Jan 092018
 

Today is the birthday (1920) of Clive Robert Benjamin Dunn, OBE, an English actor, probably best known for playing the doddering lance corporal Jones in the BBC sitcom Dad’s Army. Dunn, like Ron Moody (Fagin in Oliver) and Joel Grey (MC in Cabaret) had his stage career dominated by that one character, but he was actually rather more versatile, even though you’d have to dig a bit to discover this side of him. I came across him first as the decrepit dogsbody, Old Johnson, in the Army Game spinoff, Bootsie and Snudge. This BBC sitcom mostly aired in the early 1960s and was occasionally shown on South Australian television, and reappeared briefly when I returned to England. I didn’t like the show in general, but was intrigued by the idea of Dunn, who was in his early 40s at the time, playing an aging Great War veteran (which Dunn was actually far too young to be). Indeed, I did not realize that he was as young as he was until my mother told me. Reprising the role of a doddering (but lovable) old fool in Dad’s Army seemed a bit of a cop out to me, but he was very popular. Meanwhile, I paid almost no attention, although my parents loved the show.

Dunn was born in Brixton in South London, the son of actor parents, and the cousin of actress Gretchen Franklin. He was educated at Sevenoaks School, and after leaving school, studied at the independent Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, in London. Dunn played small film roles from the 1930s onwards, appearing alongside Will Hay in the films Boys Will Be Boys (1935) while still attending school, and Good Morning, Boys (1937). In 1939, he was the stage manager for a touring production of The Unseen Menace, a detective story. This was not a success as the billed star of the show, Terence De Marney, did not appear on stage and his dialogue was supplied by a gramophone recording.

In 1940, after the start of the Second World War, Dunn joined the army and served with the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars. The unit fought during the German invasion of Greece but surrendered after fighting a rearguard action near the Corinth canal. Dunn was amongst the 400 men taken prisoner, and was to be held as a prisoner of war in Austria for four years. He remained in the army after the war ended, and was finally demobilized in 1947.

Dunn resumed his acting career after leaving the army, mainly in Repertory theatre, and soon made his first television appearance. In 1956 and 1957, Dunn appeared in both series of The Tony Hancock Show and the army reunion party episode of Hancock’s Half Hour in 1960.

Here’s the complete episode. Chances are that you won’t recognize him if you know him only as an old man character.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1c5isOPExDs

From early on in his career, his trademark character was that of a doddering old man which first made an impression on Bootsie and Snudge. This is the first episode where he appeared:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xILztFNwaN8

In 1967, he made a guest appearance in an episode of The Avengers, playing the proprietor of a toy shop in “Something Nasty in the Nursery”.

Dunn was one of the younger members of the Dad’s Army cast when, at 48, he took on the role of the elderly butcher whose military service in earlier wars made him the most experienced member of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard, as well as one of the most decrepit. His relative youth, compared with most of the cast, meant that he was handed much of the physical comedy in the show, which many of the other cast members were not capable of.

After Dad’s Army ended, Dunn capitalized on his skill in playing elderly character roles, and popularity, by playing the lead character Charlie Quick, in the slapstick children’s TV series Grandad, from 1979-1984 (he played the caretaker at a village hall, and sang the lyrics in the theme). He had previously had a number one hit single with the song “Grandad” on his 51st birthday in January 1971, accompanied by a children’s choir. The song was written by bassist Herbie Flowers. He performed the song four times on Top of the Pops. The B-side of “Grandad”, “I Play The Spoons”, also received considerable airplay. After the cancellation of Grandad in 1984, he disappeared from the screen, and retired to Portugal. Following the success of the “Grandad” record, Dunn released several other singles.

Dunn married fashion model Patricia Kenyon in London in 1951. The couple divorced in 1958. He married actress Priscilla Pughe-Morgan in June 1959. They had two daughters, Polly and Jessica. Dunne spent the last three decades of his life in the Algarve, Portugal. He occupied himself as an artist painting portraits, landscapes and seascapes until his sight failed.

Dunn died in Portugal on 6 November 2012 as a result of complications, following an operation which took place earlier that week. Frank Williams, who played the Vicar in Dad’s Army, said Dunn was always great fun to be around. “Of course he was so much younger than the part he played,” he told BBC Radio Four. “It’s very difficult to think of him as an old man really, but he was a wonderful person to work with – great sense of humour, always fun, a great joy really.” Ian Lavender, who played Private Pike in the show, said: “Out of all of us he had the most time for the fans. Everyone at one time or another would be tempted to duck into a doorway or bury their head in a paper; but not Clive, he always made time for fans.”

A wartime recipe seems suitable. I don’t actually recommend this one, but it is a curiosity. It’s called Lord Woolton pie, a thoroughly forgettable dish. It was created at the Savoy Hotel in London by its then Maître Chef de Cuisine, Francis Latry. It was one of a number of recipes commended to the British public by the Ministry of Food during the Second World War to enable a nutritious diet to be maintained despite shortages and rationing of many types of food, especially meat. It was named after Frederick Marquis, 1st Lord Woolton (1883–1964), who popularized the recipe after he became Minister of Food in 1940. Here’s the recipe as printed in newspapers.

Here’s a better expansion of the recipe.

Lord Woolton Pie

Ingredients

Filling

1 lb potato, peeled and diced
1 lb cauliflower, chopped
1 lb carrot, peeled and diced
1 lb parsnip, peeled and diced
3 spring onions, chopped
1 tsp vegetable extract
1 tbsp oatmeal
parsley

Crust

4 ounces cooked and mashed potatoes
½ tsp salt
8 oz plain flour
3 oz shortening
2 tbsp baking powder

Instructions

For the filling: Place all ingredients except for parsley into a large pot. Add just enough water to cover. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the vegetables sticking to the pot. When the vegetables are cooked, turn of the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Sprinkle with parsley and season to taste.

For the crust: Combine the salt, flour and baking powder. Rub the shortening into the flour mixture. Gently mix in the potato. Add a little water if the mix is too dry. Knead the dough and then roll out on a floured board.

Place the pie filling in a deep pie dish or casserole dish. Cover with the potato pastry. Bake in a 400˚F oven for 25-30 minutes or until pastry is lightly browned.

Serve with gravy.

[I’m tempted to say, “Let cool and feed to the cat” but my cats would not have touched this.]

Feb 132017
 

Today is World Radio Day.  It was proclaimed on 3 November 2011 by UNESCO’s 36th General Conference after originally proposed by the Kingdom of Spain. The day is meant to celebrate radio in all its uses, so I’ll follow suit.  Until recently radio was a very important part of my life.  When I was an infant in England in the early 1950s the whole family used to sit around in the living room on a Sunday afternoon with the radio on.  Then when we moved to Australia the radio always had a central role to play.  It was on in the morning at breakfast time, partly for entertainment, and partly to keep track of the time so that we were not late. In the late afternoons there were a number of shows we listened to before dinner including my favorite, The Argonauts Club – a radio show for children featuring games and competitions, with the opportunity to send in your own contributions of poetry, essays, and plays (the best of which were read on the air).  But what caught my most fervent attention for many years was amateur shortwave radio.

My scout troop (1st Gawler) had a very active senior patrol that morphed into a rover patrol and they had an interest in shortwave radio.  They had built a radio shack with a tall antenna on the grounds of the scout hut, and used their old, beat up, valve operated shortwave system to contact scouts around the world, especially during Jamboree on the Air (3rd weekend in October).  Every year I went all day, well into the night, to take my turn chatting with scouts all over the world.  For years after I had a dream that one day I would set up my own shortwave station.  These were the days before easy global communications by telephone, let alone internet, and it resonated with me, as it did with many others.  Here’s two versions of “The Radio Ham” by Tony Hancock (first the radio version, then the television version) to get the general flavor:

“Ham radio” and “radio ham” are slang terms for amateur radios and their operators whose origin is unknown, although you’ll find the usual nonsense about etymology if you poke around – all ridiculous folk legends.  Hancock really does capture the feel of ham radio in the 1950s and 1960s.

Having my own shortwave transmitter remained an unrealized pipe dream, but I did have a shortwave receiver for decades in the United States.  It allowed me to tune into the BBC before the days of the internet, and also to hear the news from multiple countries around the world.  Back then (and still) news in the US is confined to news about US citizens (at home and abroad), or about US interests.  500 people could die in a plane crash in Africa but if there were no US citizens aboard it would go largely unreported.  Shortwave was my antidote.  The BBC was great because it had plays, comedies, soap operas, quizzes and whatnot that I loved, and still love.

US radio is largely for car drivers and tends to consist of music, news, or talk shows. I found it exceptionally dull on my daily commute.  But when I took trips to England I would immediately explore the dial on my rental car’s radio for the wealth of programming on national and regional radio.  I can count the US radio shows that I enjoyed on the fingers of one hand, and still have fingers left over. Dr Demento and Whad’ya Know? come to mind.  World Radio Day is all about promoting the potential riches of radio for all people of all ages. I’m up for that.

Since amateur radio is known as ham radio let’s talk about ham as our food of the day. Many, many countries have their own special hams and I have been fortunate to live near many sources.  Currently I live near Parma and have made the obligatory pilgrimage to get the local prosciutto – known locally simply as crudo. You can get ham in Argentina, but it is a rarity in the land where beef is king.  China is a different story altogether.  Ham is an essential ingredient in so many regional dishes.  The most well known varieties are Anfu ham from Jiangxi, Jinhua ham, Rugao ham, and Xuanwei ham. All are richly flavorful, adding complexity to soups, stews, and stir fries.

How long would you like me to wax lyrical about Smithfield ham, jamón Serrano,  jambon d’Ardèche,  Westfälischer Schinken, etc.? I won’t.  Instead I’ll talk a little about production – which you can do yourself at home if you have patience. Ham is a method of preserving and flavoring raw pork leg by salting, smoking, or wet curing. Besides salt, several ingredients may also be used to enhance flavoring and preservation.

Traditional dry cure hams may use only salt as the curative agent, such as with San Daniele or Parma hams, although this is comparatively rare. This process involves cleaning the raw meat, covering it in salt (for about one month for Parma ham) while it is gradually pressed – draining all the blood. In Tuscan Ham (Prosciutto Toscano PDO) different spices and herbs are added to the salt during this step. The hams are then washed and hung in a dark, temperature-regulated place until dry. They are then hung to air for another period of time.

The duration of the curing process varies by the type of ham, with Serrano ham curing in 9–12 months, Parma hams taking more than 12 months, and Iberian ham taking up to 2 years to reach the desired flavor characteristics. Some dry cured hams, such as the Jinhua ham, take approximately 8 to 10 months to complete.

Ham can also be preserved through the smoking method, in which the meat is placed in a smokehouse (or equivalent) to be cured by the action of smoke. The main flavor compounds of smoked ham are guaiacol, and its 4-, 5-, and 6-methyl derivatives as well as 2,6-dimethylphenol. These compounds are produced by thermal breakdown (i.e., combustion) of lignin, a major constituent of wood used in the smokehouse.

Wet curing (also known as brining) involves the immersion of the meat in a brine, sometimes with other ingredients such as sugar also added for flavor. Meat is submerged in the brine for around 3–14 days, during which time the meat needs to be kept submerged, and the brine mixture agitated periodically to prevent separation of the ingredients. Wet curing also has the effect of increasing volume and weight of the finished product, by about 4%.

I’ve smoked and wet cured hams at home. The processes are not complex, just time consuming, and require special equipment.  The results have always been excellent, but I’m happy to pop down to the local market when I need ham for any reason. Brining is probably your easiest bet and you can find plenty of recipes online.  Here’s one that’s OK:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/245724/home-cured-holiday-ham/