Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Britain is a country which once made and has now lost an old TV Film Producer called David Pritchard who gave it Floyd on Food

David, who has died at the age of 73, was born 1945 in Southampton, Hampshire in the last year of the Second World War, where he and his mother, Charlotte, were supported by his father, Arthur, who he rarely saw and worked away from home for the Customs and Excise in Weymouth, which probably explained why he left David's mother for another woman when David was 10 years old.

With his friends Bob and Michael, from an early age, he enjoyed poaching fish, mainly trout, from the River Itchen which ran from beyond Winchester to Southampton and cooking them in the open air.

He recalled : 'We’d thread sharpened twigs through each trout from head to tail and grill them over a camp fire, turning them so the skin cooked evenly. To eat with them we’d make a thing called ' twist'. We would mix up some flour and water and knead it to make a dough. Then we’d twist it round a stick, hence the name and put it over the fire where it would bubble and blister and eventually go smoky black. We’d cut it up with our sheath knives, sprinkle the pieces with salt, add a knob of butter and wow! If my mother had served up hot black dough and undercooked fish at home I’d have seriously considered running away, but out there in our beloved camp with our eyes stinging and streaming from the smoke, they tasted wonderful. Such are the pleasures of eating outdoors'.

Another pleasure was a visit to the Savoy Cinema in Swaythling on Saturday afternoons. He recalled : 'Robin Hood. I loved the way the Merry Men would eat using a dagger, ripping the meat with their hands with lots of enthusiastic grunting. Then they’d quaff goblets of wine and, because their mouths were so full, it ran down their chins, the director’s way of painting a picture of a Saxon peasant living in a land of plenty. 
By contrast the ever grumpy Sheriff of Nottingham would just pick at his food and have the occasional grape. I used to come out of that cinema in the late afternoon feeling ravenous and wishing I could have exactly what Robin, Little John, and Friar Tuck had, including vast goblets of wine, but in all probability I’d be sitting down to a pilchard salad and a Cremola Foam'.

In 1955 when he was 10 years old and on account of his asthma,  Hampshire County Council sent him for a year to Wedges Farm Camp in Itchingfield, West Sussex, a residential special school with its own hospital, set up in open air conditions for the provision of education of children for children whose physical condition required it. Under the direction of the Headmaster, Mr Booth, the boys and girls did a compulsory cross country run every week, no matter what the weather and country dancing on the playground. In addition, there was also an open air swimming pool.

David would certainly have been conversant in the pupils' school song :

"Here we are at Wedges Camp, 
Far far away. 
All we get Is bread and scrape,
Three times a day.
Ham and eggs we never see,
Get no sugar in our tea. 
We are the Jubilee, 
Fading away, 
Goodbye all the pupils and the teachers too.
Goodbye Mr Booth and blooming good luck to you."

David recalled : 'Nothing in that strange, makeshift school in 1955 gave so much pleasure as puddings, which were eaten at breakneck speed in case the master in charge of the dining room gave the call for second helpings. One of our favourites was chocolate sponge with lashings of hot chocolate custard, a new invention, but by far the tastiest, sweetest and the fairest of them all was jam roly-poly. I would eat mine slowly, savouring every sticky jammy mouthful, whilst others rushed theirs in the hope of getting seconds. Of course, I knew there wouldn’t be an invitation for second helpings, because like chocolate sponge, treacle pudding, and apple pie, jam roly-poly was just too good. Tapioca, the stuff that looks like frogspawn,now that’s a different story altogether'.

'I ran away from school once with Clive, my best friend. I wasn’t really unhappy at Wedges but I did miss my mother and Clive missed his monkey' which had been brought home by his father, a sailor'. They didn't get far : 'miraculously we were picked up by Mr Woods, the deputy headmaster, in his Austin Big Seven saloon. All thoughts of getting home had long gone. The only adventure we wanted now was with a large plate of stew or Spam fritters, chips, and beans. Now that would be something". 

'Surprisingly, when we were handed over to the headmaster for punishment we were treated with great sympathy and understanding. Apparently Mr Booth had learnt that my parents had recently divorced, which he thought extremely tragic. Divorce was a much rarer phenomenon in 1955 than today and considered far more catastrophic and devastating for the children involved. Both of us gazed downwards, studying the knot holes in the floor, looking suitably sorry for ourselves, hoping that the ordeal would soon be over and there would be some food left in the refectory—maybe even jam roly-poly. Through some form of telepathy we both thought it best, under the circumstances, not to mention the monkey'.

When his mother paid him a rare visit : 'For a special treat she took me to lunch at a place called 'The Carfax' in Horsham. This was my very first visit to a restaurant. I’d seen lots of them in films and it made me feel very grown-up indeed. There were waitresses in frilly hats and black dresses with white aprons, and there was tea in silver pots. Intrigued by its strange name I had mock turtle soup, a beef consomm√© with bits of meat floating about in it, to start; followed by plaice, fried in breadcrumbs, with chips, peas, and a wedge of lemon in a silver squeezer, I’d never set eyes on one of those before and bread and butter.'

When he returned home to the suburb of Swaythling in Southampton, times were lean : 'My mother was working as a receptionist in one of the halls of residence at Southampton University and I was constantly reminded by her that times were very hard indeed. If we were lucky enough to have a roast while listening to the Billy Cotton Band Show on a Sunday, it was usually a small shoulder of lamb or belly pork with apple sauce'.

He took and failed his 11+ exam which : 'wasn’t surprising really, because the emphasis for the past year had been on health and nature studies. I knew all about moths and butterflies, wild flowers and trees. I knew how to make rosehip syrup, put up a tent and make a campfire, but my knowledge of decimals and algebra and conjugated verbs was somewhat limited'.

Now living in Portsmouth with his mother, at the age of 11 in 1956 he joined Mayfield Road Secondary Modern School which was : 'a world apart from the woods and fields that engulfed Wedges and there was a great difference in attitude among the children. Bullying was rife and the building was so old there were no facilities for school dinners. 
So lunchtimes meant a quick bicycle ride to the grocer’s for a cold Miller’s steak and kidney pie, a delicious bargain at just ten pence each. Sometimes lunch would consist of five Player’s Weights cigarettes and a shared bottle of New Forest Brown Ale. But best of all was fish and chips. Is there anything better than piping hot fish and chips and the smell of vinegar on hot beef dripping as you walk along the road with your mates?'

In 1961 he left school at the age of 16 with one GCE 'O' level in Art and 'went to Southampton Technical College to resit all six of my other exams. This time I failed them all again, except History.' Simultaneously he studied part-time at Southampton College of Art where he saw as a famous designer of book covers, but having realised he was 'utterly useless at the subject', he left and got a temporary job on a building site while he 'figured out what to do next. I was climbing a ladder one day when my mother came by on her moped, waving at me. Apparently she’d seen a wonderful job advertised in the Evening Echo: Assistant In Film at Southern Television. "You must apply for it David. You’ve always said you want to work in television"'.

David got his interview with Southern Television, his local ITV company where out of 80 interviewees he was offered the job : 'Only the job turned out not to be an Assistant In Film but a vault porter. When I asked why they hadn’t advertised the job as vault porter, they said, "Well, nobody would apply would they?"'

At the age of 18 he found himself working in a vault contained all the commercials that were shown on Southern Television in 1963 : 'I was paid five pounds a week to look after them. There were thousands of the bloody things forming the lining to my silver tunnel, or tomb, as I used to call it, and each had a number and had to be returned to its rightful place once it had been shown. I’d spend most of my day dusting them and making sure they were in the right order'.

His first big break came when : 'As soon as I finished my work in the dreaded vault, I’d ask the film editors for their permission to watch them at work.' 'I’d sit behind them and see how they operated their machines, unlocking the sound and moving the picture and I thought, this is it. It was a Faustian moment really.' They were earning 'stacks of money, while I earnt five pounds a week as a vault porter and so they were completely different animals to me. I thought : 'If I could press the old button there and become one of them, and sell my soul, I jolly well would'.

From thence he proceeded to gain an entrance to editing  and  as a young film editor, travelled to Newcastle where he 'spent many a joyous lunchtime and the occasional evening in smoky Tyneside pubs with Marxist journalists, lefty songwriters and film-makers. I had come to Newcastle because I knew by now that I wanted to be a film editor at the BBC, and there were no vacancies in the south of England. So I packed a suitcase and waved goodbye to my mother and my job at Southern Television, where, by now, I had graduated to the dizzy heights of Assistant Film Editor, somewhat nearer to the job description I had applied for in the first place'.

It was in Newcastle that his 'great love affair with food really started. For several months I lived in a bedsit in Heaton, then an unfashionable suburb of Newcastle. It was very clean and tidy and it had a Baby Belling cooker. Inside it I found one of the most useful cookery books ever written, 'Cooking in a Bedsitter', by Katharine Whitehorn. It was simplicity itself and funny too'.

At the age of 24 in 1969, he became friends and moved into a bungalow with John Craven, a regional journalist in Newcastle at the time and they were joined by Bernard Hall and Tony Bannister, a graphic artist who also worked at the BBC. 'This meant I could start to cook in a full-sized oven for a captive audience. I started to make stews with all those fresh and attractive paella.' This was inspired by the lads’ package holiday to Spain, where 'apart from sangria and sunstroke' his 'abiding memory of a fortnight on the Costa Brava was paella. Back home again in Newcastle I bought fresh prawns, mussels and squid, along with saffron and garlic, and prepared it to cookery book perfection'.

By 1984, David was 39 years old and working as a director and producer for BBC Bristol when he first met Keith Floyd in his Bristol restaurant who recalled : 'He was large and balding, with a red moon face and wearing a leather jacket and Communist Party scarf. 'That was a very good meal,' he said. 'How would you like to be on television?' A year later he phoned again, by this time working for BBC Plymouth.  He told me he was now features editor of the BBC in Plymouth. 'Would you like to come and make a pilot programme about fish and cooking fish?'

Working with Keith, David went on to produce 'Floyd on Fish' in 1986, working with a tiny budget and only one camera. With minimal planning or preparation, David and Keith would simply turn up somewhere – a trawler boat, a country hotel – and film him cooking, unscripted and with a glass of red wine at the ready, using whatever facilities were available. Although David's bosses doubted the formula could work, 'Floyd on Fish' proved an instant success.

They went on to make 'Floyd on Food' in 1986, 'Floyd on Britain & Ireland' in 1988 and 'Floyd's American Pie' the following year. David went on to make programmes for ITV and Channel 4 and work with Antonio Carluccio but it was his ongoing friendship and work with Padstow chef, Rick Stein, that he’ll be most remembered for, a relationship that spanned 30 years, 15 series and numerous one-off specials for BBC2, BBC 4.

There was always something of the English 1950s boy about David : either eating a trout wrapped in a pastry twist and cooked over a fire on the banks of the River Itchen or savouring his jam roly-poly in the school canteen of Wedges Farm Camp. He who once said :

"To make good food programmes you need to always be hungry.”

1 comment:

  1. A sad loss. I'm rewatching the Floyd videos and remembering the good old days.