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Jennifer Paterson; ‘Two Fat Ladies’ TV Show Chef

From Times staff and wire reports

Jennifer Paterson, one of the television chefs known internationally as the “Two Fat Ladies,” who joyfully salted their recipes with political incorrectness, died Tuesday of lung cancer. She was 71.

Paterson’s illness had been diagnosed only last month, after she fell ill during taping of the show. She died in London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, the British Broadcasting Corp. said.

In the United States, the duo’s humorous cooking program was popular on both PBS and cable’s Food Network. The show has been syndicated in 10 countries. The two women also co-wrote three best-selling cookbooks.

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Trying to savor life right to the end, Paterson remained more interested in fine food than the traditional gifts for hospital patients, preferring caviar to flowers, according to her cooking-show co-star, Clarissa Dickson Wright. Prince Charles, for whom Paterson had cooked a dinner in 1986, sent ice cream and homemade organic tomato soup to the ailing chef.

Only last year, Paterson described herself as being in fine fettle for a septuagenarian, commenting: “The secret? Lots of meat, drink and cigarettes and not giving in to things.”

When anti-smoking viewers complained of her smoking on camera two years ago, Paterson chided: “Thousands die from smoking each year, but knowing this I continue to smoke myself. It is my informed decision.”

Perfectly happy to be fat, she and Dickson Wright toured England on Paterson’s old Triumph motorcycle--she in the driving seat and Dickson Wright, wearing a Red Baron-style helmet, squeezed into the sidecar.

They went from one cooking job to the next, chortling and trading wry quips about food, love and life and happily loading their food with butter and cream. They prepared rich, hang-the-cholesterol meals for a variety of Britons, including potato pickers in Jersey and lumberjacks in Scotland.

“Jennifer was a life force on the side of all things that were politically incorrect,” said BBC broadcast chief executive Will Wyatt. “She came to television all too late, but she left some wonderful programs behind, which we will be enjoying for years to come.”

The chain-smoking Paterson, often filmed with a cigarette clamped firmly in her mouth, spoke with an upper-class accent and boomed out her opinions at will.

She wore black-rimmed eyeglasses, vivid nail polish and plenty of makeup while she concocted her dishes, which she once described as “domestic cooking, not flibbertigibbet restaurant cooking.”

Weighing more than 200 pounds, she had no more time for dieting than for nouvelle cuisine.

“It’s the last taboo, isn’t it--fat?” she said in a 1997 interview. “It’s all the fault of the Duchess of Windsor. She came up with that stupid line, ‘You can never be too rich or too thin.’ And America took it to their heart.”

Born in London, Paterson spent her first four years in China and returned with her family to England, where she attended a Catholic boarding school. She was expelled at age 15 for being disruptive.

The nuns, she said, “had to expel me in the end. They claimed it was the only way to get the rest of the school to settle down.”

She briefly attended Kingston Arts School before moving to Berlin, where her father had been posted in the army. She wanted to be an actress, but taught English in Portugal and later lived in Venice and Sicily. She spent time in Libya, where she cared for an aunt and uncle’s children.

But the only thing that came naturally to her, she said in middle age, was cooking.

In 1952, she returned to London and began working for magazines and later the TV show “Candid Camera.” In 1977, she landed the job of cook for the Spectator magazine, and remained there for 15 years.

In 1996 the BBC teamed her with Dickson Wright. They barely knew each other at the time, but “the first day taping, it was as though we had cooked together all our lives,” Dickson Wright said.

Paterson, who never married, shared a London apartment with her surviving octogenarian uncle. She also is survived by two brothers and their children.


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