The TV cameras homed in on a slab of warm lasagne and lashings of roast pork with crackling as Adelaide’s Two Old Blokes sat down yesterday in the Parliament House cafe to ponder their next adventure.
While the food world mourns the loss of Two Fat Ladies’ junior partner, the delightful Clarissa Dickson Wright, our collective eyes remain on the odd bods who will decide which party forms government in South Australia. Similar contradictions that made the Two Fat Ladies so popular as celebrity chefs on the famous BBC program are being played out in Parliament House this week.
Wright and her late cooking partner Jennifer Patterson were brought together by a BBC TV producer who saw the attraction of mixing old-fashioned themes and a new fascination with food. Patterson came from a military family and worked in kitchens and schools; Wright came from a wealthy family, studied law and at the age of 21 became the United Kingdom’s youngest barrister. She later fell foul of her profession and was disbarred.
Both women, however, had been around the food business a very long time. They’d seen the transition from home comfort food to nutritional trends dominated by what Clarissa called the “health police”. The BBC sent them around the countryside on a motorbike and sidecar cooking “suets and tipsy cake rather than rocket salad and sun-dried tomatoes”. They cooked with animal fats and made contemptuous references to “manky little vegetarians”.
Suzanne Hamlin, in a 1998 New York Times article, described Wright and Patterson as being “as appealing as someone else’s dotty aunts”. Their TV show was an instant hit.
Sadly, Patterson died just before her 71st birthday in 1999 from lung cancer and, on Saturday, Dickson Wright, 66, passed away after a life trying to beat alcohol abuse.
Back in South Australia, our parliamentary “dotty uncles” have ridden into prominence in a partnership they would never have contemplated in their past years. Like the Ladies, they come from different backgrounds.
Bob Such was an academic, teaching and lecturing at the University of South Australia; he did a PhD on the rise of the Greens in Australian politics before entering politics in 1989 as a Liberal MP. He was set to lose preselection in 2000 to ex-federal MP Susan Jeanes when he decided to go independent. He’s held his southern suburbs seat ever since.
Geoff Brock had moved to Port Pirie in 1976 to work at the lead smelter. He was still there in 2003 when he won the job as mayor of Port Pirie. In 2009 he was convinced by Labor strategists to stand in the Frome byelection and, with the support of Nick Xenophon, he squeaked past the Labor candidate by 30 votes and then used the Labor preferences to get past the Liberal candidate.
Such and Brock have little in common, except that they feel uncomfortable in the restrictive regimes of political parties. They are lone travellers, brought together by the old sidecar and motorbike that is our state electoral system.
How long will their adventure run? What will their celebrity and fame deliver to them and their constituents? The bright lights can sometimes burn ever so briefly.
As a footnote, it’s worth remembering the tale that Clarissa Dickson Wright referred to when I interviewed her in Sydney in 1998 — it had been claimed that in her booze-filled, high-flying legal career, she had sex with an MP behind the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons. She didn’t “kiss and tell”, she said.
As for Bob and Geoff, we’ll all know who gains the benefit of their affections in the chamber.
*This article was originally published at InDaily