"Cheese has always been good to me."
Jim Friteuse

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Clancy Taylor, a little-known documentary film maker from Ohio, achieved notoriety with the short-lived TV series Big Butch Brother, which ran on NBC for two weeks before it was pulled off air due to its unsettling and highly inflammatory nature. As a result of the show’s content Clancy went into hiding in Tub Town Kansas, but with the National Federation for Decency, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the American Women’s Association, the Ku Klux Klan the National Rifle Association and Burger King hot on his trail he was eventually forced to flee the country of his birth and move to New Zealand. 
Now living in Orangatanga, Clancy had been won over with the promise of a huge salary and high viewing figures by the controller of Channel 1 after they had met as judges at the hugely popular annual Dress a Dead Possum Day in the local School for the Exceptionally Gifted. 

Entrants for the Bring A Dead Possum Day

Claire Friteuse was in her second year at the University of Nikkinakkinori when Clancy and his television crew from Channel 1 arrived. They were to be there for a period of six weeks filming a fly-on-the-wall documentary provisionally entitled Campus It Up.

Clancy had a full head of bright red hair and large red moustache. He wore tight-fitting pastel coloured clothes over his slight frame and was altogether a source of amusement to the students that gathered in the Main Hall for his brief on what to expect over the following six weeks. Despite his large red moustache, Clancy could not disguise the air of femininity he had about him as he minced around the stage with one hand on his hip and the other held high in the air like the spout of a teapot.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “my crew and I are here to film you in your natural habitats – in your seminars and in your accommodation. I need you to be as natural as possible – in other words, forget that there are cameras pointing at you.”

He went on to describe the kind of programme they were making – a warts-and-all six-part documentary series about the trials and tribulations of being students and lecturers at a prestigious New Zealand university.

“It will be broadcast”, he added, “at prime time – that’s between 8 and 9pm for the uninitiated, on Channel 1 over the Christmas period, so we will be expecting viewing figures to be in the hundreds.”

A few of the students began humming the tune to I’m A Little Teapot as he was talking, whilst others called out “Clancy – you’re a Nancy!”  Some started to secretly suspect that underneath the riot of red hair that covered his head he was actually a woman.

Throughout this barrage of barracking Clancy looked out at the audience with disdain – he hated university students with their intellectualism and elitist behaviour. He hated them because he so wanted to be like them. To have the foresight, quick wit and intelligence in order to rhyme Clancy with Nancy was a skill that would, sadly, always elude him.

As a young man he had not come anywhere near close to achieving the required grades to secure a place at even the most undemanding universities in America. In an early life full of failure, disappointment and incomplete sets of Topps bubble-gum cards, whilst all his so-called friends went off to Yale and Harvard and Buford, he had to spend the next two years waiting tables at Crappito’s, a questionable Italian Restaurant in Des Moines, where he was forced to speak to customers with a bogus Florentine accent (for which he had to attend special classes each afternoon for three weeks).

Clancy Taylor as a young man
On the bright side, though, he did receive a Certificate of Attendance from the manager of Crappito’s, Dave Smith (whose real name was Luigi Corleone), of which he was justly proud.

Dave Smith did more than that for Clancy. He gave him the confidence to embark on his career as a documentary film maker. One day, during his second year at Crappito’s, Clancy was called into Dave Smith’s office. There were only two reasons a member of staff got called into Dave Smith’s office – one was to get fired and the other was to be congratulated on something and Clancy sincerely hoped that it was for the former.

“You wanted to see me, Mr Smith,” said Clancy nervously as he poked his head into the manager’s office.

Dave Smith smiled at the strange looking boy and beckoned him inside and offered him a seat. Clancy breathed a sigh of relief – sitting down in Dave Smith’s office was in no way a sign that he was about to be fired.

“I’ve been watching you, son,” said the manager. “You’re a good worker and I’m about to give you an opportunity to further yourself.” He reached into the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a video camera, which he handed over to Clancy.

“Sir?” asked Clancy, feeling rather confused.

“I want you to make a television advertisement for this restaurant. I want you to make Crappoli look like it’s the best, fanciest Italian restaurant in Des Moines.”

“It’s the only Italian restaurant in Des Moines, Mr Smith,” Clancy stated.

“Would you like me to fire you instead?”

“No, Mr Smith.”

“Then shut up, don’t answer back and listen.”

Dave Smith went on to explain his dream of filling his restaurant with the high society of Des Moines through a series of top quality TV adverts that would appear twice weekly during prime time on KDIN-TV. “But I don’t want to pay for them to be made,” he continued, “and that’s where you come in.”

Clancy threw himself into the task he had been given and, notwithstanding the antiquated and bulky video equipment he had been given, not only made a series of top quality adverts for Crappoli but he was also presented with a Clio award for excellence in advertising at the American TV and Radio Commercials Festival in 1982. It was this award that brought him to the attention of the executives at NBC and the disaster that proved to be Big Butch Brother that followed in its wake.

Clancy Taylor's treasured Clio award

Shooting began for Campus It Up in early September and, like Big Butch Brother, it proved to be an unmitigated disaster. No-one would take Clancy, with his flame red hair, unfortunate dress sense and effeminate postures, seriously. When the controller of Channel 1 watched what Clancy had filmed after the first two weeks he was horrified at the non-existent structure, the lack of virtually anything of interest and the nonsensical voice over that Clancy had provided. Clancy was clearly impressed by what he had produced, thinking that he was in the process of delivering the reality television equivalent of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. He was fired on the spot and deported the next day to Java.

This left the controller in somewhat of a pickle, wondering what to do with the footage that had been left with him – other than burn it. There was, however, a gem buried deep inside the steaming pile of sheep dung that was to be the Channel 1 flagship programme over the Christmas period.

As he watched and winced his way through the footage for a second time, reminding himself never again to listen to anyone at a Dress A Dead Possum Day, there were two small sections that caught his eye. They were in no way the result of Clancy Taylor’s dubious skills as a documentary film maker, but were in fact down to the screen presence of one of the students – Claire Friteuse.

The first section showed her delivering a lecture on the Vikings, although he was unsure who they were or if they existed at all, and the second was of her preparing a delightful meal of beans on toast in her dorm one evening.

After watching these two performances he set up a meeting with Claire for the following morning and offered her a job. Campus It Up was supposed to have aired during the Christmas period and so that was what he intended to do with the brainchild of a programme he intended for Claire.

Christmas In A Can and the subsequent book that accompanied it were both released to the general public of New Zealand on Christmas Eve of 1983 and they proved to be extraordinarily successful. 

Claire's bestselling Christmas cookery book

But it was to be the landmark culinary series Cooking From Cans that followed in the summer of 1984 that made Claire Friteuse such a household name.

DON'T MISS Episode 8: The Man With The Golden Gruyere


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