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Spilling the Beans: The Autobiography of One…
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Spilling the Beans: The Autobiography of One of Television's Two Fat… (edition 2010)

by Clarissa Dickson Wright (Author)

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2301074,572 (3.74)15
Member:NathanielPoe
Title:Spilling the Beans: The Autobiography of One of Television's Two Fat Ladies
Authors:Clarissa Dickson Wright (Author)
Info:Harry N. Abrams (2010), 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:1. Wright, Clarissa Dickson. 2. Autobiography. 3. Food TV. 4. Cooking shows. 5. Alcoholism. 6. Politics

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Spilling the Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright

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Not to Speak Ill of the Dead, but. . . .

Television's Two Fat Ladies are now deceased. Clarissa Dickson Wright passed away in March 2014 at the age of 56. Dickson Wright's motorcycle pilot and sidekick, Jennifer Paterson, was 71 years old when she died in 1999. When Paterson died, the Two Fat Ladies cooking show died with her. Wherever the old girls are now, we should all hope they aren't tortured by wicked imps and forced to bake Devil's Food cakes.

Paterson dead, Dickson Wright was left to get a living on her own. Clarissa decided to write and was successful as the author of several books. In 2007, she published an autobiography titled "Spilling the Beans". I bought and eagerly read my own copy in 2009; I can't remember just when. The book and my thoughts concerning it drew my attention again when I saw in Wikipedia that Dickson Wright died in 2014.

I wasn't writing reviews when I read Dickson Wright's book in 2009. Now the thing has my attention again, I spent a few hours skimming through "Spilling the Beans" once more and what follows is my reaction.

The Last Fat Lady Standing. . . .

Speaking strictly of autobiographers, Dickson Wright was more fun than most and better reading than a great many. She was a competent writer, a side-splitting raconteur (think Clarissa Dangerfield), and a maniacal name-dropper. If she actually kew half the people she claimed to know or have encountered on occasion (I personally don't doubt her.) she did enough living for a few dozen clods like yours truly.

Overall I was most impressed by Dickson Wright's forthright confession to acute alcoholism, to sleeping on the streets occasionally, to squandering every dime she had, to the swamp of shame and degradation into which John Barleycorn leads those who (like this writer) are fool enough to follow. Members of polite society who have never been to the Swamp or seen someone fall in have no idea how low one can actually sink on a liquor binge.

Whatever Clarissa left out is between her and her god, and that's exactly as it should be because addictive behavior can be hideously disgusting. For example, I once sat in a 12-step meeting and listened to a seemingly angelic young woman tell how she formerly went to the loo at the supper club where she worked as a hostess, there to lock herself in a stall so she could squat over the john and "cook" her cocaine fix in a spoonful of water dipped from the bowl beneath her.

Experience tells me that sober drunks and "clean" dope addicts often lack the nerve to admit such things. However, when I consider the things she did 'fess up to, I believe Dickson Wright told most of her truth in "Spilling the Beans."

I also believe that the miracle of Dickson Wright's recovery had much to do with the fact that she was born into and grew up in a home where social skills were appreciated by at least one parent or guardian. If her father was a drunk and a child beater (as she alleges), her mother or her nanny or her teachers or someone instilled social skills in the children by whatever means. I say so because however unhappy Clarissa's childhood may have been, she at least came up in the world knowing the worth of friends, how to make friends, and how to keep them. Looking past the horror stories so often told about boarding schools (Orwell, Dickens, Graves, et al.) the experience seems to have been beneficial in Clarissa's case.

I'll guess some more by saying that Clarissa Dickson Wright was one of those whom folks in recovery label "a high-bottom drunk." The label implies that Clarissa fell off of twenty stories but somehow landed on the seventeenth floor, so she didn't get killed or hurt so badly as those who hurtle headlong all the way to the pavement. In her case, she lost her home; she lost her money; she lost her looks; she lost her dignity. But she didn't lose all of her friends.

Again, I'll guess and say the good things that happened for Clarissa after she sobered up didn't simply fall into her lap nor did she herself create them all. Always giving her credit for having sense enough to seize an opportunity when she stumbled upon one, some of those opportunities were surely dropped in her way by old friends from better days, friends who had hoped for her recovery and were quick to help her when the chance came. My hat's off to people like them and to Clarissa, who must have given thanks when she knew thanks were due.

On a darker note, it looks to me that Clarissa's 12-step commitment to "rigorous personal honesty" was somewhat less than rigorous where matters other than alcohol were at issue. The following paragraph is one I swiped from "Spilling the Beans," p. 271:

In Los Angeles ". . . the three of us went to Nobu for dinner, where The Food Network had in error booked us seats at the sushi bar rather than at a table in the restaurant. . . . I went to bat with a splendid tantrum in my best English vowels. A rather ordinary-looking man with stubble on his chin and unkempt hair came up and said we could have his table. On being seated, Pat asked how we had got the table and I pointed out the man. . . . her jaw dropped, since the man was none other than Robert de Niro, the owner of the restaurant. We thanked him profusely but . . . he wouldn't join us. De Niro had discovered and backed chef Matsuhisa, the creator of his new wave Japanese cuisine. There are now Nobu restaurants in New York, Paris, London, Aspen and even very bravely in Tokyo. I find his food incredibly exciting and whenever Pat offers to take me out to dinner in London I ask to go to Nobu."

What I believe I see there is that television star Clarissa couldn't bother being civil to "an ordinary-looking man with stubble on his chin and unkempt hair." But when that same man turned out to be Robert de Niro, Clarissa was ready, willing, and eager to kiss his butt from L.A. to Tokyo and back. Others will feel as they may, but toadies make me hurl.

Same goes for Clarissa's politics. Upper middle-class, hypocritical, Tory conservatism was Dickson Wright's political milier, and in the last three chapters of "Spilling the Beans," all of that comes to the fore. She accused opponents of being paid terrorists. She told horror stories about searching for bombs under her car. She alleged that her television series, "Clarissa and the Countryman," came to an end because BBC big-shots sympathized with her political enemies. But she cited nothing to substantiate any of those accusations.

So it was that when she entered into politics Dickson Wright exhibited the sort of behavior that, in her opponents, she would decry as lies or crackpot conspiracies. It was with Clarissa just as it is with most activists everywhere: Those who engage in confrontational politics typically yell "Foul!!!!" when a fire they themselves started gets a little too hot. Well, I don't like boohoos any better than toadies.

The first three quarters of "Spilling the Beans" is some of the best tragicomic entertainment that human nature can offer. In this reader those first chapters built an empathy for Clarissa that, unfortunately, the author went a way toward wrecking in the final few chapters. Still, I must admit that Dickson Wright gave us what seems to me a fearless autobiography.

Summing up: When one of the "Two Fat Ladies" died, the other should have stayed in the kitchen. Five stars for good writing, some good laughs, and a fine story overall. Minus one star for mucking up what had been a highly entertaining autobiography with three final chapters of snobbery and crank politics.

Advice to bookies: By all means read "Spilling the Beans" if you get the itch. The book is worth your while no matter what you've survived. I believe all books written by either or both of the Fat Ladies are for sale at bookstores all over the WWW. If you buy new or used doesn't matter any more 'cuz both of the old gals are dead.

And finally: For those who want more, there is more to have. "The London Daily Mail" published a wonderful piece on the death of Jennifer Paterson, the end of the Two Fat Ladies, and the final career of Clarissa Dickson Wright. The Daily Mail article / eulogy features what's alleged to be a candid look at the relationship between the two women. On the whole it's a fine, fun read and the photos are swell. Any true fan of the Two Fat Ladies should run that story down and read it.

Clarissa Dixon Wright
"Spilling the Beans: The Autobiography of One of Television's Two Fat Ladies"
New York: The Overlook Press
Hardcover: 336 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-59020-296-8; 328 pp. 2009. $29.95

Four Stars.

Solomon Sed. ( )
  NathanielPoe | Mar 15, 2019 |
Her family sucks. Not loving all the hunting references. She has traveled everywhere including the Bermuda Triangle.
  jerseyjane | Dec 4, 2013 |
Clarissa Dickson Wright is known to American audiences as one of the BBC's Two Fat Ladies cooking show. She and Jennifer Paterson would travel the British countryside in a motorcycle and sidecar, cooking local specialties and regaling us with ribald and quirky commentary. Those, like me, who are familiar with her show will recognize her forthright and humorous way of expressing herself. I was not aware of her bizarre childhood and abusive father, her career as a barrister and her descent into alcoholism -- running through a substantial inheritance to sleeping rough on the streets.

Her rock bottom was rocky indeed. She is most candid about her road to recovery and reliance on the principles of AA. Cooking and the television shows resurrected her life and her career. The latter part of the book focuses on her political activities in support of countryside and hunting. Not living in England, this isn't an issue which captures my imagination, so a good portion of the book was not interesting to me. I also wish there would have been more on the actual cooking and the making of the television programs. Nevertheless, Wright's love and zest for life comes through in this dishy account of her eventful life and her many friends and acquaintances. ( )
  michigantrumpet | Aug 22, 2013 |
Spilling the Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright, one of the Two Fat Ladies from the British cooking show, is written in the time-honoured tradition of the overblown celebrity autobiography. Outspoken, opinionated, exaggerated, name-dropping, gossipy, and highly entertaining. I don't agree with some of her opinions, some of her anecdotes and "facts" are questionable, but she is definitely an interesting person, who has led a life very far removed from my own experience. Much of the book deals with serious issues of abuse and addiction, but I never felt that I had to put it down because it got too depressing. The behind the scenes look at the production of the "Two Fat Ladies" show is fascinating, as is the glimpse at a privileged lifestyle that was not all that it seemed. It is not great literature, but it is everything one looks for in a celebrity memoir. ( )
1 vote SylviaC | Jun 27, 2013 |
Ghastly *ghastly* woman. Self-aggrandising, taking credit for things for which she had nothing to do whatsoever and exaggerating to such a degree that I'm tempted to think she fabricated many of her anecdotes. She comes off as so damned pleased with herself that even when describing her dark alcoholic days, she can't stop being boastful and one gets the feeling she's proud of being THE WORST ALCOHOLIC IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. And let's not get started on the racism. As if that weren't enough, I nearly ran out of red ink correcting all the grammatical and spelling mistakes in this sorry excuse for a book. ( )
2 vote miss_read | Jun 25, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0340933895, Paperback)

As a child, Clarissa Dickson Wright was surrounded by wealth and privilege. Her mother was an Australian heiress, her father a brilliant surgeon to the Royal family. But he was also a tyrannical and violent drunk who used to beat her and force her to eat rotten food. When her adored mother died suddenly, Clarissa fell into a mind-numbing decade of wild overindulgence that eventually cost her entire fortune. After a long, hard road to recovery, Clarissa finally faced her demons and turned to the one thing that had always brought her joy: cooking. Now at last she has found sobriety and peace, and her TV parternship with the beloved late Jennifer Paterson as the Two Fat Ladies brought her fame and success. With stark honesty and brilliant wit, this is Clarissa’s own story of a life lived to extremes.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:06 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The no-holds-barred autobiography of one of the nation's best-loved cooks, Clarissa Dickson Wright, whose life has led her from wealth and privilege to alcoholism, bankruptcy and eventually fame in 'Two Fat Ladies'.

(summary from another edition)

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