NUMBER: Series 2, Episode 6
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: November 3, 1997
A sign identifies their location on the base as “Queen Elizabeth Barracks, Church Crookham.” [Now defunct, apparently.] For the field trip, they eat army rations (which they seem to like) with some soldiers.
The Gurkhas take some explaining for American readers: They are a regiment of the British Army recruited exclusively from Nepalese nationals, despite Nepal not being a British colony or territory nor part of the Commonwealth. And the ladies seem quite enamored of them:
Clarissa: It’s extraordinary to think that this country at the top of the world, Nepal, you know, their main export, their main industry, is producing these crack, brilliant, fearless troops.
Jennifer: Yes, and they’re wonderful, and they’re dead loyal.
Clarissa: They’ve got more VCs than any other regiment in the British Army.
Jennifer: Yes, I know. Fearless in battle, and absolutely sweet and gentle to meet.
In the epilogue, they relax in what appears to be some sort of colonial officers’ club, complete with elephant tusks and a leopard rug.
DISHES: Jennifer cooks coq au vin (chicken stewed in red wine), “a nice old-fashioned dish from France.” She also does quails stuffed with rice, pine nuts, ginger and apricots.
Clarissa does turbot with pickled walnuts. In the second segment, she cooks beef with chestnuts, pears, almonds and a Catalan sauce.
FOOD TIPS AND LORE: The mobile army cookstove runs on calor gas [a combination of butane and propane], but petrol [gasoline] can be used if necessary. (Clarissa speculates the stove would probably burn camel dung.)
Blanching cocktail onions in boiling water can make them easier to peel, says Jennifer. “Tiny baby button mushrooms” have no flavor, according to her.
[The mention of plaice reminded me of a favorite exchange from Fawlty Towers: “There’s sugar in the salt cellar. . . . I’ve put it all over the plaice.” “All over the place? What were you doing with it?”]
Small turbots are called “chicken turbots.” Pickled walnuts “go terribly well with fish.”
Oily or “gelatinous” fish aren’t good for stock, according to Clarissa.
Quails “need a little help” as they haven’t much flavor, according to Jennifer. Doing them “Chinesey” or “curryish” is a good idea.
While much is made of the French influence on western cuisine, Clarissa thinks the Spanish and the Portuguese made more significant contributions.
The ladies advise against using cheap wine (or “plonk”) for cooking.
ON HEALTHY LIVING: Jennifer cooks her chicken in both bacon fat and oil.
REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST: Jennifer’s nephew, Sean Paterson, served in the Gurkhas, where he knew “Captain Johnson,” the officer who welcomes the ladies to the base on this episode. Jennifer tells the Captain that Sean is “off to Kenya now.”
She also recalls giving a candlelit dinner during a power outage.
STRONG OPINIONS: Jennifer says she doesn’t like the term stewed, because it seems to suggest that the dish has been cooked too long. She says the purple color of the wine-stained chicken is “sinister” and “rather dismal.”
Clarissa says coq au vin is a good choice for dinner parties because it’s slow-cooked, and therefore doesn’t keep the cook “chained to the stove.” She then adds, “Sometimes I quite like being chained to the stove. . . . [It] saves one talking to the guests one realizes one shouldn’t have asked.”
It is of a “dark garnet color – not like the pseudo sodium pink you get.” (When Jennifer says she sometimes puts Worcestershire sauce on beef, Clarissa, who lived in Scotland, says, “I suppose if you live in England you have to, because the beef doesn’t have as much flavor as we have back home.” Jennifer assures her that she always buys Scottish beef herself.)
Jennifer shares some memories of regimental dinners: “When the Army puts on a dinner party, I mean, no holds barred. I mean, all the silver comes out, all these wonderful people in mess jackets. . . .” When Clarissa asks about the dancing at such events, she goes on: “Yes, in the days people could dance, instead of shaking their fists at each other to some dismal sound from an electric object.”
SONGS AND MUSIC: This episode has surprisingly little music. I’m sorry to say I don’t recognize the march the band plays. [See Phony Business, below.]
LITERARY/CULTURAL REFERENCES: When the marching band appears, Jennifer cries out, “It’s The Boys in the Band!”
Jennifer: On with the fish course, Norman, and we’ll have things daintily served.
Clarissa [in a Cockney accent]: Yeah, well, go and fold some serviettes yourself.
Jennifer’s candlelit dinner party was given when “The Forsyte Saga was on television” .
The camera lingers on some nice military paintings in the officers’ club, but I wasn’t able to place them or their subjects.
Clarissa breaks down the color coding of the uniforms, and the two discuss the cost of them, Jennifer noting her father’s uniform was quite expensive. [Jennifer’s father was a Lieutenant Robert Paterson in the Seaforth Highlanders who served in both World Wars.]
STYLE WATCH: Clarissa wears a plain blue blouse in this episode.
Perhaps to offset this blandness, she also wears weird, sort of steampunky sunglasses that make her look like she’s out of a Terry Gilliam movie.
XENOPHOBIA ALERT: Jennifer says the tent they’re cooking in is the type “to take into the jungle and hide from the enemy. And have a damn good meal, I suppose of kangaroo or something. Or snakes.” When Clarissa points out kangaroos don’t live in the jungle, Jennifer suggests they could eat “wildcat” instead.
At the close of the episode, they shout “Ayo Gurkhali!” and “Jai Gorkha!”
ON DRINKS AND DRINKING:
During the epilogue:
Jennifer: There was the young one man [at dinner] whose birthday was yesterday who had a very bad hangover, poor dear.
Clarissa: Well, one’s glad to see the best traditions of the British Army are continuing.
SUGGESTIONS OF SEX:
Jennifer: Originally, this dish was made with an old cock – not an old hen, an old cock, because they had the flavor.
Clarissa: A lot of good in an old cock, isn’t there?
When Jennifer brings up power cuts in the sixties, Clarissa says, “Yes, I gather the sort of population went up quite dramatically during that period.”
Clarissa also drools over the “handsome” and “beautiful” men in uniform a couple of times.
MEMORABLE MOMENTS: As the ladies arrive, Jennifer shouts, “We’re the Two Fat Ladies for the officers’ mess!” This is the first time the name of the program has been mentioned onscreen.
[UPDATE: A wise reader writes: “This was the second usage of ‘Two Fat Ladies,’ the first being in the Brazilian Embassy episode (granted, the reference was in Portuguese).” I stand corrected! – WK]
In the opening sequence, the ladies pass through a security checkpoint, where heavily armed (and very young) guards check under Jennifer’s bike with a mirror. “I wonder what he’ll find,” says Clarissa; “the odd clove of garlic, or that lemon we lost last week?” When they’ve finished their search, Jennifer says, “I’d feel terrible if you’d found something.”
When a Gurkha plucks a ration packet out of boiling water during the field trip, Clarissa says he “must have cook’s hands.”
When Jennifer says not to use the pith of an orange, Clarissa says, “Save that for your pith helmet!” and Jennifer giggles.
Jennifer says goodbye to the Gurkhas in Nepali (which Clarissa refers to by its older name, “Gorkhali”).
PHONY BUSINESS: I will say up front that this is my least favorite Two Fat Ladies episode. There are just so many incidents of fakery and oddness; even the normal rhythm of things seems off. Perhaps it’s just me, but here’s a list of things that caught my attention upon this viewing:
- As the ladies cruise in to the army base at the episode’s opening, they pass a squad of patrolling soldiers without comment.
- When asked for her identification, Jennifer says, “I don’t have an ID, I’m just me!” and Clarissa later claims she got them onto the base by showing the guards her library card.
- The ladies wander randomly around the base, and a marching band in full uniform suddenly appears and marches around them.
- The Army erects a tent for the ladies to cook in.
- The opening of the first cooking segment is odd, with the camera sitting on a shot of bacon frying for a good ten seconds before pulling back.
- The field trip segment expects us to believe that out of nowhere, the ladies decided to go wandering around in the woods, only to be suddenly surrounded by a group of camouflaged, rifle-bearing Gurkhas. It takes a long time for the soldiers to appear, and when they do, the ladies don’t seem quite sure what to say. The whole thing is very forced and awkward, and takes forever.
MISTAKES: Jennifer [who in truth seems a little tired throughout this entire episode] refers to her combination of stew ingredients vaguely as “the whole kaboosh.”
TRADEMARKS: Jennifer cooks “a proper free-range chicken.” “You’re making me walk too far again!” she says to Clarissa during the field trip segment.