In 1958 I went up to Mildura to direct a documentary film about a train (The Fruit Flyer) for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. This train brought fresh produce from the farms in and around Mildura down to Melbourne.
The first problem we had was that we had been booked into a temperance hotel. This was not popular with any member of the crew. I left the hotel before checking in and went across the road to a licensed hotel (was it The George ?) and booked us all in there.
After a long three hundred mile journey from Melbourne, we needed a drink. The George was a licensed hotel which had a longish bar and behind the bar there were glass fronted refrigerated cabinets containing glasses. I had never ever seen such a thing before. Ice cold amber nectar in ice-cold glasses. It was too much.
We lined the bar, drinking the ice-cold amber nectar, reminiscent of the final scene in “Ice Cold in Alex”
The hotel we were staying at was the only public source of alcohol in the town. As a result, the populous formed themselves into clubs. It only required a handful of members with a common interest to qualify for the delivery of beer directly from the brewers. The biggest club was The Working Men’s Club which boasted four thousands members and had, they said, the longest bar in the world. We were invited to be members for the duration of our visit.
The bar was in the shape of a “T” with several barmen working inside. They had to work furiously to satisfy their members who, it was said, would all attend on a Saturday night. We also became members of the Settler’s Club which was considerably more refined.
We travelled back to Melbourne on the very train that was carrying the produce from the region. We were housed in the guard’s van. Before we left, fresh produce was thrown into the van as a gift for us. Moving on down the line, there were several stops over the next ten miles and at each one there was a sack full of produce. We had aubergines, potatoes, beans, cabbage and lots of fruit.
A week after we got back home, I got a call from the local railway station to come and collect a box. When I opened it, I found that it was full of navel oranges.
Some months later, my wife and I went to Mildura on our honeymoon and we stayed at the George. The hotel had an excellent restaurant and one evening, we had Murray River Cod for dinner. It was delicious and I thought, many years later, that someone might try to introduce Cod into some British Rivers now that it has become more difficult to fish for them on the high seas.
Soon after we got married, I bought a cookery book. It was written by Philip Harben.
There was no doubt that he was an English cook. Philip Hubert Kendal Jerrold Harben (1906 –1970) was an English cook, recognised as the first TV celebrity chef.
His mother, Mary Jerrold, was an actress famous as the murderous Martha Brewster in the first stage presentation of Arsenic and Old Lace as well as many screen roles. His father, Hubert Harben, was a noted stage actor. His sister, Joan Harben, played Miss Mona Lott in the BBC Radio series ITMA.
He had compered a BBC radio cooking programme which started in 1942.
He compered BBC TV programmes “Cookery” from 1946 to 1951, then “Cookery Lesson” (with co-presenter Marguerite Patten) and “What’s Cooking” from 1956. His book includes a very wide range of recipes, but his emphasis was always on method and principles. He always tried to explain why a certain method was followed in cooking.
For some reason he seems to have been “airbrushed out” of television history in favour of Marguerite Patten as the “first” television cook.
He had a weekly column in the British Woman’s Own magazine in the 1950s.
In 1996, my copy of his book was falling apart, so I went to Books for Cooks in Portobello Road to see if I could get a replacement.
I said to the assistant “Do You have Philip Harben’s Cookery Book”. She said “Who’s He ?” I guess he did not make an impression on some people.