COLUMN WRITTEN BY PHILLP SILVERSTONE
I have fond memories from my childhood in London watching the “Galloping Gourmet” on the telly. Some four decades later I met the incredibly articulate and amiable Graham Kerr in Philadelphia and that’s when we became fast friends and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. In my one-man show at ACT II Playhouse in Ambler in October I will be showing my video chat with Graham from the 1990’s which has never been seen before. And here is an extract to whet your whistle:
Silverstone: I understand your parents owned a hotel?
Kerr: Yes. (Dad) had a nice personality. He used to sing Gilbert and Sullivan a lot — amateur — in London before the Second World War. He was an “I say old chap,” sort of fellow … awfully nice. My mother was something of a Grecian beauty, though English. So the result was that they got on quite well. As long as I can remember from 10 years of age, I was an hotelier’s son.
Silverstone: They say that an army marches on its stomach. Didn’t you actually feed the British Army’s stomach for a while?
Kerr: Yes, I did. I was recruited into a branch of the armed forces. My father wanted me to become a radar mechanic so that I could come out of the army and be useful. I don’t quite know how … so I joined the army and I remember one day seeing a man undo a sack of cabbage and pour it — roots and earth and all — into a large boiler. I looked at it and thought something needed to be done. And so I went to see the appropriate person and he said “Why do you wish to be an officer in the army?” And I said “Well, the food is so dreadful that I think something needs to be done with it and I think I am your man.” I was just over 18 the time and so that’s how it began and eventually I did do something about it.
Silverstone: How did you end up in the New Zealand Air Force.
Kerr: When I left the British Army I went to work as general manager of the Royal Ascot Hotel, next to the Ascot race course, and the royal family would pop in and it was all very swish. My wife Treena and I were working about 16 hours a day, and she was pregnant with our second child. We lost the child and the doctor, with a very stiff upper lip, said to me: “Try not to mention it old boy. Just don’t say anything. Give her a little cuddle and just get on with it. Don’t talk about it.” Absolutely the wrong thing to do … very difficult for Treena. So we used to sit talking endlessly about the fact that we did nothing but work, and didn’t have any time to smell the roses, wherever they were. So one day we decided we’d go away as far as we possibly could from England. I went to New Zealand House in London, just on the off chance there might be something available for me. They told me they didn’t have anything suitable and I said I didn’t mind what they would offer me … I’d work anywhere, doing whatever. To cut a long story short, they said: “How about the Chief Catering Advisor to the Air Force?” I said it sounded like a bit too much for me. I didn’t know that I could do a job like that. They said: “Oh, it’s not a very big Air Force.” So I said I’d give it a go and took the job of Squadron Leader, which I thought was terribly grand, and I sat at a desk for 5 years in New Zealand, where I was introduced to the wine and food society, which I joined. I eventually became its vice president, and then went on to do a radio program and then television.
Silverstone: You began your career in New Zealand on NZBC radio?
Kerr: Yes, it was called “Cook’s Tour.” A lady called Elsie Lloyd, who was head of “Woman’s Hour” programming said she thought that I could do it, so I submitted a script about once a month, and she rejected all of them for nine months. Then one day she awarded me first prize for persistence, and we launched the program. I remember at the very beginning she came bursting in to the studio saying: “For God’s sake, man, put some bloody oomph in it!” I didn’t know what “oomph” was, but I understood the principle. And that’s where I started.
Phillip Silverstone’s column appears each week in this publication. “Time Out With Phillip Silverstone” is a weekly two-hour podcast heard exclusively on TuneIn radio anytime and anywhere worldwide either on the free TuneIn app for all smart phones and tablets (Search: Phillip Silverstone) or online on Tunein at: http://bit.ly/1gY2Ht4. “Follow” the show for weekly updates. You can also LIKE Phillip on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Phillipsilverstone and follow him on Twitter: @wining