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Female 1947 - 2014  (66 years)

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  • Name Clarissa DICKSON-WRIGHT 
    Born 24 Jun 1947  London Clinic, 20 Devonshire Place, London Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Female 
    (also known as)
    Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson-Wright 
    Occupation Author 
    • See

      Wright, Clarissa Dickson (1947–2014), cook and television presenter, was born on 24 June 1947 at the London Clinic, 20 Devonshire Place, London, the youngest of four children (three daughters and one son) of Arthur (Dicky) Dickson Wright (1897–1976), a prominent surgeon whose patients included the Queen Mother, and his wife (Aileen Mary) Molly, née Bath (1908–1975), an Australian heiress. At the time of her birth registration her parents lived at 46 Circus Road, St John’s Wood, London. Her father was born in Rathmines, co. Dublin. His parents were of the Irish Protestant ascendancy, then joined the Plymouth Brethren and said they had moved to Scotland to avoid Roman Catholics, though he married Molly Bath at the Church of St Pierre of Chaillot in Paris in 1927. Molly Wright’s father, Tom H. Bath, was born in Cornwall, went to Australia as a mining engineer, and then took the family to Malaya and Singapore. The procedure for choosing Clarissa’s first name, she claimed, was that ‘They blindfolded my mother and turned her loose in the library, where she pulled out a copy of Richardson’s Clarissa’ (Dickson Wright, 20). She also later recorded that she had been named Clarissa Teresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright, though only the name Clarissa appears on her birth certificate.
      Clarissa Dickson Wright herself adopted the double surname (sometimes hyphenated); her father, she said, ‘turned down repeated offers of a knighthood because … he had worked very hard to acquire the surgeon’s right to be called Mr Wright’ (Dickson Wright, 1). She also said her mother had told her that she ‘was conceived in a bath in Norfolk in September 1946’, and claimed she’d been a ‘nasty shock to everyone’, being thirteen years younger than the next youngest child, Anthony (ibid., 1). She also suggested that her father was responsible for transmitting ‘the alcoholic gene’ to her (ibid., 2), and that he suffered from an irascible temper, and was violent, regularly battering her mother, brother, and herself, although one year after Clarissa’s death her elder sister, Heather, denied these charges in an interview, saying, ‘He never hit any of us. He sometimes had a temper, but he wasn’t violent’ (Daily Mail, 4 Apr 2015).
      When Clarissa was three months old, the family moved to 39 Circus Road, where she remained for the next twenty-eight years. The house, built in 1809, consisted of nine bedrooms, a library, a drawing room, a gallery, four cellars, a large servants’ sitting room, a covered loggia, and three-quarters of an acre of garden. Among the visitors were Yehudi Menuhin, who stood on his head to amuse the youngest child, Philip Harben, Harry Secombe, and Audrey Pleydell-Bouverie, who detailed the purported sexual means by which Mrs Simpson captured Edward VIII. In the early 1950s Clarissa flew with her mother and father to Singapore, the first journey she could remember, and her memories were entirely of the food, except for the bottle of crème de menthe from which she took a daily sip until the cook, Ah Poo, was sacked ‘for lying about taking the stuff. I owned up and he was reinstated’ (Dickson Wright, 26–7). The journey continued to Australia, and she was sent briefly to the Loreto Convent at Ballarat, where her mother had been a pupil. The following year the family went to Brazil. On the boat there, she was induced to masturbate a steward: ‘I found this fascinating’ (ibid., 27). She told her mother, who wisely ‘made no fuss to me, so I suffered no trauma, the man was taken off the ship and my mother gently explained that some things were only for grown-ups. I was therefore’, she claimed, ‘unharmed by the experience’ (ibid., 27–8). She was a sickly child, by her own account, and once had an ear infection so severe that it would not respond to penicillin, and she was told that if the infection burst ‘I would die and if they operated I would possibly be totally deaf’. The day before the scheduled surgery, her mother placed on her ear ‘a relic of Blessed Martin de Porres, the black Brazilian Dominican monk’. She was pleased that her complete recovery was ‘one of the miracles that contributed to the final canonisation of St Martin … My mother and I went to Lima for the canonisation ceremony’ (ibid., 36–7).
      At the age of eleven, Clarissa was sent to the Sacred Heart Convent at Hove, where she loved boarding, and got on well with the nuns. She was intelligent, did well academically, and was captain of games—playing lacrosse, cricket (in which she later qualified as an umpire), and tennis. She rode, hunted, and, having to resit her Latin A levels at Woldingham School, Surrey, for two terms, became addicted to the pipe she learned to smoke for a school play. Her father was determined that his daughter should study medicine, and refused to help with the career she chose. Forced to stay at home, she studied for the Bar at Gray’s Inn and did an external law degree at University College, London. Passing her Bar exams at twenty-one (the minimum age at the time), she was the youngest female barrister at that date and remained so until the minimum age for taking the exams was removed in 2009. She did her pupillage in a general common law chambers headed by Neil Taylor, shared in some courtroom successes, got a tenancy in chambers, and was praised by Lord Denning. She enjoyed an active sex life, on one occasion with an MP she does not name ‘behind the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Commons during the summer vacation’ (Dickson Wright, 88–9). At home her still-young mother gave dinner parties, though without a cook, as her father balked at paying maintenance and her mother’s inheritance was still tied up in the courts. Her mother turned out to be a good cook, and Clarissa then determined to learn to cook herself.
      In 1973 Clarissa’s father had a series of strokes in South Africa, but was brought back to the Lindo wing of his own hospital, St Mary’s, Paddington, and lived on for another three years, while her mother died in June 1975. Clarissa inherited her entire estate of £2.8 million. She had to go to Australia and the Far East to sort out the estate, and came back to face the first of her bankruptcies, turning on the £1000 bill for the funeral champagne. In view of her expected inheritance, she was not actually insolvent; and eventually the bankruptcy was annulled and she was allowed to return to chambers. In short order she discovered the pleasures of chartering a yacht in the Caribbean and of London’s all-day drinking clubs. Her intake rose to two bottles of gin a day, plus the half-bottle of vodka to help her get out of bed. She had the great love affair of her life, with ‘Clive’, a Lloyds underwriter who was also an alcoholic. In 1983 she was finally disbarred. By the age of forty she had spent her riches, was homeless, and sleeping rough.
      Dickson Wright was able to find the odd job as a cook, but by April 1987 she had been to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, acknowledged her addictions to alcohol and nicotine, and took herself to Robert Lefever’s Promis rehabilitation clinic in Kent. She also discovered the Portobello Road cookery bookshop, Books for Cooks, where she found her vocation, and settled down and worked through the late 1980s and 1990s, until she had a falling-out with the owner, Heidi Lascelles. During this time she made her first television appearance, with Sophie Grigson in an episode of Grigson’s Eat Your Greens, directed by Patricia Llewellyn. Moving to Scotland, she was happy to find friends and patrons.
      In 1994 Llewellyn had an idea for a television series, and rang Dickson Wright: ‘Do you know Jennifer Paterson?’ (Dickson Wright, 230). They had indeed met once, in Tuscany, with Lascelles. Over lunch in London, ‘when Pat told us her idea, that we should go around the country cooking from a motorbike and sidecar, Jennifer and I fell about laughing’ (ibid.). She, and her equally plummy-voiced co-presenter, Jennifer Paterson, nevertheless achieved fame late in life for the television cookery programme, Two Fat Ladies, which aired on the BBC for four series, from 9 October 1996 (when she was forty-nine and Paterson sixty-eight) until 28 September 1999, with frequent repeats.
      Jennifer Mary Paterson (1928–1999), cook and television presenter, was born on 3 April 1928 in a nursing home at 33 Redcliffe Gardens, Kensington, London, though ‘I was conceived in China and went back there at three months’ (The Times, 11 Aug 1999), living there to the age of five, as her father, Robert Edward Michael Paterson (d. 1964), an army officer in the Seaforth highlanders in both world wars, was then working in China for the Asiatic Petroleum Company. Her mother, Josephine Mary Antonia, née Bartlett (1898–1986), was the sister of Monsignor Francis Bartlett, senior priest at Westminster Cathedral, and of Anthony Bartlett, who ran his family’s well-known shop, the Art and Book Company, specializing in church decorating, a few feet away from the cathedral’s great west door.
      Paterson said she was expelled, aged fifteen, from her school, the Convent of the Assumption, Ramsgate. At sixteen she was working at an assistant stage manager at the Windsor Repertory Theatre, but soon set off on her travels, spending two years in Berlin (where her father’s military career took the family) before accepting a post teaching English in Portugal; she lived subsequently in Venice (with her family) and Sicily. Returning to England in 1952, she was briefly resident matron at Padworth College in Berkshire, followed by an equally brief time as cook to the Ugandan legation in London. She worked backstage on some early Candid Camera programmes with Jonathan Routh, who hosted her famously raucous forty-fifth birthday party in 1973, in the Sloane Street flat he shared with the wealthy heiress Olga Deterding. The police who raided the party were startled that so many of the guests were clergy. Though Jennifer was to be seen at all the smartest parties, whizzing to them on her motorbike, she was desperately poor, often living out of a strapped-on suitcase. ‘In the 1960s’, she said, ‘I was often short of money and sometimes even without a roof over my head, but I was never without a glass of champagne and a party invitation’ (The Guardian, 11 Aug 1999). From about 1980 onwards, she lived with her uncle Anthony at 180A Ashley Gardens, in London.
      In the late 1970s Paterson began cooking the Thursday lunches at the Spectator magazine in Doughty Street, where she also acted as hostess, cooking for, among many others, Graham Greene, the Prince of Wales, Enoch Powell, Alger Hiss, and Barry Humphries, who is said to have left the table as himself, and returned in full drag as Dame Edna Everage, to the consternation of fellow guest Spiro Agnew. Paterson had a temper as short as her co-star-to-be, and in 1984, finding her Spectator kitchen untidy, she threw the crockery out of the window, for which she was relieved of her cooking duties but given a successful recipe column. She dressed always in a flowing smock, with a packet of Woodbine cigarettes in one pocket and a flask of whisky in the other. Her nails were luridly painted, and her fingers be-ringed—to such an extent that there were complaints about hygiene when she cooked for the cameras. She had a saint for every occasion, and, in her deep bass voice, endorsed St Rita for lost objects and St Joseph ‘for general purposes’ (The Independent, 11 Aug 1999). She seemed to have no romantic life, but relished her reputation as a ‘fag hag’, and insisted that homosexuality lost its glamour ‘when they made it legal’ (ibid.).
      Two Fat Ladies brought these two stout and formidable women cooks together, Paterson driving the Triumph Thunderbird motorbike with Dickson Wright in the double-width sidecar, and the number-plate ‘N88 TFL’, ‘Number 88’ being the bingo-caller’s ‘two fat ladies’. Originally there was a script, but Llewellyn quickly saw that they could not and would not speak anyone else’s words—and, in any case, there was no need, since the two’s actual conversation was sufficiently colourful, camp, and funny. Four series were made by Llewellyn’s company, Optomen, with the duo cooking two dishes each at every location—posh hotels, embassies, polo clubs, scout camps, boys’ and girls’ boarding schools, several stately homes, and Winchester Cathedral. Watched by many millions of viewers in the UK, there were equally huge viewing figures in the USA, Australia, and other Commonwealth countries. The cookery books, which accompanied each of the four television series, were Two Fat Ladies: Gastronomic Adventures (With Motorbike and Sidecar) (1996), The Two Fat Ladies Ride Again (1997), The Two Fat Ladies: Full Throttle (1998), and Two Fat Ladies: Obsessions (1999). Paterson also published Feast Days: Recipes from the Spectator (1990), Jennifer’s Diary: The Diary of One Fat Lady (1997), and Seasonal Receipts (1999); and after Paterson’s death Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson edited Enjoy! A Celebration of Jennifer Paterson (2000), with contributions from Dickson Wright, Richard Ingrams, and Ned Sherrin, among others. Dickson Wright published The Haggis: A History (1996), Heiland Foodie (1997), an autobiography, Spilling the Beans (2007), Clarissa’s Comfort Food (2008), Rifling Through My Drawers: My Life in a Year (2009), Potty! Clarissa’s One-Pot Cookbook (2010), A history of English Food (2011), and Clarissa’s England (2012).
      Paterson died in London on 10 August 1999, of lung cancer. Dickson Wright made another set of television programmes, Clarissa and the countryman (2000–03), with her hill farmer friend, Sir John (Johnny) Scott, fifth baronet, and devoted the rest of her life to giving her urban self a rural makeover, opposing the anti-hunting brigade and vegetarianism and supporting hare-coursing, local food production, and a diet of red meat, butter, and cream. She was an icon for the Countryside Alliance, spoke at rallies, and adored being the first woman lord rector of Aberdeen University, from 1999 to 2005. In 2003 she filed for bankruptcy, with debts of £90,000, blaming it on two failed business ventures and slow payment by the BBC. She died in the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, on 15 March 2014, of hospital-acquired pneumonia and other causes. Her funeral mass was at St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, on 7 April.

    Occupation 2007 
    Author of 'Spilling the Beans' 
    Extract from 'Spilling the Beans'
    Extract from 'Spilling the Beans'
    by Clarissa Dickson Wright
    Died 15 Mar 2014  Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Clarissa Dickson Wright
    Clarissa Dickson Wright
    Obituary Daily Telegraph 17/3/2014
    The Sunday Times 23/3/1914
    Person ID I5977  1. Essex Ennevers
    Last Modified 7 Mar 2019 

    Father Arthur Dickson WRIGHT, MS FRCS,   Born:  5 May 1897, Rathmines, Co. Dublin, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location,   Died:  6 Jan 1976  (Age 78 years) 
    Mother Aileen W BATH,   Born:  27 Jun 1906,   Died:  1975  (Age 68 years) 
    Married 2 Feb 1927  Church St Pierre of Chaillot, Paris, France Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Family ID F1651  Family Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - 24 Jun 1947 - London Clinic, 20 Devonshire Place, London Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDied - 15 Mar 2014 - Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 

  • Documents
    Clarissa Dickson Wright (1947-
    Clarissa Dickson Wright (1947-
    Entry in Who's Who 2008

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