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Literary executorship - Elizabeth David estate

On her retirement after three decades, Jill Norman has appointed me to take over as literary executor and trustee of the Elizabeth David estate. This coincides with the seventh anniversary this week of the unveiling of the blue plaque on my aunt’s Chelsea house. It poured with rain that May day when, on behalf of English Heritage, historian Rosemary Hill spoke to a group of us standing on the street. A little red curtain that had been attached to the wall slid open and Dr Hill summed up with this comment: ‘Elizabeth David was taken seriously in a way that no English food writer had been before. She turned the traditional image of Mrs Beeton into a much more glamorous, cosmopolitan idea of what it meant to cook.’

Johnny Grey at Elizabeth David blue plaque in Chelsea

At the unveiling ©bbc

Jill Norman was Elizabeth’s editor at Penguin as well as the writer and editor of a range of her own books about food. I would like to thank her on behalf of the family for preserving Elizabeth David’s work since her death in May 1992. I am honoured to have been appointed as the new literary executor and will do my best to keep Elizabeth David’s books in print, her name relevant and her voice alive in British food culture.

I am committed not only to protecting but also to projecting my aunt’s legacy. A television programme is in the pipeline, a podcast surely a possibility. I am keen to help students explore the part she played in our culture. I have been involved in something like this in my own way for years, including providing ideas for new books such as one that brings her specifically to the attention of vegetarians, Elizabeth David on Vegetables (2013). Is there a Nutmeg in the House? (2001) includes pieces I selected on her fresh, opinionated, and very influential in my case, take on kitchen design.

Going back to when I was a schoolboy in the nineteen-sixties, my aunt opened a shop in Pimlico under her name. My father was partly responsible. As her GP, he advised this change of direction after she suffered a cruelly ironic loss of sense of taste following a stroke. She was in her late forties. She did recover the vital faculty and revive her writing career but meanwhile the shop became a cult destination for fans from all over the world. She was elusive as well as charismatic there, androgynous, black-clad and often downstairs in the cramped and gloomy storeroom surrounded by all the stock. Her assistants, including Rosie Hanson who came to the plaque ceremony, were all charming, clever and gorgeous. The first thing I did when home from boarding school was take a bus to the shop. There I was met by fantastic window displays wholly of white china or baking tins in different shapes and sizes, all stacked on a pine table. The style was modern and exotic.

Johnny Grey in the 60's

The boy that visited the shop

Elizabeth David in the basement at Elizabeth David Limited

Rare photo taken in the basement at Elizabeth David Limited

I believe Elizabeth David would be delighted at the growth of British artisan food and the increased awareness of the origins, cultural richness and pleasures of our ingredients and cooking today. We are in a very different place from thirty years ago, let alone the post-war period of her most popular writing. My hope is for her literary estate to support a new generation of ventures and initiatives - ideas welcome!

We are setting up a new Elizabeth David website...


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