Flame and for­tune

Long be­fore Jamie, Gor­don and Nigella, a con­tro­ver­sial Ger­man tele­vi­sion chef had housewives smit­ten, re­ports Tony Pater­son Many of Wil­men­rod’s dishes in­cluded lib­eral doses of canned food and ketchup

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

OAST Hawaii. For Ger­mans, the culi­nary of­fer­ing once sounded be­guil­ingly ex­otic. It con­jured up in­evitable im­ages of dusky maid­ens in hula skirts sashay­ing rhyth­mi­cally across palm-fringed beaches. How times have changed. Nowa­days Toast Hawaii raises a sneer and is served in only the most naff eater­ies. The dish con­sists of a slab of white sliced loaf cov­ered with a piece of packet ham and topped with a disc of tinned pineap­ple. The con­coc­tion is then lay­ered with pro­cessed cheese, stuck un­der the grill for about 90 sec­onds and usu­ally plonked without cer­e­mony in front of the cus­tomer. A maraschino cherry and a tooth­pick sprout­ing pa­per palm fronds are some­times added to com­plete the Hawai­ian’’ touch. Yet in the 1950s, the snack be­came a smash hit among those West Ger­mans wealthy enough to own a tele­vi­sion al­most as soon as it was put to­gether be­fore their eyes on their black and white Grundig screens. It was fast food be­fore the term ex­isted, ap­pear­ing in a war-rav­aged Ger­many still un­touched by the changes in eat­ing habits that would oc­cur a decade later with the mass im­mi­gra­tion of nearly two mil­lion for­eign guest work­ers from Italy, Yu­goslavia and Turkey.

And its suc­cess was all down to one man, Ger­many’s an­swer to the Bri­tish tele­vi­sion cook Fanny Cradock. He was a chubby and lo­qua­cious ac­tor who sported a David Niven-style mous­tache but who is re­puted never to have fried an egg be­fore go­ing on­screen. His name was Cle­mens Wil­men­rod.

His bizarre culi­nary cre­ations ex­tended way be­yond Toast Hawaii to in­clude such of­fer­ings as the al­most Pythonesque Ara­bian Horse­man’s De­light — which in re­al­ity was sim­ply mince­meat with onions — and Eggs Torero, an omelet with toma­toes.

Many of his dishes in­cluded lib­eral doses of canned food and ketchup and, as Wil­men­rod cooked them up on screen, he re­galed his au­di­ence with a tor­rent of flow­ery and of­ten amus­ing ban­ter that al­ways be­gan with an ad­dress to his au­di­ence which he re­ferred to as dear hon­ourable com­mu­nity of gourmets’’.

Wil­men­rod de­vel­oped the role of TV chef be­fore the likes of Jamie Oliver were even born. His first show was broad­cast in Fe­bru­ary 1953 be­fore Cradock started ap­pear­ing with her buf­foon-like part­ner, John­nie, on Bri­tish screens and al­most a decade be­fore Ju­lia Child ap­peared on screens in the US.

To­day, more than 40 years af­ter his death, Ger­many’s first tele­vi­sion chef is be­ing hailed as a sem­i­nal ge­nius of mod­ern TV. The for­got­ten star of West Ger­man pub­lic broad­cast­ing is the sub­ject of a fea­ture film en­ti­tled Wil­men­rod:It’son­theTipofmyTongue , which is be­ing made for Ger­man tele­vi­sion and due to be screened early this year. The pro­duc­tion co­in­cides with a new-found in­ter­est in the 1950s and 60s af­ter decades of pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the Nazi era. While the stu­dent protests, sex­ual lib­er­a­tion and seeds of mil­i­tant ex­trem­ism that char­ac­terised the 60s have been thor­oughly raked over, the 50s have re­mained largely un­touched.

It was the era of the leg­endary Wirtschaftswun­der, or eco­nomic mir­a­cle, dur­ing which cap­i­tal­ist West Ger­many turned it­self into Europe’s eco­nomic pow­er­house. With the help of co­pi­ous cash in­jec­tions sup­plied un­der the Amer­i­can Mar­shall Plan, West Ger­many was able to re­build its in­dus­try and cre­ate a con­sumer so­ci­ety that was ar­guably bet­ter off than Bri­tain, which was still get­ting used to life without ra­tion cards.

It was a pe­riod in which many for­mer Nazis were still in, or re-elected to, gov­ern­ment but one in which the evils of the Nazi era were con­ve­niently for­got­ten. In­stead the for­mer mem­bers of Hitler’s mas­ter race lis­tened to Elvis, bought wash­ing ma­chines and kid­ney-shaped ta­bles and took driv­ing hol­i­days in south­ern Europe in Volk­swa­gen Bee­tles made in fac­to­ries re­built with the help of Bri­tish sub­si­dies.

Stirred, not shaken: Cle­mens Wil­men­rod, Ger­many’s first TV chef, whips up a dish in 1955

Wil­men­rod master­fully ex­ploited the trends of the era and kept up a TV cook­ing show that ran without a break for 11 years un­til it was ig­no­min­iously and abruptly axed in 1964.

Born in 1906, the son of a miller from the west­ern Wester­wald re­gion, his real name was Carl Cle­mens Hahn. Af­ter set­ting out on an act­ing ca­reer in Dus­sel­dorf in the early 30s, he dis­pensed with the sur­name, which in Ger­man means cock, and re­placed it with the pseu­do­nym Wil­men­rod, the name of the vil­lage in which he was born. He then se­cured a job as a full-time ac­tor at the­atres in Wies­baden and Dres­den be­fore be­ing drafted into the Ger­man army dur­ing the clos­ing stages of World War II.

Af­ter the war, dur­ing which he suf­fered an ear wound, he re­sumed his act­ing ca­reer and by the early 50s he had man­aged to ob­tain a few mi­nor film parts. The break­through came in Fe­bru­ary 1953. Wil­men­rod ap­proached the head of North­west Ger­man Tele­vi­sion, a pub­lic broad­cast­ing net­work then in its in­fancy, and man­aged to per­suade Werner Pleis­ter, its di­rec­tor, that tele­vi­sion needed a cook­ing show to com­ple­ment its rather turgid diet of films and cur­rent af­fairs pro­grams.

Wil­men­rod is re­puted to have hit on the idea af­ter watch­ing an early TV doc­u­men­tary that fea­tured a zo­ol­o­gist toy­ing with a python’s tooth. He re­marked to his wife, Erika: Just imag­ine if some­body was talk­ing about an omelet rather than that tooth.’’

His first show, Din­ner­will­beServed­inTenMin­utes: The Art of Cook­ing for Gourmets in a Hurry , was broad­cast on Fe­bru­ary 20 of that year. Wil­men­rod had him­self kit­ted out for the oc­ca­sion in a yel­low plas­tic apron with a car­i­ca­ture of his face drawn on its front that had been com­posed by a car­toon­ist from the fa­mous pre­war Ger­man satir­i­cal mag­a­zine Sim­pli­cis­simus .

At that time the only Euro­pean broad­caster to have at­tempted some­thing sim­i­lar was the BBC, which made a se­ries of test pro­grams about cook­ing be­fore World War II.

Wil­men­rod be­came a hit al­most overnight. His show at­tracted a loyal au­di­ence of about three mil­lion com­prised mainly of Ger­man haus­frauen , who craved culi­nary ex­cite­ment with a for­eign touch. Wil­men­rod gave them what they wanted.

Even Time mag­a­zine con­sid­ered him enough of a phe­nom­e­non to war­rant an ar­ti­cle. Swiss pineap­ple cheese cream scarcely sounds like a dish de­signed to go with Ger­man schinken and kartof­fel (ham and pota­toes),’’ the mag­a­zine noted on Au­gust 3, 1953. But fore­warned by trade jour­nals, wise West Ger­man gro­cers are busily stock­ing up on the in­gre­di­ents.

Af­ter Cle­mens Wil­men­rod, the tele­vi­sion cook, tells the haus­frauen how to make it, Swiss cream is sure to be a favourite dessert, and Cle­mens plans to pass the word on soon,’’ Time added, not­ing that his was the old­est and most pop­u­lar show’’ on West Ger­man TV.

Wil­men­rod stuffed straw­ber­ries with al­monds, in­vented recipes named af­ter ob­scure Aus­trian ac­tresses and is even cred­ited with in­tro­duc­ing the Christ­mas turkey to a coun­try that for cen­turies had known only the yule­tide goose. When Don Cle­mente’’ as he was of­ten re­ferred to, dished up cod on TV, there was a run on cod at fish­mon­gers through­out Ger­many.

The same went for many of the fancy kitchen gad­gets that man­u­fac­tur­ers queued up to get on his show. Wil­men­rod used an out­landish de­vice, which might be con­sid­ered the 50s fore­run­ner of the ubiq­ui­tous mi­crowave, on his pro­gram. It was a high-speed grill­cum-oven called the Heinzelkocher . An­other was a so­phis­ti­cated veg­etable cut­ter called the Sch­nei­d­boy . Not long af­ter Wil­men­rod in­tro­duced the prod­uct by ca­su­ally chop­ping up a few car­rots on his pro­gram, sales of Sch­nei­d­boy leapt to 1.5 mil­lion.

Through­out his shows, Wil­men­rod, who had earned him­self suf­fi­cient cash to buy a villa in Ma­jorca, kept up an in­ces­sant pat­ter de­signed to im­press his largely fe­male au­di­ence. Here is an ex­am­ple of the way he in­tro­duced one of his con­coc­tions, a dessert called Rum Pot, con­sist­ing of fruit soused — be­lieve it or not — in rum: The fruit pre­served in rum spreads its aroma of warmth and fi­delity through­out the house,’’ he be­gan.

When you make the oc­ca­sional foray into the cel­lar to per­form some ter­ri­bly mun­dane chore, there the fruit is, stand­ing in the cor­ner in its colour­ful earthen jug, beck­on­ing like an old friend. How could any­one even think of leav­ing the cel­lar without hav­ing greeted that si­lent, de­lec­ta­ble com­pan­ion, wait­ing pa­tiently in its dark cor­ner?’’

Yet recipes like Rum Pot even­tu­ally led to Wil­men­rod’s fall from grace. It did not go un­no­ticed that the Flens­burg Rum im­porters who pro­duced the Ger­man brand Pott Rhum had made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the cre­ation of Wil­men­rod’s dessert. Af­ter he be­gan ac­cept­ing large back­han­ders for prais­ing spe­cific prod­ucts dur­ing his pub­licly funded shows, the me­dia started to take no­tice.

In 1959, Der Spiegel mag­a­zine ran a 10-page cover story about Wil­men­rod that dis­missed him as a char­la­tan. The Pre­tend Chef was its ti­tle. Wil­men­rod never re­cov­ered. Al­though his show con­tin­ued for an­other five years, the rat­ings grad­u­ally de­clined. By 1964, his wife, Erika, had left him and his show had been taken off air for good. In 1967 the for­mer TV chef was ad­mit­ted to a Mu­nich clinic where doc­tors di­ag­nosed stom­ach can­cer. A few weeks later Wil­men­rod shot him­self dead. The In­de­pen­dent

The lard yards: On the road with Clarissa Dick­son Wright, left, and Jen­nifer Pater­son of TwoFatLadies

‘ One for the chef’: Keith Floyd

FLICK on the tele­vi­sion th­ese days and you’ll be hard pressed not to bump into a chef whip­ping up their lat­est culi­nary of­fer­ing. But be­fore th­ese days of gas­tro-porn, only a hand­ful of stal­wart telly cooks, in­clud­ing Ger­many’s hap­less Cle­mens Wil­men­rod (left), graced our screens.

had the first tele­vi­sion cook­ing pro­gram on Bri­tish TV, start­ing in 1946 on the BBC and, of course, broad­cast in black and white. He of­ten used his per­sonal ra­tions (Bri­tain was on war ra­tions un­til about 1954) as in­gre­di­ents. Har­ben showed his au­di­ence how to cook with what was avail­able, and he was fa­mous for his chips and steak and kid­ney pie. A for­mer seaman, who was the spit­ting im­age of Fal­staff, Shake­speare’s glut­tonous anti-hero, Har­ben sported a mar­vel­lous beard, a fruity BBC ac­cent and al­ways wore a striped apron over his stout belly.

His no-non­sense ap­proach as­sumed his au­di­ence had never boiled an egg, much less whisked up a cin­na­mon and cal­va­dos souf­fle.

In the early 1950s, ‘‘ and her third hus­band, mon­o­cled and drink-sod­den ‘‘ quickly es­tab­lished them­selves as Bri­tain’s lead­ing ex­perts on all things culi­nary. Fanny, with her evening gown, dan­gling ear­rings, pearls and bouf­fant hair, in­tro­duced gourmet cook­ing, in­clud­ing the prawn cock­tail and green mashed po­tato, to TV.

John­nie was her stooge; she fe­ro­ciously chased him around the stu­dio and ver­bally lac­er­ated him with cries of ‘‘ Come on, John­nie, hurry up.’’ Fanny was the first to present food as a rit­u­alised form of TV en­ter­tain­ment. A still re­peated line from one of the episodes is the im­mor­tal: ‘‘ I hope all your dough­nuts turn out like Fanny’s.’’

TheGal­lop­ingGourmet was known for its light-hearted hu­mour and tom­fool­ery and the co­pi­ous use of clar­i­fied but­ter, cream and fat. This was the late ’ 60s, af­ter all, when un­bri­dled self­ind­ul­gence was not only tol­er­ated but com­pul­sory. His most fa­mous line on the show was his re­sponse to some­one’s crit­i­cism of his cook­ing: ‘‘ Madam, you could go out­side and get run over by a bus and just think what you would have missed.’’

It is said that Kerr and his wife have spent the past 20 years em­brac­ing a vir­tu­ous life­style they call ‘‘ out­dul­gence’’, wherein the Kerrs preach the trans­form­ing de­tails of a good life that trades

Fe­ro­cious: Fanny Cradock con­stant con­sump­tion and self-serv­ing for creative sim­plic­ity and healthy self-de­nial.

hosted a five-minute tele­vi­sion show called ComeandGetIt, which aired on the ABC for nine years dur­ing the ’ 80s, and was fa­mous for his gig­gles, trade­mark ‘‘ G’day’’ and happy-go-lucky lar­rikin style. Now he’s a YouTube sen­sa­tion af­ter a blooper tape of the se­ries ap­peared on the site. In one scene he is mak­ing scotch eggs, smil­ing and gig­gling as he ex­plains the recipe: ‘‘ Hard boil and shell them, roll them in flour, press sausage meat and veg­eta­bles around them and brush them with a beaten egg, cover them with bread­crumbs and f - - - ing fry the c - - - s un­til they go black, you prick.’’ TwoFatLadies was a TV sen­sa­tion in the mid ’ 90s.

and trav­elled around Bri­tain on a Tri­umph Thun­der­bird, er­rat­i­cally driven by Pater­son. Wright squeezed her am­ple frame in the side­car as they trav­elled to army camps, monas­ter­ies, row­ing clubs, rugby clubs, Women’s In­sti­tute fetes, coun­try es­tates and girls schools, where they would pre­pare large meals, of­ten with un­usual in­gre­di­ents and a fond­ness for ren­dered fat and drip­ping.

Pater­son, who died of lung can­cer in 1999, was buried with her favourite mo­tor­cy­cle crash hel­met.

once a fail­ing restau­ra­teur turned ra­dio chef, con­tin­ues to pop up on our screens, but his shabby drunken act is of­ten te­dious. Floyd was, how­ever, the first TV chef whose demon­stra­tions didn’t in­sist on telling you— to the near­est gram— how much flour was re­quired. And his ‘‘ one for the pot and one for the chef’’ is still great ad­vice. No TV chef has fried rein­deer hocks in but­ter in the Scan­di­na­vian tun­dra while pick­ling him­self with a vat of vodka with such en­thu­si­asm as the won­der­fully pre­pos­ter­ous Floyd.

Pic­ture: CEN/Aus­tral

Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages

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