1 9 5 0 (UK)
12 x 30 minute episodes
Introduced by the bearded, round-faced and exuberant Philip Harben in a blue butcher’s apron, Cookery Lesson – which aired on Tuesdays at 3.00 pm – introduced viewers to the basic cooking principles in twelve lessons.
Considering the UK was still under ration-book rule at the time, it is surprising that Harben’s lessons were so successful. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that he was such a hit at a time when the kitchen was still seen as very much the domain of women.
As a child, Philip Harben spent much time in the kitchen with his parents’ cook while they were away. After leaving school, he worked as a photographer until, at the age of 31, he changed career and became a cook at the Isobar restaurant in Belsize Park, London.
After a spell in the RAF catering division, he approached the BBC and became a TV cook on the programmes Cookery (1946 – 1951) and What’s Cooking?. In the early days, he had to use his own food rations to cook with on his tv show.
Harben devoted the lion’s share of one programme to making a cup of tea. Pot-warming temperatures, infusion times, and even the height from which to pour the water onto the leaves were discussed at rigorous length.
Harben moved to ITV in 1964 with Headway (subtitled The Grammar of Cookery). Beating Heston Blumenthal by over forty years, Harben stocked up on microscopes, slide rules and calculus tables for the show.
With technical advice from microbiologist A L Bacharach and with episodes called ‘The Three Faces of Meringue’ and ‘Egg Liaison’, he took cookery to new heights of sophistication.
His last programme was Thames Television’s The Tools of Cookery (1968 – 1969).
Philip Harben passed away on 27 April 1970.