This weekend the classic comedy series Fawlty Towers celebrates its 40th birthday!

In December 1974 John Cleese cast me as cockney detective Danny Brown in the pilot episode of the series that is now celebrated as one of the great comedy shows of TV history.


Quite why he cast me I have never been able to figure out–until this morning!

The only time I’d met him before was when we were both in an undergraduate production of Much Ado About Nothing directed by Trevor Nunn at Cambridge University in 1961. Although we were both in the same scene–Act IV Scene II–I can’t remember spending any time with him.

He was on the comedy side of university theatre in The Footlights and I was on the straight side, the ADC–the Amateur Dramatic Club.

This morning I pulled out my volume of The Works of Shakespeare (purchased, second hand, in 1960)–and looked up the scene.

John played a member of the Watch (comedy) and I was Borachio (straight)–a henchman of the villainous Don John.

Borachio and his fellow fixer, Conrad, are being arraigned by Constable Dogberry, having been caught red-handed by members of the watch.

Was John so impressed with my cockney accent that 13 years later he reincarnated a reformed Borachio as Detective Danny Brown?!

I was too nervous to ask him in rehearsal–seems the likely explanation though.

A week’s TV work just before Christmas after three years earning peanuts in the theatre was very welcome.

But it involved recording in front of a studio audience–something I’d never done–and I was nervous!

Snooty Basil didn’t like having his hotel foyer polluted with Danny’s broad Cockney accent, but was forced to show him a bit of respect when, failing to make Manuel–the waiter–understand his instructions to take the luggage upstairs–Danny steps into the breach with a surprising display of fluent Spanish.


I don’t speak Spanish–so I learned the lines by rote.

Come the “take”–nails biting into my palms–I managed a faultless rendition of the Spanish lines–only to be told by the floor manager that there was a camera in shot–and we would have to go again!


There I am on the DVD, speaking fluent Spanish, so I must have managed it again–but I have no memory of it!


I had just been cast as Ross Poldark and after Christmas began work on the epic that changed my life.

It wasn’t the end of Fawlty Towers for me though.

The pilot was approved and the series got the go-ahead. Six half-hour episodes were in the can, but a late plot change involving Polly–played by Connie Booth, John’s writing partner and wife at the time–meant they had to re-record part of my dinner scene exchange with Polly.

My hair had grown and changed color for Poldark–so for one afternoon at Television Centre in mid-summer, they dyed my hair dark brown and pinned it up at the back–and I was briefly Cockney Danny Brown again.


I just read a newspaper piece about the anniversary, in which actor Nicky Henson, who appeared in a later episode, rejoices that 40 years later the residuals (those were the days!) are still enhancing his pension.


Nicky Henson with John Cleese

I concur–we were lucky boys!

I doubt playing Borachio has ever paid off so well in the life of an actor!






I went walnutting this morning after the rain.

Beautiful heavy drops plomping straight down into the cats’ drinking bowls with a splash.

The sort of rain that can topple a walnut from the tree before it is quite ready to fall–thus making an early expedition to walnut alley worthwhile.

A big wind blew last night as we went to bed–violently shaking the trees.

Then rain this morning–a perfect scenario for a seasoned walnutter.


Came back with two sacks (five pounds!) of walnuts–freed them from their outer cases–and a good feeling.


Hosed them down and decanted them into a filigreed steel basket to sit in the sun.


Now for lunch.

I made the walnut pasta two days ago for Meredith to photograph for the next book–Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics–due out in the Spring.

We didn’t feel like eating it just then–but I had a plan… (see below)


Here is the original recipe which is beautifully simple.


Spaghettini with Walnut, Garlic and Parmesan Sauce

 serves 4
  • 100g/4oz shelled walnuts – be careful, if you shell them yourself, to avoid any teeth-cracking bits being left in
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tbsp parsley, chopped, plus a little extra parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • 5 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve
  • 1 tbsp walnut oil
  • 425g/14oz wholewheat spaghettini or spaghetti
  • 100g/4oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve

Put the walnuts, garlic and parsley in a food processor, season with salt and pepper, add the oils and pulse to a sauce of this texture:


Add the grated cheese and mix.


Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water.

Drain it– keeping a little of the cooking liquid– and put the pasta back in the hot pan.

Add the sauce and a tablespoon of the cooking liquid (i.e. hot, salted water) and turn it over thoroughly.

Turn it into a warmed bowl and sprinkle with extra parsley.

Serve immediately with more olive oil and Parmesan to hand.


It’s a favorite pasta for us!

Two days later and…

I’m lightly sautéing half the spaghettini in walnut sauce (half because there are only two of us) to go with a small salad of sliced tomatoes gathered from our garden–another harvest this morning.


Panfried Walnut Pasta (for leftovers!)

(This pasta lends itself to re-use, crisping up nicely for a crunchy bite.)

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sauté pan.

When the oil is hot, slip in the pasta.

Cook this over a medium heat for about 5 or 6 minutes. The bottom should be crispy brown.


Turn this over carefully with a spatula and cook the other side to a similar effect.

Halve the pancake (I find scissors work well!) and divide between two plates.


We discovered this starter in a little chef-owned restaurant in our local town recently.


It came in individual dishes straight from the oven–the cheese melting into the shallots, the pancetta crisp.

A few mouthfuls of bliss!

It was so simple and so delicious, I had to try it at home.

Now we try not to have it with every meal….

for 2

  • 2 to 4 shallots–depending on the size–very thinly sliced
  • 1 goat cheese/chevre, “log”shape (in the hot oven, the outer “skin” allows them to hold their shape as the cheese melts inside.)
  • 4 pancetta slices–halved (you could use prosciutto too, if pancetta is difficult to source.)
  • 2 small sage leaves–optional but fun
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil

Heat oven to 200C/400F

Spread the sliced shallots evenly between the two individual oven-proof dishes–there should be enough to lightly cover the bottom of each dish.

Slice four pieces of about one-and-a-half inches from the chèvre cheese “log”.

Place two pieces in each of the oven-ready dishes, with two sage leaves.

Arrange four half-slices of pancetta around the sides of each dish.


the second two halves of a slice of pancetta to come…

Grind some pepper over the dishes and drizzle with olive oil.


the second two halves of a slice of pancetta still to come…

Slide the dishes onto the top shelf of the oven and cook for about ten minutes. (The cheese should be soft but hold its shape.)


It’s a hard act to follow.

Roast guinea fowl with chickpea mash managed to snatch back some glory at dinner the other night.





A weekend visitor…

We have a visitor this weekend–she came last weekend too and will probably be with us next weekend as well.

That might seem like pushing your luck as a house guest….

Since she doesn’t have any choice in the matter, “pushing your luck” doesn’t come into it!

The “she” in question is, of course, the adorable mite of a kitten featured in a recent post.


A calico–mixed fawn and black–with a black smudge on her lower lip that suggests she’s been sucking on a lump of coal.

She’s grown a little since last week.

Here she is taking a siesta on an exceptionally hot afternoon.


Her name is Fleur, though the French call a cat with this coloring an isabelle. I haven’t found out why.

We are in love!

Sadly for us though, she belongs to Flo, our oldest French friend and neighbor.

Flo drives to the Mediterranean at the weekends to help her husband selling fishing tackle on the coast.

Two hours in a hot car–not good for kittens–so we have a weekend guest.


Fleur is feisty, always curious, with intelligent eyes asking questions–and hoppity-hop.

She crouches and jumps–does the cat sideways rush and plays tomboy with our youngest cat, Midnight.


He’s delighted to shed–for a moment–the “Junior” tag.

They race across the courtyard, then tumble together, all squeals.

“Gently now–she’s just a kitten!”

Such fun to hide behind a flower pot, swishing your tail, waiting for Midnight.

This weekend though she’s out of luck.

Midnight–poor lad–is ill and not up for japes. He’s been curled up on a chair for a couple of days.

Must be something he ate–a lizard, perhaps*.

Fleur had a quieter time this trip.


Just as well, it’s getting hot again after a few days respite–rain even.

Ben was pleased–he’s finding her playfulness irksome–and absents himself at the end of the garden.

Flo knows we’re hooked and helped the parting last weekend with a suggestion.

“We’ll let Fleur have one litter of kittens and you shall have first choice.”

On verra dans un an….[We’ll see in a year….]

Meantime we look forward to Fridays.

IMG_1262 - Version 3

By the way, today is International Cat Day! (No kidding!)

*Since I wrote this Midnight paid a visit to the vet and was treated for a high temperature. Youngster that he is, he has bounced back. Fleur is delighted.









Sweet and savory.

Our friend Helen Richmond in Tuscany tipped us the wink on this unusual combo.

The tang of the lime juice offsets the sweetness of the melon.

The mild bite of the onion complements the saltiness of the feta.

The colors are seductive and the taste suggests…

I shut my eyes as I take a mouthful and I’m on Corfu–and they are grilling the lamb chops for the main course!

Thank you, Helen!

for 8 as a starter


  • 1.5 k of watermelon (surprising how much a big slice weighs!)
  • 250 gm feta cheese
  • a good handful of juicy black olives–stoned and halved
  • a small red onion–peeled, halved and finely sliced
  • a handful of mint–chopped
  • a good handful of parsley— leaves off the stem but kept intact
  • 2 tbs lime juice (freshly juiced)
  • 6 tbs olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper

Release the flesh of the melon by carefully running a sharp knife round the inside of the crescent of rind–take your time!


Lightly steer a teaspoon along the ridge of pips skillfully dislodging them without mushing up the flesh.

Cut the flesh into bite-size squares.

Cut the feta in smaller squares.


Place the melon and the olives in a bowl and add the feta.


Sprinkle over the red onion and the mint.

Mix the lime juice, olive oil and a couple of grinds of black pepper. (A screw-top jar is good for this–add ingredients and shake it all about!)

Pour this over the the salad and carefully turn it all over–hands (washed!) work well!


Add the parsley leaves and refrigerate until you are ready to serve (best served thoroughly chilled).












Thick slices of in-season aubergine softened in the oven at a high temperature then topped with ripe tomatoes cooked with garlic, a little chili and a slice of mozzarella or grated parmesan.



To brighten a cloudy day…

Summer simplicity–using vegetables bang in season and begging to be used.

Me, sir! Me! Me, sir! Just like at school; eager hands in the air, knowing the answer.

This is a Nigel Slater idea from his book Tender.

I am using:


  • 2 aubergines/eggplants–sliced thickly


  • Olive oil (for brushing the sliced aubergines)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 lb/450 grams tomatoes–ripe as can be–roughly chopped


  • 1 tbs olive
  • 1 garlic clove–peeled and chopped
  • a small dry chili–chopped (no need to take out the seeds)
  • small handful of basil leaves (optional)
  • A medium ball of mozzarella–sliced thick
  • 2 tbs grated parmesan

Oven: 220C/430F  (hot!)

Oil an oven tray large enough to take the aubergine slices.

Brush the aubergines with olive oil on both sides and season with salt and pepper–generously!

Put the tray in the top of the oven and cook for about 25 minutes (check at 20 minutes, but the aubergines profit from a little singeing–and they must be soft).


While the aubergines are cooking, heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a small saucepan and add the tomatoes, garlic, chili and basil (if you have it).


Cook for 20 minutes or until you have a nice mess of tomatoes.


Remove the aubergine slices from the oven and spread some of the tomato sauce on each with a teaspoon.


Top each slice with the grated parmesan or a slice of mozzarella.


Put the tray back in the oven for about ten minutes–long enough for the cheese to melt.


Oh my!


We had small salad with these–using cherry tomatoes from the garden, cucumber, sliced onion and small pieces of feta. (It was intended to be a Greek salad but I forgot the black olives!)


A three CHEESE feast!

An interested guest looked on.


More of her later…






A mid-summer dish this, when zucchini are zingy and the tomatoes ripe and sweet.


The squeeze of lemon adds the third dimension.

The inspiration for this recipe comes from one of my food heroes, Nigel Slater, in his cookbook, TENDER.

The courgettes and tomatoes should retain their brilliant summer colours.

Resist overcooking, in other words!

for 2 or 3


4 courgettes

3 tbs olive oil

3 medium tomatoes

small handful basil leaves–roughly torn

juice of half a lemon

salt and pepper

Halve the courgettes length-wise and halve them again–then slice them into not too large chunks [see the photo above].

Roughly chop the tomatoes.

Heat the oil in a largish pan and add the zucchini/courgettes.

Cook them gently until they begin to soften–7 to 8 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, basil and lemon juice.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cover and cook for about ten minutes to allow everything to get friendly.

For lunch it made a pretty picture lying alongside an omelette.


This is going to feature often for the rest of the summer!




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