Saturday, 7 August 2010

Party time, 'sixties-style

Good Housekeeping, June 1963
Good Housekeeping isn't the natural home of the novelist. But when you're Len Deighton, and it's the 'sixties, and you're as known as much for being a cookery writer, artist/illustrator and all-round bon viveur and party host as you are for being the hottest new spy fiction writer on the scene, it makes sense.

I've just obtained a copy of said magazine from June 1963 (cover price 2s 6d) which contains a 22-page "Hostess Guide". There are some great tips for the modern party-giver which haven't survived to the present day - judging by any of the parties I've been to in the last decade - and some great food tips on offer: jellied veal and ham anyone?

On page 77 we find an article 'My Kind of Party' by Len Deighton (which includes a vignette of one of his own illustrations).

I've reproduced the text below. It's a fascinating social history of middle-class London life and a time when Deighton, as a literary new-kid-on-the-block after the publication of The Ipcress File, was hosting dinner parties with Rolling Stones, film stars, politicians and the top journalists and writers of the day:
Too much over-rich food, booze, politics, religion and sex - that's my kind of party. Sitting between other men's wives, judging the claret with pompous inexpertise and reluctantly having "just one more helping" of the duckling while arguing about free love, free church and free trade - can you think of anything better?
 At the parties I enjoy most there are one or two people that I know and like, half-a-dozen that I have never seen before and at least one that someone there loathes. The plates must be hot and the tablecloth pretty, but not so pretty that wine spilt on it is a major catastrophe. There should be an open fire on any but the hottest nights because it is something to hurl empty cigarette packets into and for someone to say there is nothing like.
Aperitifs should be limited or guests making their choice will impair the service. Tio Pepe, gin and dry vermouth are enough (although there are people who like whisky or beer, I am told). The bottles should be near the guests and there must by plenty of ice. I don't mean eight Oxo-sized cubes that come out of the freezing tray. I mean plenty. Enough to crunch bottles into or drop tumblers in mad abandon.
Host and hostess should be in the kitchen: no one wants them fussing around about ash on the sofa covers. Dinner should always be a little late because this has everyone hungry and in the right mood to appreciate the cooking. Let's start with lots of small dishes, however simple: avocado, shrimps served plain, roll-mops, anchovy or just hard-boiled egg served with home-made mayonnaise.
Somewhere about here there should be a soup that has earned its name: tomato soup made from tomato, or chicken soup made from chicken. As for a jellied consommé based on a good beef stock - the cook will still be wallowing in the compliments when all else is forgot.
A fish course? It makes a meal into a banquet. Steam some fillets or poach something really big and set light to it on a bed of fennel twigs. Make a salmon mousse or avoid any work at all by serving with thin brown bread-and-butter.
If there are lots of guests, I prefer not to wait while the host carves a bit joint; by the time he has been to get the Elastoplast it is cold. After the meat course the simplest of salads must appear before the ladies whip out their fags. Shredded white cabbage with yoghurt as dressing is simple. Serve it on dinner plates; it will save the washing up. 
Ah, the cheese. For me some Bresse Bleu and a piece of Capricet des Dieux. O.K., then perhaps just a sliver of Wensleydale. A different sort of bread would be good with the cheese. How about a really dark one?
Why are the host and hostess sitting there eating cheese? They should be in the kitchen warming the Chinese ginger sauce for the home-made ice-cream or standing by the soufflé with a stop watch. Don't be too long with the coffee. What about a continental roast for a change? With the dessert? Yes, as soon as it's ready, thank you.
What was that awful man saying about ... well, since it's Remy Martin and since I'm not driving. The women all look much prettier now - it must be the time of day or the thin gauze of tobacco smoke behind which they are sitting. I'm glad someone is taking that terrible man down a peg. You made them yourself? Oh I do - Petits Fours and a fresh peach - dare I take one of each? Well, I'm fourteen stone now. Oh, I'm sure I do, but I'll have another, anyway.
No, I've got a brandy, thank you. To compare? What a splendid idea. And a cigar? Well since it's such a pleasant evening. The pretty girl on my left just adores the aroma.
Mints, a nice touch. If there is some more, just black for me - no sugar. I'm on a diet.
Thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it; too bad you two were in the kitchen all the time. You must visit us some time. Of course it won't be like this - we serve the simplest food possible: we like to spend as much time as possible with our guests.
Charming little piece. Ah, the sixties sound good, don't they? There's something to be said for a little bit of political incorrectness from time-to-time!

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