Board banquets and bangers

From Fusion 31, published August 1963.

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‘Mr Adorian is game for anything’, she said. What’s this? Further scandal in high places? No, no, no. It is a very flattering remark made by the canteen supervisor, Miss Ellis, on the managing director’s enthusiasm for new dishes.

But how do the rest of the staff at Television House feel about their food? On the general assumption that they buy what they like best, we did some research into the best sellers.

Cold weather is the time for more substantial meals, but sausages are always the best seller at lunchtime, and even more so in the evening.

(This sausage addiction is not just confined to Television House. I quote from a May edition of the ‘Daily Mirror’: ‘Although “sausages are losing their individuality”, and only one butcher in ten makes his own, Britons eat 9,000 million of them a year. Housewives spend £3 out of £100 housekeeping on sausages.”)

All cheese dishes (egg mornay, macaroni cheese and variations) are very popular, generally selling about 60 portions when they are served at lunch. (When it is not known whether anything from 200 to 400 will use the canteen, a sale of 60 portions rates as a ‘best seller’.)

A recent arrival – Quiche Lorraine -after a slow start at 24 has now been judged ‘non-poisonous’ and rocketed to the 50 mark. ‘It takes time before people trust a new dish,’ says Miss Ellis. People are always in a hurry; mixed grill when it is featured is usually a top seller (about 50), but the ‘Grilled Lamb Chop (to order)’ only sells about two a week. In the evening, people cannot be bothered to wait for omelettes, except for odd evenings when everybody seems to want them. Another fairly new arrival, which is climbing in popularity, is Chili con carne – about 30 sold at its last appearance.

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Salads are a best seller. With the warmer weather and the club no longer serving food, they often top the 60 mark. All these figure-conscious girls?
Not at all. It is the men. Yoghourt also usually sells out. Once upon a time, men asked for chips to be piled on their plates and then went on to collect some steamed pudding; now they go easy on the chips, or simply avoid both – ‘have to watch the figure you know’.

The sight of ‘soup so rich and green, steaming in a hot tureen’ was obviously too much for the staff last winter – the daily consumption averaged six gallons. The ‘green’ soup, or ‘green pea’ soup, is the least popular – tomato, minestrone and lentil are much better sellers. But now the summer soup consumption has dropped to an average of two and a half gallons a day.

Biscuits and cheese are the most popular second course. Steamed puddings always go well, often hitting the 60 mark. Apparently the post boys are good, reliable customers on that section. All milk puddings are very popular except semolina, but there is little sale of fruit juices.

Imagine the washing up all this entails. Eight people are employed in Television House who do nothing but wash up. After morning coffee there are no less than 1,000 cups, saucers and spoons to be washed, and this is repeated after the afternoon tea . . . lunchtime washing-up is inestimable.

At Wembley, the canteen menu works on a different system from Television House. They have an extensive ‘à la carte’ menu which never changes plus a shorter menu which changes every day; the latter includes one ‘composite’ meal and about three ‘à la carte’ dishes. The best seller by far is steak and kidney pudding. The second favourite is escalope of pork, which usually sells about 60. This is also a favourite with Fanny and Johnnie Cradock, but they do not like the spaghetti with which it is usually served.

The chef’s (yes, a real male chef) speciality – chicken risotto – is very popular, normally selling about 40 portions. Other favourites given to Wembley clientele, though not too often for them to become bored with, are ‘chicken supreme’, which sells about 40 and ‘braised ham California style’ (i.e. with peach), at about 55. Curry Madras is very popular in winter, but sales drop in the summer. Pudding popularity also varies with the season. The top winter pudding by a long way is Dutch apple tart, which sells about 120. Steamed and milk puddings also sell well, but jellies and cold puddings do not reach the top until the summer. Girls are the more figure conscious sex at Wembley, though a few of the men from telecine and sound who do not get so much exercise, also watch the calories. They go for grilled fish or egg dishes without rice. The actors apparently have enough exercise. The face of the Television House club-room has changed vastly over the last few months. The queues waiting for the ever-popular sausages and ‘coleslaw’ have disappeared and nothing has replaced them. Nor, incidentally, has anything replaced the four dozen wooden trays which gradually, mysteriously vanished, and it is a fairly common sight to see flowers in sugar containers around offices. What remains of the club, namely Betty and her bar, are still thriving. She does a tremendous trade in wine, closely followed by bitter draught beer.

The arrival of the humming monster whose fragrant aroma graces the sixth floor has started a new trend in drinking – hot chocolate. The chocolate sales far exceed all the black/white/with/without sugar coffee sales combined. During the week, this machine has a turn-over of about 800 cups, and an added 200 at the week-end (presumably ITN likes hot chocolate as well).

Cigarette machines vary with their best sellers, although the weekly takings usually amount to around £60. Staff have a choice of nine cigarette brands, but Senior Service seems to hold the steadiest high market.

The friendly British ‘banger’ once again wins on the trolley stakes – this time in the form of a sausage roll. Cheese and its various compounds are very popular in roll form, but the customers vary. On the second floor, the trolley can barely nose its way through the tea-point door before it is besieged by hosts of hungry post-boys who consume vast quantities of rolls every day. The fourth floor trolley does not do very good trade, partly because there are fewer people per square office and partly, as Miss Ellis puts it: ‘You can’t imagine those people sitting at their desk in the morning, munching sausage rolls.’ (Perhaps ‘they’ are also figure conscious.)

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At Wembley, there is no need for machines as the canteen is open from 8.30 a.m. until 10.00 p.m. However, they do operate a sixpenny slot machine which sells two bars of Kit Kat for every one of Cadbury Snack. (Cadbury Snacks are the most popular at Television House, closely followed by Dairy Bar.) Everyone goes to the Wembley canteen for the morning and afternoon tea breaks (or coffee if they prefer it). Hot toast and butter is served and sells about four times as well as all the filled rolls combined. At tea-time, there are homemade cakes, but way, way above anything else, the favourite is bread pudding. This is described as being as ‘solid as rock’ – in popularity not necessarily in composition.

From time to time, odd waiters carrying rare things like silver coffee pots can be seen around Television House. That probably means there is a Board luncheon on that day. About this subject, Miss Ellis says: ‘Mr Adorian is one of the most appreciative gourmets for whom you could ever cook.’

This was the menu at the last one:

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Fresh Scotch Salmon with Hollandaise sauce, garden peas, new potatoes

Pavlova*

Selection of fresh fruit

* (For non-ballet connoisseurs, this is described as a ‘Meringue affair de luxe with whipped cream, laced with Kirsch’.)

Incidentally members of staff may be interested to know that the general manager’s room has exactly the same food as the canteen.

The catering firm at Television House is even used as a general store if the shops are shut when people want eggs and bread. Michael Miles has the longest list of odd requests: a chicken carcass ; a sardine tin and one currant (no prizes for guessing the reason). Other requests trolley girls have learnt to take in their stride on day-to-day rounds include things like a fruit salad for a baboon, a milk pudding and even some old bones.

Are you a constructive criticiser? If so, both catering firms (Wembley and Television House) are open to suggestions for new, practical and economical recipes. But please on paper, stating ingredients, time involved and method – no telephone calls. The ideas should be sent to the canteen manager at Wembley or Miss Ellis, Room 330a at Television House.

Drawings by Geraldine Spence

About Joanna Briggs 1 Article
We have not been able to find out anything about Joanna Briggs. If you worked with her at Rediffusion (or elsewhere), please let us know more in the comments.

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