiting card. The stem was a trifle dumpy because it had been broken many times and blown together again, and with each repair , so had the stem shrunk. Then there was a special glass for claret, one with an out-turned lip. He liked it because it distributed the bouquet. Now the dock glass you will remember is slightly larger at the bottom than at the top, the alleged object being to concentrate the bouquet so that it escapes just below the nostrils…The glass should be wide enough at the top to admit the nose of moderate proportions, for the bouquet of the vintage is of great importance as the taste.

Champagne should not be taken from a tumbler except as a “corpse reviver” in the forenoon, and at that hour and, for that purpose, an inferior wine is as suitable as a good one, especially if it be “Niblitized”, that is, has incorporated in it a liqueur glass of brandy and a squeeze of lime, with the rind dropped in the glass. Neither the palate nor the stomach is in a fit condition to receive champagne before 8 p.m., and then it should be taken from the thinnest of thin glasses, either of the trumpet or inverted mushroom shape….On principle I am against hollow stems, except as curiosities. Nor do I like coloured glasses, except for hock which is apt to be slightly cloudy

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The artist as cook:

George Frederick Scotson-Clark

Some cooks may be artists in their own way, but artists are rarely cooks. But if this little book, Eating without Fears, a minor  best-seller in 1924 ( we have a third edition which we found in the Jot 101 archive at HQ) is any indication, the fin de siecle artist, G. F. Scotson –Clark was certainly both, albeit in a very minor way.

Scotson-Clark, the son of a famous organists and composer was the same age as his fellow illustrator and friend Aubrey Beardsley, and was in the same class with him at Brighton Grammar School.  But while Beardsley left school to pursue a brilliant but short career, his friend decided to try his luck in the City ( his biographers described him as a ‘ businessman ‘), only to change direction at the age of twenty when he emigrated to the United States. Here he may well have continued as a businessman for all we know, but what we do know is that his natural talent for drawing ( he appears to have been self-taught) saw him supplying art work for several American newspapers and magazines, including the New York Sunday World. He also designed posters for The Outing and worked as a stage and costume designer.

Then, in 1897, aged twenty-five, Scotson-Clark returned to England, where he remained until his death. He continued to design posters, mainly for the theatre, and his interest in the Music Hall is strongly evident in perhaps his best-known ( and certainly most expensive book), The Halls, which appeared in 1906. Scotson-Clark, though talented as a graphic artist , lacked the amazing originality of Beardsley, hence perhaps his comparatively low-profile as an illustrator today. His plates for The Halls, for instance, are strongly influences by the ‘ Beggarstaff Brothers ‘ who were very popular at around the same time. 

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Compton Mackenzie on his ‘tricks of the trade ‘

Whisky_Galore_film_posterCompton Mackenzie is not a writer who raises much interest among readers nowadays. Few literary people today could name more than two of his many novels, the most famous of which, Whiskey Galore, was made into a hit film. However, back in the early fifties,  readers of his article, Tricks of the Trade ‘, which appeared in the January 1953 issue of The Writer, would have lapped up this very frank account of his daily writing routine, which retains its interest today.

 Mackenzie begins his account by declaring that due to the loss of one eye, he may soon face the possibility of having to dictate his words, something he dislikes. For the moment, however, he still writes ‘every word’. He then reveals some surprises:

 ‘ I wake about noon…drink a cup of coffee and read my letters…I answer about 4,000 a year, which if you figure it out, means at least six weeks of eight-hour days. Too much! After the letters come the papers, but there’s not a great deal on which to waste time there. I get up about one, and if it’s fine take a stroll round the orchard with a glass of milk at the end of it. Then I dictate answers to those letters and with luck settle down by 3 p.m. to work at whatever book I’m writing. I always have to work in chairs because for over forty years I have had to fight with sciatica. A break of a quarter of an hour for tea, and then work goes on until nine, sometimes later. At 9p.m.a very light meal, and then, in a different chair from the one in which I have been writing my book, I write any article or broadcast I have rashly promised to do. Music on gramophone or wireless until midnight, and then sometimes under pressure I work on without music until one or one-thirty. As soon as I’m in bed I enjoy the longed for recreation of doing The Times crossword puzzle. If I do it in under an hour I win: if I’m longer The Times wins. If I’ve failed to finish in an hour The Times is allowed a walk-over and I put the puzzle aside. Then I read until 4 or 5 a.m., sustained by a bar of chocolate and a glass of milk.’

 Mackenzie then reveals that he writes using a ‘ very thick Swan pen with a very broad nib ‘ and that he avoids writers’ cramp and developing a large corn on the middle finger by holding the pen ‘ very lightly ‘. He is very particular (one might argue, rather obsessive) about the paper he uses and how he creates the physical book. Continue reading

Some pubs in Festival of Britain London and the same pubs seventy years on

imageThe Prospect of Whitby


1951 Here ‘ we can sit on a balcony built over  the edge of the Thames and watch the barges slip down on the tide and the big ships come and go  while we drink beer and sample the cooking for which this pub is famed. It’s not what you call smart and elegant, but it is old established and generally crowded.


  1. It has survived and now boasts of being the oldest pub in London ( est. 1520), though there are other contenders. Customers can still sit out over the Thames, though with the Docks having closed, most of the craft are tourist boats going to and from Greenwich. The food is hardly noteworthy, being mainly homely steak and ale pies, chicken pies and roasts. There are few veggie options, according to one customer, but there wouldn’t have been any in 1951!


The Eagle, City Road


  1. The public house, once run by the Salvation Army and immortalised in the ditty:

‘Up and down the City Road,

In and out ‘The Eagle’

That’s the way the money goes.

Pop goes the weasel’.

The pub still dispenses ‘ good cheer , excellent draught ‘Worthington’ beer, to be exact. City Road used to be the centre of the tailoring trade, and towards the end of a week the little tailors often found it necessary to put their pressing iron—or “ weasel”—into pawn with the Salvation Army publicans until pay day. You can see a “ weasel“ on show in the bar to this day.


  1. It’s still there, but rather more glamorous than it was in the fifties. Its website doesn’t mention its colourful past, so one must go to Know Your London for its history, which includes spells as a Music Hall, where Marie Lloyd performed. Earlier on in its life, the Eagle was mentioned by Dickens in his Sketches by Boz.


The George, Borough.


  1. Just down from London Bridge station, with its’ waterfront façade of warehouses, behind which lie rows of mean streets and little homes which suffered heavily in the Nazi blitz bombing of London’, is the Borough. On the left going southwards can be found a ‘historic gem’ of an inn, the George, once ‘a terminus for stage coaches’. As we enter the coachyard we really do jump back a century. It’s not mere a question of the setting …Who is this Sam Wellerish figure, a real ostler ? And bless my heart, there’s Mr Pickwick himself about to take coach to Dingley Dell. All right, it’s no hallucination. We just happen to have arrived when the admirers of Charles Dickens use the coachyard as a stage to act scenes from his works ‘

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Great Restaurants of the World

Jot 101 Colony cover


No 3: The Colony, New York City

In the days before Michelin starred restaurants there were places where the well heeled went to eat —not only for the food, which was obviously excellent, but perhaps not always the most innovative—and of these the Colony, at the intersection of Madison Avenue and Sixty-First Street in Manhattan, became by 1948, when a biography of it was published by Iles Brody–  arguably the best known in the world. Indeed, the owners of the Colony called their eating place ‘the greatest restaurant in the world.’


The Colony began in 1920 as a small and rather seedy and ‘disreputable ‘ bistro that served good food to customers of the night club above it, many of who were men who brought their mistresses. Then in 1922 its two chefs, Glen Cavallero and Hartmann, plus Head Waiter, Cerutti,  brought out the owner, one Joe Pani, for $25,000 and set about making the new Colony a swanky resort of the rich and famous. Despite the quality of the food, takings were poor for the first few months. The Colony could not shake off its reputation as a ‘ cat house ‘. However, before too long, without any help from Gordon Ramsay, things began to look up thanks to the presence at one of the tables of famous society hostess Mrs Vanderbilt. The multi-millionaire Vanderbilt,  encouraged by his wife, came to see what the fuss was about and later brought his sixteen-year old daughter. Word got about and before too long the Colony became a regular haunt of New York Society. Within three months the daily takings grew from one hundred dollars to ten times that amount. By 1927 – 8 the restaurant cleared over half a million dollars yearly. By this time the Colony had moved to the more ‘ aristocratic ‘ Sixty-first Street, just around the corner.


There were problems though for a high-class restaurant that sold ‘ liquor’ at a time of Prohibition, but the chief barman had a cunning ruse. He kept his wines and spirits in an elevator  and when he was alerted to the imminent arrival of Federal agents he simply ran the elevator car to the top story. And when agents disguised as customers enquired pf the liquor that was being served at table they were informed that it was brandy, but of superior quality to the stuff that was habitually confiscated. A few tots freely donated to the same agents convinced them to keep their mouths shut regarding this blatant violation of Federal law. Continue reading

The Best of British More choices from The Best (1974)


Wilton's restaurantIt’s instructive to get an American view of some British institutions. So here are Peter Passell and Leonard Ross on ‘The Best London Restaurant’.

The trouble with eating in London is that it is like eating in New York. There are vast hordes longing to dine well and dozens of exciting new restaurants longing to fill the void. Yet somehow nothing seems to work out. Perhaps it is only a scarcity of talent—-running a restaurant well demands more than one chef imported from the Continent. More likely it’s incentives. There aren’t enough people who both know good food and are willing to pay for it. Restaurants are made or broken by who shows up, not by what is served. The few establishments that start out with standards find little reason to maintain them. No guidebook inspector will turn the decline into headlines; no army of food pedants will organize a boycott.

Of course, there are a few bright spots. Robert Carrier’s relentless pursuit of the nouveau may irritate the snob, but the fixed menus frequently work well. Inigo Jones’s lovely room can make up for an occasional error in service. The fish is very fresh ( and very expensive) at Wilton’s. The new Capital Hotel dining room produces the best rack of lamb north of Paris. Marynka demonstrates that Polish food is no joke.

But for our money we’ll take London’s Indian/Pakistani restaurants. They tend to be much more sophisticated than the North American version and not nearly so lacking in grace. The best of them, Sri Lanka, is in fact not Indian but Ceylonese, a variant on the national cuisines of the subcontinent. This pretty little restaurant near Earl’s Court ( an unsocial twenty-minute taxi ride west from Mayfair) prepares the predictable curries, flavored rices, and breads as well as well as any other in London and adds a dozen distinguished  Ceylonese specialties. Among them, a super-hot tomato broth ( perhaps really a puree of chili peppers), the pleasure of which comes in the vibration of subtler spices in the aftertaste; delicate rice-flour crepes served with fried eggs; chewy fried breads stuffed with egg, vegetables , or meat, and far superior to the usual Indian paratha; a steamed rice-flour cake drowned in coconut milk. With a couple of German lagers, the bill comes to two pounds per person.

Today, the eating scene in London has changed incredibly. Here you can eat around the globe, from Brazil to Russia and Indonesia to California, often from street stalls in Brick Lane and Portobello Road, a development that Passell and Ross could hardly have imagined. The Indian/Pakistani restaurants are still there, of course, and are proliferating day by day. It is odd that our Americans fail to mention the curry houses centered on Brick Lane, and further east, in and around Whitechapel High Street, where the best of them offer high-class ‘ home-cooking ‘ of the kind described by the authors. But it is true that Sri Lankan restaurants are not as common, but are becoming more so and those that flourish today serve some of the dishes described by Passell and Ross. The restaurant selected out for special praise, however, appears to have gone.

As for the other top restaurants mentioned, Wilton’s is still there and is still very expensive. The restaurant at the Capital Hotel is flourishing and is probably still offering its rack of lamb. Unfortunately, the Marynka near Earl’s Court appears to have disappeared, but there are other Polish eateries in the capital, including the rather dowdy Daquise, near the V & A, which seems to have been around since the First World War.[R.M.Healey]





Table manners in 1939


Etiquette in 1939 pic


How does one know which knife and fork to use when there is an unusually big array at an important dinner ?

No difficulty arises if one remembers that the various knives, forks and spoons are laid in the order in which they will be required, beginning with those on the outside.

When the dinner starts with hors d’oeuvres—those tasty morsels of smoked salmon and sardine, Russian salad and the like—the appropriate silver knife and fork will be placed on the plate. Similarly a fork will be supplied with the plate, or found on the extreme right of the silver, if oysters come first.

Soup is taken with the large spoon found on the right. Next, to the right and left, you will find the fish knife and fork, then a fork, or knife and fork for the entrée, according to its nature. Following will be the large knife and fork for the meat or poultry course, a spoon and fork for the sweet, and finally a knife for cheese.

When dessert is served a small knife and fork will be handed to you with the dessert plate.

Should you by any mischance pick up the wrong knife or fork—or both—do not feel terribly embarrassed. Just ask the waiter quietly for another set when the course arrives for which the utensils were intended.

The dessert course always worries me at a dinner —and generally on that account I refuse it! How should one deal with apples, pears, bananas and so forth?

Apples and pears are held on the dessert fork and peeled with the dessert knife. Then the fruit is cut into quarters, the core removed and smaller portions cut if desirable.

Peaches and similar fruits are held on the fork and skinned with the knife. The fruit is cut into halves, the stone removed with the aid of the knife and fork. Bananas are peeled with knife, cut into pieces and eaten with the fork. Grapes are squeezed into the mouth singly, the skin being kept in the fingers. The fork should be placed to the lips to receive the seeds.

I have noticed that some people use a fork and spoon for the sweet course in a dinner, while other use a fork only. Which is correct ?

Whenever the nature of a dish permits, a fork only should be used. This applies not only to sweets but also to other courses. When the entree, for instance, is a patty or the like, that should be eaten with a fork. A spoon should never be used alone; always use a fork as well, even for such dishes as custard and milk pudding.

With most of the courses of a dinner the procedure is obvious. Others are not so simple to deal with. How should one eat oysters, for instance, or asparagus? Continue reading

‘At Homes’, tea parties, and tea dances: social etiquette in 1939

ADN-Zentralbild/ Archiv Berlin 1926 Im Garten des Berliner Hotels "Esplanada" spielt zum 5 Uhr-Tee eine Jazzband. 17187-26

The always informative and entertaining Everybody’s Best Friend (n.d. but c 1939) devotes many pages to modern etiquette, some of which reminds us today of how much has changed over the intervening years.

Take, for instance, the etiquette of social occasions. ‘ At Homes ‘ were once common. Here is some advice.

I am attending a formal “At Home “ shortly. As this will be my first experience of this event, what may I expect the procedure to be?

Unless you receive a card stating a particular hour, do not arrive at the house earlier than 3.30 p.m., nor later that 5.30.A heavy coat or a rain-coat should be left in the hall, but the hat is not removed. You will be greeted by your hostess and introduced to other guests.

Usually the hostess will offer a cup of tea and a morsel of bread and butter or cake.

A visit on an “ At Home “ day normally lasts for twenty minutes to half an hour. You should not stay longer unless especially asked to do so by your hostess. Take your leave quietly. Friends who arrive later will not be leaving at the same time, so you do not want to interrupt the proceedings by your departure. Shake hands with your hostess and just smile and bow to the others.

There were specific rules for tea parties too.

I am thinking of asking to a little tea party some of the girls in the office where I worked before marriage. What sort of invitations should be issued and what should I put on the table?

Invitations to a tea-party take the form of little notes something like this:-

“ Dear _____,

“ I am having a few friends to tea on Saturday next, December18, at 4.30p.m., and should be happy if you would join us.

                                                                                “Yours sincerely,


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Early Edwardian Warwickshire pea-pickers

Found at Jot HQ a little volume of rural sketches by Herbert W. Tompkins, a specialist in topographical writing who flourished in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. His home ground was Middlesex and Hertfordshire and his best known book is arguably Highways
and Byways in Hertfordshire
(1902), which was illustrated by the visionary etcher F .L. Griggs, who hailed from Hitchin.

Jot 101 pea pickers Broom

By the time The Complete Idler appeared in 1905 Tompkins was living in Southend – on- Sea, but among the bucolic sketches in this collection there is nothing on Essex. Instead the author focused on places in his home territory with the odd venture out into Hampshire and Warwickshire. It was the latter that inspired one of the more enlightening cameos in the book—‘Warwickshire Pea Pickers’.


To say that Tompkins was inspired by the tradition of pea-picking in or around Clifford Chambers, near Stratford-in-Avon, is not quite true. Impressed by an account of this activity by the well-known American dramatic critic and leading light of the Pfaff Bohemians, William Winter, that had appeared in the pages of Harper’s Magazinearound 1870, Tompkins decided to investigate himself with a friend who owned a crop of peas. Looking back at this visit Tompkins admits that Winter’s account ‘might have been penned yesterday ‘. Here is Tompkins:


‘Our adventures began when we crossed the railroad at the swing gates and found our trap promptly surrounded by a dozen hungry-looking, half-clad wayfarers, as destitute in their appearance as those hunger-bitten peasants seen in sunny France by Arthur Young. They were pea-pickers—men, women, and children—and were eager to learn from my friend, who had bought the standing crop thereabouts, when and where they should next go picking. They were worthy of study.
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The ‘’Best’ in 1974, according to two Americans, one of whom had been a child prodigy


The best Champagne

‘,…Short of the best—which some may find an extravagance at eight pounds—it doesn’t make sense to buy champagne. The five pound variety is rarely worth the price. Since competitive alternatives can be had for half as much. From France, the dry sparkling wines of Seyssel are often the equal of medium-priced champagne. California “ champagne” ( the long arm of the French labelling law does not reach across the Atlantic ) can also be quite decent; the best are Korbel Natural and Hans Kornell.

The best college at Oxford

Screen Shot 2020-12-12 at 12.06.52 PM‘Magdalen, both the most beautiful and the most intellectually diverse. Christ Church is an unreconstructed sanctuary of the worst in British snobbery; Balliol is like an American law school, full of politics and ambition. Magdalen has everything : class warfare on even terms, superb tutors, an immense spectrum of interests and tastes’.      Other colleges are available…

The best diet

‘The crashing bore of it all. Everyone knows what the best diet is…Lean meat, cottage cheese. Skim milk, an occasional slice of bread or a baked potato, fresh fruit and veggies; no skipping breakfast, apples and carrot sticks for snacks, plenty of leafy greens to prevent the inevitable…The only thing wrong with the diet—besides the fact that no one in his right mind would stick to it –is that calorie recommendations are too generous, even for the intended audience… Continue reading

Coffee and Kafka, anyone?

In an issue dated June 4th1954 of Desiderata, the weekly publication ‘providing a direct link between library and bookseller‘ we find the following news snippet from the back page:coffee machine 1950

A Sussex bookseller has set up a coffee-bar at the back of his spacious shop with a counter, decorated in red and gold and equipped with the latest type of coffee machine, fitted into a tall bookcase. He claims, no doubt correctly, that it is the only coffee-bar to be found in any bookshop in the country and says, according to a press report, that in installing it he had in mind the coffee-houses of the 18thcentury “ at which it was customary for people interested in books to meet to discuss literature”.

A  good idea, perhaps, but not our cup of tea.

The report does not state whether the unnamed bookseller/barista sold second hand books or new ones, or both, but since most of the content of Desideratais devoted to the ‘wants‘ of provincial libraries and second hand booksellers (the eminent dealer Charles Traylen is featured in this particular issue), we can reasonably suppose that the bookseller in question dealt in second hand books.

We have absolutely no idea why this dealer should be so certain that his shop was a pioneer in providing coffee, but the tone of the report seems to suggest that to the journalists who covered this story such a service was a great novelty. Nor are we told whether this coffee was offered free to customers as a sales gimmick, or had to be paid for. We at Jot 101 pose this question because we remember well back in the 1990s a certain book dealer in Hitchin, Hertfordshire ( alas now gone) who supplied comfy seats on which customers could drink their free cup of very good percolated coffee. This most welcome bonus only lasted a few years, but at the time your Jotter felt it to be a rather clever way of establishing good relations with the clientele. Before then and since coffee, when it featured at all in bookshops, which was rare enough, it had to be paid for.

We looked in vain on the Net for book dealers of the 1950s who might have emulated the Sussex dealer’s example, but good ideas in marketing are almost always copied in some form or other by rivals, so there must have been a few takers for this coffee ‘n’ books scheme. Certainly many dealers over the years have tried to inculcate in their premises an informality akin to that found in a private library. In the 1980s the legendary Shakespeare & Co on the Left Bank in Paris positively encouraged customers to become literary flaneurs by providing sofas for them to lounge around on. And an earlier Jot featured a certain bookseller in the USA who made her small shop a simalcrum of a some arty person’s back parlour, with tasteful bric a brac jostling for attention with rare books. [R. M. Healey]


E.V. Knox on oysters


Cornelis de Heem (via Ocean’s Bridge with thanks)

Found – a typed manuscript with inked corrections in the hand of its author ‘Evoe’ i.e .E.V. Knox. Probably a contribution by him to Punch, or possibly read out by him at a feast or function. He attended many and was often called upon to entertain. No date, but posssibly late 1940s, the annotations being in biro. In format and sound it has echoes of the British Grenadiers song (‘..some talk of Alexander and some of Hercules..’) or Lear’s The walrus and the Carpenter. Take it away Evoe–


Of Fishes and Food


The oysters of Great Britain

Were bought to Julius Caesar;

He bolted them in unbitten

And smiled like Mona Lisa.

The Emperor Augustus

Preferred them put in patties.

His cook, whose name was Justus,

Could never serve him satis.

The Emperor Tiberius,

A man debased and selfish,

Was never wholly serious

Except about these shellfish.

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Eating healthily the Focus way



Focus Purpose announcement 001

In an earlier Jot we looked at the June 1928 issue of Focus, a pocket monthly magazine, published in London, which was devoted to alternative medicine, healthy eating and what today we might call  ‘New Age’ concerns. Little is known about this publication, apart from the fact that the publishers were the fringe medicine outfit C.W.Daniel. However, from the issue of December 1928 we now discover that although Focushad begun life just two years before, the publishers had decided to close it down and replace it, starting in January 1929, with a quarterly periodical to be called Purpose.

Readers of Focuswere left to imagine what the successor might turn out to be. All that was said was that the aims of the new magazine were to be the same as ever, that is to say, the promotion of ‘the ethics of mind and body’.

As for this final issue of Focus, it was the usual eclectic mixture of articles on philosophy, literary philosophy ( with H.G.Wells and Tolstoy examined), left-field speculations on medicine ( the common cold revisited) and metaphysics , and longest of all these, a fascinating item on healthy eating that focussed on daily menus. All this supplemented by a solid twenty pages of adverts for radical books, a directory of vegetarian boarding houses and ‘Nature Cure Establishments‘ . Continue reading

Literary drinkers


The actual book being discussed is entitled ‘More Literary Drinkers’, but as we at Jot 101 haven’t read Pete Bunten’s ‘Literary Drinkers’, we will start with this sequel.

Bunten assembles the usual suspects in alphabetical order rather than in their degrees of bibulousness, which in some cases is not why they are in his book. They are: the Brontes, Roy Campbell (left), J.P.Donleavy, Ian Fleming, John Fothergill, Oliver Goldsmith, W.W.Jacobs, Jerome K Jerome, D.H.Lawrence, C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkein,Norman McCaig, Julian Maclaren Ross, Thomas Nashe, Eugene O’Neill, Dorothy Parker, Joseph Roth, Shakespeare, R.S.Surtees, Graham Swift , and Evelyn Waugh.

The book is well written, as it should be, considering that Bunten, who is ( or was ) a schoolteacher, is a graduate in  English from Cambridge. And there are some amusing pen portraits. One of the best concerns the belligerent South African poet Roy Campbell, who comes across as a near-alcoholic, quite capable of downing 4 ½ litres of wine a day. Bunten is right to see him as a victim of his own determination to project himself as macho through reckless physical activity and alcohol. His fiancee’s father warned her against marrying a ‘dipsomaniac‘, but she ignored his advice and paid the price. The discovery of her affair with Vita Sackville West sent Campbell off on a lengthy bender, which seems to us the sign of an emotionally weak person, rather than a manly one. And is it manly, one asks, to physically attack an unarmed Stephen Spender and Geoffrey Grigson, who Bunten calls ‘ timid ‘,with a knobkerrie ?  To evade such a drunken assault, as Grigson did, after having learnt that Spender had already been hit by Campbell, is hardly the action of a timid person. Later, Anthony West commented on the encounter   with the gruff ‘ You should have kicked him in the balls ‘.In his brilliant Recollections (1984) Grigson recalls being  a witness to another example of  Campbell’s boorish behaviour.

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The Devon hotel where Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited

BridesheadIf you fancied a change of scene during WW2 there were problems that needed to be considered if you chose to stay in a hotel or B & B. In his wartime edition of Let’s Halt Awhile(1942) ‘ Ashley Courtenay ‘ offered this advice to the holidaymaker.

Book your accommodation well in advance. Do not assume “You will get in somewhere,”, it is very unlikely, and they do not encourage sleeping on the sands in war time.

If you want to get a meal en route, telephone ahead, or arrive very early. Pot luck means no luck and an empty pot.

Take your Ration Book with you AND your soap.

If you are lucky enough to have drinks of your own, there are few licensed hotels which would object to your bringing them with you. It would be polite to mention the matter, and invite the Proprietor to have one.

When traveling by long distance train, be on the platform half an hour before the train is due to start, that is to say if you want a seat.  If there is a Restaurant Car on the train, get a ticket from the Attendant immediately you have fixed your seat.

If your Leave is unfortunately cancelled, have the courtesy to telegraph or telephone  

the Proprietors at once. Someone else going on unexpected Leave might be glad of your room. Remember that British Hotels have limited single room accommodation, so share when you can.

Ashley Courtenay who, like the Good Food Guidefounder, Raymond Postgate (see previous Jots) who came later, compiled his accommodation guide both from personal visits and from the recommendations of others, had a lot of good things to say of the Easton Court Hotel, near Chagford, Devon. Continue reading

The Good Food Guide is launched

Good Food Guide Leader mag pic 001Last year we featured some Jots based on entries taken from the 1960 -1 edition of the Good Food Guide. Recently we were lucky to find among a run of the entertaining Leader magazine dated 20 May 1950 an article by the Guide’s founder, social historian Raymond Postgate, announcing the launching of ‘The Good Food Club’, as it was then known.

The tone of the article is a refreshing mixture of enthusiasm for the future of British eating-out and a denunciation of hospitality practices present and past. ‘We have been extremely patient ‘, Postgate complains, ‘but now the last excuses have ceased to be valid, Food is ill-cooked in hotels and restaurants, or it is insufficient, or it is badly and rudely served up—or all three ‘.

By 1950 much of the rationing to which much home produce had been subjected for ten years was gone, as had the 5s ( 25p) meal limit imposed by the Ministry of Food ( see a previous Jot). So, in Postgate’s opinion, hotels and restaurants now had no excuses not to serve up generous portions of good quality food with courtesy. But as Leonard P Thompson demonstrated in his account of poor hospitality in 1948 ( see recent jot) such experiences were the rule rather than the exception.

The article brings up some revealing points. We had no idea that back then drinks could not normally be served in hotels after 10 o’clock at night. That rule seems absurd today. However, we were aware that sixty odd years ago the Basil Fawlty style of hotelier cited by Postgate was more common than today—the reason possibly being that Cleese’s character acted as a corrective to poor service. It is also interesting to discover that in 1950 ‘ English law does not allow you to tell unkind truths about hotels and cafes, unless you are very rich and don’t care about libel actions ‘. Today, thanks to the excellent Trip Advisor, the angry recipient of poor accommodation and disgusting food can do just that with no fear of a letter from Messrs Sue, Grabbit and Runne landing on the doormat. Which is how it should be. Continue reading