This blog is for English actress, cakemaker and writer Jane Asher, with many pictures and accurate information of one of the most beautiful rock muses from the 20th century.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Lecture special: Radio Times magazine, 1995

Jane Asher portrait and interview for Radio Times magazine, the week of April 1st - 7th, 1995.


What's her recipe for success?
Take a bulk order of icing sugar, blend with a refined upbringing in London, add an early talent for acting and sprinkle with a pinch of 60s notoriety as Paul McCartney's girlfriend. Bake in a cool oven and voilà – you have an actress who is apparently made of sugar and spice and all things nice.

A piece of cake?
Absolutely – although the 48-year-old detests her effortlessly perfect image. "I certainly don't see myself as the second Julie Andrews. If I see something about my goody-goody image it's unpleasant and galling. I feel like saying I really do pull the wings of butterflies."

Come on, not really. She is a tireless worker for charities, ranging from the Child Accident Prevention Trust and Leukaemia Research Fund to the World Wide Fund for Nature. She loves butterflies.

Main ingredients?
A long-standing marriage to cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. A steady career playing cool, capable Englishwomen. Three lovely children and a house in "cheery" Chelsea, where "even the traffic wardens are friendlier". And she makes party cakes. Did we mention that?

Flour Power?
Though launched in the recession, her shop is said to be doing famously, selling sugar-spun confections to politicians and royalty, some for over £1,000. The rest of us can purchase more modest creations from a leading supermarket . . .

No, Flower Power!
Well, we had to get round to the young Jane's Beatle fiancé eventually. Rumour has it that Radio Times was instrumental in their first meeting – she was sent on an assignment to cover a concert, Swinging Sound 63, at the Royal Albert Hall, where the Fab Four were playing. McCartney spotted her mini-skirted from the corridor as she was posing for our photographer. The rest, as they say, is history – where it remains, as she won't talk about it.

Has she put her career on ice?
No – Ms Asher began acting at the age of 5, playing a deaf girl without speech in Mandy, and by 15 had made eight films, acted in for plays and 100 broadcasts and had appeared on TV nine times. Acting, she insists, is still "the main prioruty" but she has been quoted as saying, "Sometimes I wonder how much the cake business has hurt the serious actress image. And then I think to myself, 'What do you mean, serious actress?' "

When can we get a taste?
On Sunday BBC1 – she plays headmaster's wife Felicity Troy in Joanna Trollope's The Choir.

Picture from the net, if it's yours, drop me a line and I'll give you full credit. Thanks.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Lecture special: How the cookie crumbles for Jane, 1988

TV Times, 23/29 January 1988. vol 130. Num. 4


No one would have thought, with two books about the making of decorative cakes to her credit, that actress Jane Asher would ever say: 'I'm not a sponge person. Baking isn't my forte.'
But sitting curled on a sofa in her dining room, she is determined to shatter the image of herself as the superwoman mother of three, who acts, looks after her cartoonist husband Gerald Scarfe and Emily the dog and writes books while dashing off the odd masterpiece in ponge and icing.
the culinary confessions continue over coffee.
'They don't all work out, you know. the cakes. I've had loads of disasters. But, of course, nobody wants to read about them in a book. Like the one I made for my mum on her 70th birthday. It was to be the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. I imagined this wonderful boot with children peeping out of the windows, but it came out like one of those gheetly surgical boots. So depressing for a woman of 70. I threw it away. I've had several like that. I'm afraid my books give me an image that I don't deserve.'

The image is something she can live with. Her books sell very well.
'Strange to think how it all started. I have always made fancy cakes. I like doing fiddly things that require a lot of patience. I was in a West End play and had some time on my hands, so I sent a few photographs of my cakes to a publisher. I got a really snotty letter back saying he was not interested. It was the kind of letter that makes one determined to succeed. I sent my photos round to six other publishers and, finally, one of them said yes. The book was a runaway success and they were soon screaming for more. As a result, i have just produced a book called Easy Entertaining.' This tells the busy housewife how to return from a hard day at the office and produce a dinner party for eight withouth batting an eyelid. 

In 1956, Jane Asher's film caravan came to rest alongside Max Bygraves. The pig-tailed child star appeared in 'Charley Moon', a story of life in a travelling circus.
 It can only enhance Jane's formidable image, bolatered in recent months by a series of television parts in which she has portrayed coolly efficient women. As Faith Ashley in ITV's adventure series Wish Me Luck on Sunday, she plays another cut-glass type.
She says: 'Faith's job is to recruit and train woen agents for work in occupied France. She is good at being objective and taking hard desitions. I suppose I get these parts because I have the look of a person who is in control. But I'm not. I forget things, I daydream, I make mistakes. I'm just like any other harassed mother of three trying to run a career and a home.'
At the age of 41, Jane Asher certainly doesn't look like the average harassed mother of three. The red-gold hair, which seems to attract all the light in the room, the fine features and pale skin go with a figure as slender as a teenager's.
'I'm lucky,' she says. 'I eat what I like and I don't put on weight. I don't suppose I could have trhown myself with such gusto into the cake books if I was frightened of licking the butter icing. The children are the same. We are a thin family.'
To prove the pint, in walks 13-year-old Kate, her oldest child. Same slener figure, same pale skin, same extraordinary hair.
'But I hate to be called a redhead,' Katie warns. She asks her mother to plait her hair for her.
'Nice shirt you have on,' says Jane, raising an eyebrow.
'You don't mind do you, Mum?'
'Of course not. We are about the same size,' Says Jane, speedily knotting her daughter's long tresses into a silky rope.
'Katie was an only child for seven years until the boys came along [Alexander who is six, and rory, who is four], so we are very close.'
With her mother's looks and figure, had Katie ever shown an interest in taking up her mother's profession?
'No,' say mother and daughter together.
'I have purposely discouraged children from wanting to be child stars,' says Jane. 'All three of them are good at drawing. They get it from their father, and Katie plays the piano. These talents I have encouraged. But not acting'.

Jane's film debut came in 1952, when the five-year-old budding actress was in 'Mandy', an emotional and well-received story about a deaf-and-dumb girl, which featured Nancy Price (centre) and Phyllis Calvert.
She speaks from her jaded stance of a former child star. Mandy (1952) and The Greengage Summer (1961), two of her most successful childhood films, have not let her with the desire to push her own children in a similar direction. She explains: 'It'snot that child stars miss out on childhood. I certainly didn't. But it gives kids a strange set of values. I hate to see tiny tots auditioning against each other and getting turned down because someone doesn't like the way they look. I don't think that kind of competitiveness is good. Even if a child gets a good part, there's nothing so wonderful about it. It means a lot of hanging round feeling miserale and bored.'

While she says that her memories of being a child star are not exactly unhappy, she believes that, left to her own devices, she would never have chosen a career in acting.
'My father was a doctor and I was always fascinated by that side of things. I think I may have become some sort of of scientist. It'snot that I haven't enjoyed being an actress. It's just that I think it would have been better for me if my uptions had remained open until I was a bit older.'

'It's not that I want to look less than 41. i just want to look nice at 41,' says a cheerful Jane asher, with Emily her dog.
One of the things she is not looking forward to as she gets older is seeing herself on television starring in old films in the full flush of youth. I ask whether she would consider a facelift in years to come.
'I think the answer is no. but if someone was to offer me a jar of cream that would do the business, I'd buy it like a shot. I don't have anything against it in principle, i just don't fancy the surgery. I used to have a puritanical feeling against it, but as you enter your 40s, it doesn't seem so bad. It's not that I want to look less than 41. I just want to look nice at 41.
I suggest that she already is a very glamorous 41.
'Oh, no,' she says. 'I've never thought of myself as glamorous.'
Yes, we know. And you can't bake cakes, either!

Jane in pensive mood as Faith, the spy-mistress in the ITV drama series 'Wish Me Luck', on Sunday.
Cover scan from Brit Movie forums.
Pictures 1 to 4) Lady Jane group at yahoo.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Lecture special: Shakespeare knew about teenagers..., 1962

TV Times magazine, unknown issue. 1962.


Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is an ideal choice for an ITV Schools broadcast Drama production.

Young people will naturally sympathise with the story and the characters, so the play is an easy introduction to England's greatest playwright.
The first part of this five-part production is on Tuesday.

The story is well known... a feud between two aristocratic Italian families, the Montagues and the Capulets, in 14th century Verona... Romeo, aged 16, falls in love with 14-year-old Juliet, the daughter of his father's enemy... and only a tragic end for the young lovers rings peace between the warring families.

"This conflict between young love and parental authority is noticeable today," said the producer, Prudence Nesbitt. "We hope that the children will be able to appreciate Shakespeare by relating the play to present-day problems.
"It has remained continuously in the repertory of English theatre since 1596 and was adapted into modern terms in West Side Story with the setting in 20tn century New York instead of 14th century Verona."

Prudence Nesbitt, who produced Hamlet for last year's Schools Broadcast Drama, has deliberately cast this year's play young.
"There is a lot of inborn resistance to the sound of Shakespeare in many schoolchildren." she said. "We hope to combat this by playing the emphasis on youth, and by making the street fights and danger scenes exciting."
Juliet is played by 16-year-old Jane Asher, Romeo by 22-year.old David weston and Mercutio, Romeo's vlosest friend, by Rick Jones, aCanadian in his early 20's.
Jane has the distinction of being one of the youngest actresses to play Juliet professionally. this is her first attempt at Shakespeare.
"It is my first verse-speaking part," she told me at her home in Wimpole Street, London.
"It is difficult to speak verse well if you are without a great deal of experience. Several times I have to make a choice between poetry and the character in cting the part. Sometimes the sound wins, sometimes the fury."
This shy, self-controlled 16-year-old is training to be a hairdresser. "It is bound to come in useful during one of those bouts of resting all actresses are subject to," she said.
She has strong family attachments. She spends her holidays sailing or in the country with her parents, and has no desire to live away from home.
It was her mother who first encouraged her talent at five and took her to an agent. That year she appeared in the film Mandy, and by the time she was 12 she had appeared in five more films.
Recently she has had large parts in two films, last year she was the youngest-ever Wendy in Peter Pan on the London stage and she has become increasingly well-known for roles in plays and serials of television. Juliet is her biggest television part so far.

David Weston has strong views on his role. "To me," he said, "Romeo is not the soft, romantic idealist he is played as so frequently, but a fun-loving, yet sensitive, fellow.
"I imagine him as gay and high-spirited,a dominant personality with deep feelings."
Davif played Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet in his first year at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. "And as far back as I can remember at school we all acted in Shakespeare's plays," he said. "Mainly because Michael Croft, who founded the National Youth Theatre, was my English master and form teacher.
"I was always keen to play Romeo. I used to think my looks were against me, as Romeo is unusually dark and I have fair brown hair and pale skin, but in this production Juliet is fair as well, and it doesn't seem to matter.
"I am glad we are playing to such a young audience, because I feel one of the best ways to break down the barrier towards Shakespeare is for children to see his plays."

Jane Asher... she is 16

Monday, 17 April 2017

Lecture special: Jane the joyful mother, 1978

TV Times. April 8th  14th 1978.

Picture by Bernard Pallon
JANE ASHER is still occasionally described as a child of the Sixties. She says it makes her sound like something pinned down in a glass case.
She's 31, the apricot hair is as lustrous as ever, and now the man in her life is political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, whose spidery caricatures are often vicious satires.
He met his Jane near Brighton's Palace Pier during a Labour Party Conference seven years ago. Clive Jenkins, union leader of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs, did the instroductions.
Now Jane and Scarfe live in London's (formerly swinging) Chelsea and have a three-year-old daughter, Katie. "I could go on for hours about the joy of otherhood," says Jane, "but I won't. I promise..."

Currently she's on stage in the hit Mermaid Theatre production of Whose Life is it Anyway? which started as a TV play and this week she appears in Rumpole of the Bailey as a drug peddling hippy.
"Rumpole gets slightly too involved with her," she says. "I mean he's not totally just fatherly..."

Friday, 14 April 2017

Lecture special: Jane enjoys creating a new role..., 1981

TV Times magazine, 28 November – 4 December 1981

Jane Asher found Celia Ryder,whom she plays in Brideshead Revisited, 'a funny character'.

Everything about her is fresh and fine: her skin, her blue eyes, her hair, which has lightened over the years from red-gold to silver-gilt. Jane Asher at 35 still looks a snowdrop of a girl.
That fragile air hardly hides a basic sturdiness. Rejecting any notion that she offers the world a romantic pallor, she cheerfully observes that she had always been as white as a ghost. She is good at fielding inquiries she sees as an invasion of privacy. At the age of 19 she was in the middle of a long, lively, much-touted relationship with Paul McCartney. the results of her openness then have left her wary of interviews.

Jane Asher lived with political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe for some years. They have a seven-year-old daughter, Katie. These days Miss Asher is Mrs. Scarfe and Mrs. Scarfe sweetly does not care to say how long she had been married. 'For quite a while,' is the most she will manage. 'You can never explain your own life to anyone else,' she said last year. 'whatever you say, you're bound to antagonise someone.'
Gerald, Jane and Katie Scarfe live in Chelsea. Not long ago, sitting in her vast, handsome kitchen and waiting for a sibling for Katie, Jane said she likes being pregnant. 'I'd have babies all the time. You can always work round them. I've never planned a family round work. If a baby is good you can do almost anything.' She sounded slightly vague. As this is a lady who does not drift, sounding vague is probably as good a ploy as any to block questions.

Little Jane Asher was six when she played in her first film, Mandy, the story of a deaf-mute child. 'It probably made me want to go on the stage, but I was so young that I don't know whether I would have tried, anyway. I like to think that I persevered where my brother and sister didn't.'
Peter, two years older than Jane, abd Claire, who years younger, acted in films and on radio when children. But only Jane worked hard enough to take her O levels at 15, because her parents made it part of the deal that if she got behind with them she would have to stop acting. She performed professionally on television all through school and she carried on from there. 'I didn't have formal training. I just did it.'

Perhaps it was this early start which early on gave her the confience to pick and choose her parts. 'i'v always een very choosy. I particularly enjoy doing something that's just been written, creating a new role. I'd like to think that you can influence a new play a lot. When you're working on a character for the first time, shapes emerge.'
She has done some good first-time stuff. Christopher Hampton's The Philanthropist and Treats, Brian Clarke's Whose Life is it, Anyway? with Tom Conti. some of the plays are plenty wry, but as yet she has not properly taken on the ultimate challenge of straight comedy.
This is something she wants to do. she hopes she has brought comedy to Celia Ryder for Brideshead Revisited. 'Celia's a bit of a funny character. the more i played her the more sympathetic to her I became. charles is so beastly to her.'

Unintentional comedy attended Celia. The ITV strike in 1979 stranded Jane in the middle of a scene – she was standing in a bedroom about to enter the bathroom. a year-and-a-half later she found herself opening the door, looking, she imagines, a lot older, 'and wiser, maybe.' But what was one doing with the character 18 months earlier?
It was hard to remember: she had been in a play during that time. Before the Party, by rodney Ackland, got Jane Asher launching out in new directions. She produced as well as performed and for the first time she had to take on the drama's organizational and financial sides.
Sorting out her experiences, she came down for organisation. 'I'm not particularly good at finance but I am interested in getting things done. It's difficult to go up to people and say,you must put your money into this wonderful production, but I do. I try to find angels [backers] for a joint company I've formed with The Oxford Playhouse.'

Last Summer Jane stretched her organisational gifts by successfully staging a charity show, Hidden Talents, for London's Mermaid Theatre. John Le Mesurier sang a Cole Porter song, Clive Jenkins read petry, Tim Rice did his Elvis impersonation and astronomer Patrick Moore performed in this own operetta. The results were impressive enough to give rise to talk about a series for ITV's new Channel Four.

Since Brideshead Jane has acted with James Fox in Love is Old, Love is New, a four-parter for BBC Television, and with Laurence olivier in John Mortimer's A Voyage Round My Father, for Thames Television. More recently she has been working on a book which shows her at her most domestic.
She has always enjoyed engaging in domesticity and the book is about her unusual talent for elaborate and fanciful cake decorations. 'I've done lots of cooking and cake-decorating for years. During Before the Party, Phyllis Calvert [Jane's co-star] said I should put a book together on the subject.
'If you're going to decorate a cake yourself it's much funnier and more charming tomake it about the person it's intended for. the point about this book is that it isn't professional. People who think that ornate decorations must be a professional job won't be over-awed. I'm very much an amateur, working at the kitchen table among children and dogs, and having to clear up for dinner.'
the book will have lots of pictures showing needle-fingered Jane fiddling about with the tiny, imaginative details which emerge from her piping bag. It should be out next Easter, a good time for cakes.

Jane once said of acting: 'I sometimes wonder what it does to the brain, saying the same things over and over again. It seems strange to do it eight times a week.' the observation came out of a long run. She still wonders, remarking that – like words – lines repeated too often lose their meaning. 'It's interesting. It goes in waves. You can enjoy yourself discovering something new for a while and then you can sink into a great trough and feel you've lost it completely. Then suddenly one night you find it again.'

Jane Asher would make sure that she found it again. Cakes, babies, scripts, angels – whatever she tackles, she tackles well. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

Lecture special: Jane Meets Jeremy Irons, 1995

Jane Asher's Magazine, Summer 1995 issue.

Jane meets Jeremy Irons

I have known Jeremy for many years but it had been quite a while since I had last seen or worked with him. So I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet up with him socially and catch up on all his news.

"What memory do you have of working with me on Brideshead?" I asked the suave and stylish Jeremy Irons. Well, I thought to myself, there must be at least one special moment he's never forgotten; some vision of me all those years ago that has never left him; a mental snapshot of Jane at 33, in a beautiful thirties outfit, leaning fetchingly against a wall of the set, perhaps; or the unforgettable way I had put across a certain nuance of Celia Ryder's character. "You being sick," he answered. "Oh. Yes, of course."

[foto ell gran amb pastís: Smooth touch. "Life goes on – even for the Hollywood star. Just because he's good looking, successful and famous, there's no excuse to get out of sharing the boring bits of life, and with a surname like his, I didn't have to look far for a suitable cake. Cheer up Jeremy – only the collar and another sleeve to go!" 

Although not quite what I had been hoping for, this wasn't as bad as it may appear. Poor Celia – married to Jeremy's irresistible Charles – had become dreadfully seasick while on an Atlantic crossing, and had retired to her cabin in self-pitying nausea, while Charles met, pursued and finally won the beautiful Julia Flyte.
The filming of this sequence was done in two parts – the embarkation and deck sequences on the QE2 and the inside scenes in a studio. All the actors and technicians involved in the ship sequence were flown to New York and then put onto the QE2 to film the relevant scenes on board during the journey back to England. As my character spent most of the journey throwing up in her bed,I only had a couple of hours filming during the trip, and spent most of my time playing deck quoits, winning the on-board tennis tournament and eating and drinking with Gerald and our then, five-year-old daughter Katie. Yes, I had so little work to do we had decided to make a family holiday out of it – it's a tough life, being a Thespian.
When we later filmed the interior scenes, a cabin was built in a film studio and mounted on giant rockers. As I lay, palely made-up and over-acting my nauseous misry in my bed, several strong crew men bodily rocked the entire set to and fro. This was the touching moment that Jeremy has remembered.

Play it again. "Once Jeremy saw the piano there was just no stopping him."

All together now... "Piano duets are enourmous fun – for those playing anyway."

It's showtime! "Practice makes perfect – well, maybe not quite, but it was fun anyway."

Sitting comfortably. "After our enthusiastic piano playing, it was time to relax and take a break."

I first became aware of Jeremy as an extraordinary and special actor when I saw him in the television series Love for Lydia. I remember being very struck by the unusual quality he brought to the screen: "brooding" is a very overused word when it comes to describing an actor's style, but in his case it's the perfect description. He makes us feel that there are some dark secrets lurking behind those intense eyes, and passionate possibilities smouldering beneath that smooth exterior.
Since working together all those years ago we have remained friends, although meeting only occasionally and following very different paths – he to international stardom and Hollywood; I to theatre, cakes, books and – to my enormous pleasure – this magazine.

Sit back and relax. "Jeremy has just finished filming with Bruce Willis in the latest Die Hard movie but still likes to catch up with his friends back in the old country."

He was an obvious choice to be my special guest in this issue; having included in the spring magazine the woman most of England's men are in love with – the fabulous Joanna Lumley – I could only invite the man so many women dream of to join me this time.
His rise to stardom took him completely by surprisem and he feels it was triggered through the lucky combination of being seen in TV serial Brideshead Revisited and the box-office hit The French Lieutenant's Woman at the same time.
"I had no idea while we were making Brideshead that it was going to be the start of something so extraordinary. It wasn't until we had finished filming and editing I became aware we were onto something special; and the fact that The French Lieutenant's Woman was to be shown almost at the same time as Brideshead was a piece of extremely fortuitous timing. I remember waking up one morning and looking a the papers in the week that both were to be released. My face was on the cover of three of the colour supplements. 'What is this?', I thought. It was exciting and frightening at the same time, and I knew then that everything in my life was going to change.
He may give credit to luck: he still claims that there were any number of excellent actors in Brideshead, any of whom could have gone on to achieve his success – but there is no question that his special talents have taken him to the top. He is more used to his fame now, although it obviously had its drawbacks at first. "I remember I was swimming in the sea off the coast of Australia, completely alone and miles from anywhere, when it first struck me just what I was going to have to get used to. Out of nowhere a voice said 'Hi Jeremy!' and I looked up to see a couple smiling and waving at me from the back of a boat. I realised then that the world was now to be my village, with all the advantages and disadvantages that that implies. I would enjoy the feeling of community and friendship, but would miss the anonymity and freedom."

[foto gran piano: A change of scene. "Actor always enjoy the chance to get together and gossip about the latest news."

When I rang Jeremy to tell him the exciting news that he was the lucky person to be picked to have a cake made for him for my summer issue he was generous and immediate in his acceptance. Iknew that we were to meet socially in the near future so  suggested that it would be the perfect occasion on which to present him with his cake. "Can I keep it?", was his only query, and when I told him that of course he was to take the cake away with him and share it with his family, he was delighted.
Jeremy's image is one of suave sophistication, so the idea of a dinner jacket cake was the first idea to spring to mind, but I soon decided to add a little humour to it and (never being adverse to the odd pun or two), made instead an ironing board with a jacket on it, so that I could utilise his unusual and punnable surname. I thought his beautiful and talented wife Sinead might like the idea of him doing the ironing in any case – and I love the picture of him in his shirtsleeves buckling down to this mundane task. The remains of blond dye in Jeremy's hair are left over from his transformation into his most recent character. He has just returned from America where he has been working on the lastest Die Hard film with Bruce Willis. Knowing how impressed my two boys would be by this information, I couldn't resist asking the obvious question: "So what is Bruce Willis like to work with?" "Great," was Jeremy's immediate reply. "Lots of laughs and a keen party man – he loves to dance." "And are you the baddy?" He gave me a wry smile and twinkled a bit. "Well, I don't think so. I like my character. But yes, I was on the other side from Bruce, so I guess you might see it like that."

Fond farewells. "Jeremy took his special cake home to share with Sinead and his children."

I love the way actors can always find some sympathy with the characters they portray (very important if the part is to be played with conviction). I suspect Jeremy will prove to be playing someone very bad indeed, and with his blond hair and blue contact lenses, I look forward to a chilling encounter.

His huge, and well deserved success, means he is constantly in demand, (one of my favourite characters of those he has played recently is his magnificent and deliciously wicked Scar in the Lion King) and next he and Sinead are off to Italy, where they will be filming with Bernardo Bertolucci, not playing husband and wife, but family friends. 
I always feel very proud when one of our home grown actors becomes an important star, particularly when it's a friend, and I have feeling Jeremy is going to remain in that position for a very long time to come. He may even be too busy to keep up with his ironing.

Role Model. Jeremy played the part of Charles Ryder, with Jane taking the role of his wife Celia, in Granada TV's Brideshead Revisited, which was one of the most successful dramatisations ever screened on British television.

Black tie cake
Suave actor Jeremy Irons appreciated the humour of this amazing cake and looked forward to tasting it.

25cm/10in square cake tin
450g/1lb self raising flour
340g/12oz softened, unsalted butter
340g/12oz caster sugar
6 eggs, size 3
3 tsp vanilla essence
1 quantity of buttercream*
40.5 x 30.5cm/16 x 12in cake board
2.5kg/5lb white roll-out icing
a little icing sugar for dusting
assorted food colours, including black and silver
small amount of royal icing* for stricking
1 quantity of petal paste*
liquorice wheel

250g/½lb butter
250g/½lb icing sugar
few drops vanilla essence

Cream the butter until soft. Sieve the icing sugar, then gradually beat it and the vanilla essence into the butter until well mixed.

Royal icing
1 egg white, size 3
200g/8oz icing sugar
few drops lemon juice

Whisk the egg white until well broken and slightly frothy. Sieve and stir in a little of the icing sugar. Beat well. Gradually add the remaining icing sugar, beating well after each addition. Add the lemon juice and beat the mixture well until smooth and glossy.

Petal paste
100g/4oz icing sugar
½ tsp gum tragacanth
½ tsp powdered gelatine
2½ tsp cold water
1 tsp white fat
½ tsp liquid glucose
½ egg white, size 3

Sieve the icing sugar and gum tragacanth into a bowl and stand it over hot water. Dissolve the gelatine in cold water in a cup, then stand it in a pan of hot water. Add the white fat and glucose and allow to dissolve. Mix in the egg white, then add to the warmed icing. Beat by hand for 5-10 munites, using a wooden spoon. Leave the paste in a plastic bag in the fridge for about 30 minutes before use.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Lecture special: Saga magazine, October 2007 issue.

Jane Asher has found success as an actress and enterpreneur, and has not been out of work since she was a child. But 30 years on, the world still sees her as Paul McCartney's girlfriend. Gath Peace talks to the definitive 'Beatles girl'

"However much we think we remember about it, the Sixties, in general, were a much more innocent time"

JANE ASHER HAS BEEN AN ACTRESS for most of her 61 years, having appeared in her first film, Mandy, when she was just six. She has written books, launched her own cake-decorating company and is married to the artist and cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. But she is still more famous for what she did not to: become the wife of Paul McCartney.
Asher was the girl who epitomised the Sixties. She had long red hair, a full fringe, big eye make-up, slim, long legs and a pouty smile. She starred in the films of the day – from the innocent The Greengage Summer to Alfie – became friends with Michael Caine and Terence Stamp and was a major player in Swinging London.
Most important of all, she was a Beatle girlfriend. All these years later, it is the five-year romance with McCartney, between the ages of 17 and 22, which tantalisingly and, for her, agonisingly, remains in the collective memory. "I can do nothing about that," she shrugs. "It is just the way it is."
Asher does not say this in an aggressive way. In fact, she's pleasant and good company when we met near her home in Chelsea. She's also in remarkable shape: slim, with pale skin, reddish hair, very blue eyes and unmistakable as the girl she once was, simply older.
She has never talked about her long-ago romance. "It is not something I felt comfortable about then – or now," she says. "In my view, it was a brief interlude. I have been with Gerald since 1971, which is getting on for 40 years. So it is fair to talk about him. He has been the most impotant part of my life, we have had three children together and a life shared. But the Sixties were an extraordinary time for me, in every way."

It was a time when class barriers were breaking down. Asher was a middle-class. She had a famous psychiatrist father, Richard (he was the first to identify Munchausen's syndrome) and her mother, Margaret, was a classical music teacher at the Guildhall School of Drama and Music. Margaret even taught Beatles producer George Martin, long before he started working with the band.
For the working-class Liverpudlian Paul McCartney, who met Asher when she was in a VIP area backstage after a Bealtes show, it was an eye-opener. There was a time, during 1964, when he virtually moved into the Asher's London home. Because he ran a business, Mr Asher's telephone number was in the book, so they were inundated with calls from fans.
McCartney wrote songs with his new girlfriend in mind. Here, there and Everywhere is one of them. He even handled one of his cast-offs, A World Without Love, to her musician brother, Peter, half of the duo Peter and gordon. It became their biggest hit.
These were heady days, during which the pop star and actress became one of Britain's best-known couples. "I was in my teens and twenties and it was a time of great promise," says Asher. "There was all that peace and love, too. We were full of optimism, even if it was misplaced. You realise, in maturity, that nothing ever changes, with the balance of misery and happiness staying the same for ever."

An English rose in June 1964

Her memories, then, are tringed with a sense of realism. Is she disappointed that nothing, in her view, has changed? "I was very busy and concentrated on that at the time," she says. "I did not think too much about living through history. It is only now, in retrospect, that I realise it was a time of shuch hope.
"I remember being terrified of the atom bomb and the prospects of another world war. I think that made us more determined to enjoy ourselves and live for the moment. the horrible truth is that the nuclear deterrent probably did have an effect and brought us all to our senses. You learn so much growing up.
"I was also so innocent. I remember the day when I learnt about homosexuality, for example. I was in my early teens, doing Alice in Wonderland at the Oxford Playhouse and one of the actors, playing the White Knight, forgot his lines. He said: 'Oh, bugger.' Then he looked up at me and said: 'sorry, Jane'.
"I thought: 'Oh, that's interesting. What is he trying to hide?' I tried to look up at the word in the dictionary, but it wasn't there. So I asked my older brother, Peter. He got very embarrassed and said 'It means homosexual.'
"It led to a conversation about it, and that is how I learnt. Thank god the young are far more educated today. However much we think we remember about it, the sixties, in general, were a much more innocent time. It was a time of discovery, not instant knowledge."

There is a suspicion that, for Asher, the later years of the decade were fairly traumatic. After he and Asher split up McCartney had a fling with a writer, Francie Schwartz. Then he met American Linda Eastman and married her on March 12, 1969. There was a backlash at the time from those who tought he should have wed that nice Jane Asher.
As magazines of the day reported, she was the "nicest Beatle girl". There is also, looking back, a guileless and a more supportive style of reporting. Fabulous Magazine breathlessly captioned a photograph of Asher as follows: "When a gorgeous man like Michael Caine and a lovely girl like Jane Asher get together, on a film like Alfie, one can imagine it is worth seeing."
In Vogue in July, 1964, she is again trumpeted as a Beatle Girl, wearing "blue forget-me-nots on a very short dress of Liberty cotton, with puff sleeves sliced and tied with ribbons, £9.15s from Simpsons". There's also a photograph of her in "white collar, black chiffon, breaking into pleats at the skirt, by Marlborough dresses, seven and a half guineas, Peter Robinson, Oxford Circus".

Asher with boyfriend Paul McCartney in June 1965.

Her early roles came in TV series that became a byword for the Sixties: Dixon of Dock Green, Dr Finlay's Casebook, The Saint. "Oh, the Sixties were comparatively easy so far as my career was concerned," she recalls. "It was dealing with the Seventies which could have been a problem. It was the end of the one important decade and the start of another, more uncertain one."
But Asher saw it through, seamlessly. On screen, she was playing Jane Seymour in the series of the year [sic], Henry VIII and His Six Wives and a memorable ghostly thriller, The Stone Tape. Away from it, she had met Gerald Scarfe and a new chapter began.

"We met, of all places, at a Labour Party conference," she says. "When the magazine Private Eye was in financial trouble,they asked certain actors for money. I sent £100. They invited me to a 10th anniversary party which, as a joke, was held on the fringe of the Labour Party conference in Brighton.
"Gerald was there as another contributor. The trade union man Clive Jenkins introduced us. Was it love at first sight? Certainly, attraction at first sight. I was aware of his work and he was of mine." They became lovers and she had their first child, Katie – who is currently relaunching her career as an actress – in April 1974. So how does she feel today about being a single mother ahead of her time? "There were some complications," she says, tactfully. Scarfe was married with a daughter, Araminta. 
"We were married by the time we had our sons [Alexander, 24, and Rory, 22]. I can, quite honestly, see the strengths in both arguments – whether to marry or not. I think it is how people get through their lives which is most important. Are they happy? Or not?"

Since it's the second time Asher has mentioned happiness, how has she fared herself? "First of all,I never wanted any child of mine to be a child actor," she replies. "I remember working away from home and I did not like it very much. But I had a wonderful home life, with very supportive parents. that was pure luck. I always think that those of us lucky enough to have that will be better prepared for life.
"My luck has continued, in a way, with Gerald. Relationships and marriages are so tricky and constantly moving. But we've had a good life together. I have also had a middle range of fame as an actress, which has been useful. I have been comfortable with that.
"It goes without saying, though, that acting is a mad way to earn a living. It's full of lots of mad people, nutters and alcoholics. they are in the best place because showbusiness, broadly, is very accepting of difference. We are a funny bunch and that teaches you tolerate."

Jane with husband Gerald. They have been together since 1971.

Asher has been able to continue her acting career into her fifties and sixties, while running her company, Jane Asher Party Cakes, that she founded in 1990. But after regular spots on single episodes of everything from Miss Marple and Crossroads, to being a regular in Holby City, she is enjoying a resurgence.
She is in her first major film since Paris By Night in 1988. It is a British black comedy, Death at a Funeral, directed by Frank Oz, whose earlier films include The Muppets and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
The film follows the comic twists when two rothers (played by Matthew Macfadyen and Rupert Graves) become locked in a family dispute after the death of their father. Asher plays the widow, Sandra, who controls her sons and the situation during the mayhem.
She is also currently playing the Queen, in what will be one of next year's most lavish television series. Called The Palace, it is a parallel story of royalty – rather like the American series, West Wing, is to real President and White House. There are imagined dramas, family disputes and jealousies. "ITV has built Buckingham Palace in Lithuania!" she says.
"My story is that I was a society model, who married the King. There is a big drama in the first episode and I am widowed. I am no longer the Queen, so my son – one of four children – takes over. As Queen I always enjoyed being Queen Bee, so I do not like the change."
She had been clothes shopping for her role. "It is all Armani and Bruce Oldfield," she says. "They are all a bit grown-up for me, but the Royals dress in a certain way."

She has a figure which will take off-the-peg. "I can eat what I want to, which is very annoying for others to hear," she says. "I rememer at school, teachers saying: 'If you eat that rubbish, Jane, you will be fat at 25.' Then it was: 'wait until you have a baby.' After that, it was the threat of the menopause. But, so far, it has been fine."
But even Jane Asher cannot stop the ageing process. "I have gone from playing the young bird, to wife, young mother, to old mum and now to widows," she says cheerfully. "I am a widow in Death at a Funeral, a widow in Holby City and now a widow in The Palace. It will be a grandmother next!"

Monday, 3 April 2017

Lecture Special: Parkinson's has hit my family... but we'll never let it wreck our lives, 2013

As 23rd of April is the World Book Day, in this month's posts you'll find articles about Jane from the different decades through her life, and acout many subjects: acting career, events, charity... So enjoy the lecture!

Parkinson's has hit my family... but we'll never let it wreck our lives: Cake-baking star Jane Asher refuses to be crushed by the cruel illness

  • Jane Asher's friend and brother-in-law Gordon suffers from Parkinson's
  • Retired graphic artist Gordon, 68, was diagnosed nine years ago
  • Today he suffers tremours, loss of movement and takes 25 pills a day

PUBLISHED: 21:56 GMT, 13 April 2013

Jane Asher was the essence of London in the Swinging Sixties – an actress famous for her flaming red hair, clipped English tones and glamorous lifestyle.
In the Seventies, with her husband, cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, she remained a fixture in showbiz circles – the couple were often spotted out with Gerald’s younger brother Gordon at the hippest restaurants and parties. Today, four decades later, the three of them are still inseparable.
Now 67, Jane, with her auburn locks and impish grin, is still as recognisable as when she starred opposite Sir Michael Caine in the hit 1966 film Alfie.
Also well-known for her cake-making business, Jane remains a big star on stage and screen, recently appearing alongside Minnie Driver in the British comedy film I Give It A Year.

Key role: Jane Asher is president of the Parkinson's UK charity

I meet Jane at the North London home of Gordon, 68, a retired graphic artist. He is sitting next to her in a high-backed chair, smiling, but his body is in constant motion – endless tremors sweep from his head towards his shoulders and down through his arms.
These movements are the most visible symptom of Parkinson’s disease, which Gordon was diagnosed with nine years ago. It is the first time they have agreed to talk about his illness, which prompted Jane to become president of Parkinson’s UK in 2007.
The mood, however, is far from sombre. ‘Oh! I’ve forgotten my four o’clock pill,’ Gordon exclaims. Jane hurries off to return with a box that each morning is filled with the 25 pills he must take throughout the day to control his movements and pain.
He pops one into his mouth and then, after looking more closely at his medication, exclaims: ‘Oops, I’ve taken the wrong one!’
They look at each other and start giggling. ‘What will happen?’ she asks. ‘Will you turn into a pumpkin?’ and they laugh again.
Between acting jobs and running her cake-making company, Jane spends a large part of her time working for nine charities, representing more than ten million patients. But none has a closer connection to Jane than Gordon.
She says: ‘I had always found it easier to lobby on behalf of causes with which I didn’t have a personal connection. But, obviously this was different. When he said, “Could you do anything to help raise the profile of this disease?” I instantly said yes.’

Still smiling: Jane and her brother-in-law Gordon, 68, who suffers from Parkinson's at his home in London

Jane has chosen to speak out partly because this is Parkinson’s Awareness Week. The disease, which affects more than 120,000 Britons, is caused when certain cells in the brain begin to die. These cells make a chemical called dopamine that is vital in allowing the brain to control movement.
There are a number of drugs that can help to replace the dopamine that has been lost. There are also other drugs that make the body more efficient at using the dopamine that is available.
But as more and more cells in the brain die, these drugs have nothing to work on. Eventually the medication becomes useless and a patient will suffer from a full range of symptoms including uncontrolled movement, intense pain and sometimes dementia.
Although sufferers don’t die of Parkinson’s, they become weak through not being able to eat properly and are more likely to suffer from falls and illnesses such as pneumonia.
And then there are the problems presented by the drugs designed to control the disease, which can sometimes have bizarre side effects.
‘One is not being able to control your spending,’ says Gordon.
‘Yes, they can produce obsessive gambling or sex problems,’ interjects Jane.
‘Yes, and I’m afraid I went for squirrels,’ says Gordon amid laughter, referring to the countless toy squirrels dotted around the room.
For Gordon, the obsessive behaviour that arises from his medication manifests itself in him buying  nick-nacks, especially squirrels.
‘Luckily, it’s relatively benign,’ observes Jane of this compulsion. 
‘He normally gets things from Oxfam. Thank God it’s not Harvey Nics!’

Gordon has always been close to his brother Gerald, despite being eight years his junior.
They regularly spend Christmas together either at Jane and Gerald’s house in Chelsea or here at Gordon’s home, which he shares with his wife Joyce, a retired nurse. The couple don’t have any children.
The dinners they once enjoyed together are now just a memory, sadly. 
A love of food is something that Parkinson’s disease can slowly destroy. Many sufferers lose their sense of smell, a key component in our ability to taste. 
Then, as the disease progresses, it can affect the muscles in the tongue and throat. This makes it hard to chew and push food to the back of the throat to swallow, resulting in flecks of food being inhaled into the lungs, which can cause dangerous infections. 
This crushes any enjoyment that mealtimes once held.

Close-knit: Jane with her cartoonist husband Gerald Scarfe, second left, his brother Gordon and Jane¿s mother, Margaret Asher, in 1980

Gordon first realised something was wrong when he couldn’t move his foot properly while trying to stretch his legs on a flight to Australia. 
Later, he was referred to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. Tests confirmed he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
Gordon doesn’t dwell on this moment. ‘It felt like being stung by a bee,’ he says. ‘But I thought about it, and it’s life. Don’t fight it. Don’t let it get to you.’
He immediately joined up with a local Parkinson’s UK group to meet other sufferers and asked Jane to get involved.
It has taken nine years for Gordon’s disease to progress to the point where he now needs the occasional use of a wheelchair, which the NHS has just delivered.
He has started to suffer from the odd fall, and says he finds it infuriating not to be able to get up and quickly walk the few feet to pick up the telephone before it stops ringing. He also now stammers when he speaks.
Still, after a recent hospital stay, he immediately went out to a jazz club to listen to his favourite musician. Fortunately, his most cherished venue agreed to install a wheelchair ramp and gave him a flexible ticket so he could turn upon any night he felt well enough.
‘If you don’t have these people around who are willing to help you, you can’t do anything,’ he says.
Generally, however, the disease is beginning to change his life. Walking around London ‘used to be my favourite thing’ but now he can only manage to get to the shops at the end of his road with the help of a frame. ‘It’s not the same,’ he says.

He can no longer draw or read or even write his name, but he has learnt to use a computer to print out cards to loved ones and stay in touch. Jane believes it is this enforced withdrawal from life that means many in the population don’t understand what Parkinson’s disease actually is.
‘As it gets worse, you tend to disappear,’ she says. ‘People don’t see what it’s like. They think it’s just a shake as you get older and isn’t too bad. And the pain is hardly ever spoken about. It can be so bloody awful – it’s a pig of a disease.’ She is grateful that Gordon can move his face. Some patients are unable to do this, leaving them with a mask-like appearance.
But Gordon can still smile. ‘Obviously it’s very upsetting for all of us, especially Gerald because it’s his younger brother and there are only the two of them,’ says Jane. ‘But Gordon’s humour has made it easier for all of us. It’s incredible how he is.’

Researchers are making huge steps forward in understanding the genetics of the disease and there is hope that treatments using stem cells, gene therapy and deep brain stimulation will improve symptoms.
This year, Parkinson’s UK received a massive boost when the National Garden Scheme, which sees members of the public open their gardens to visitors, pledged a lump sum to the charity, providing a cash injection of £100,000.

Gordon slowly moves over to the stereo to play a record by his favourite jazz musician, Han Bennink. It’s an eccentric mix of bangs and toots.
As Jane watches the man she has shared so much life and laughter with move slowly across the room, her very personal understanding of the havoc this disease wreaks on the lives of patients is clear.
‘You don’t want anyone you love, anyone anywhere, to have this horrible disease,’ she says quietly. ‘Life is so incredibly unfair and unpleasant sometimes.’