Fifty or so years ago the title of the book ‘Nobs & Nosh’ and subtitled ‘Eating with the Beautiful People’ would barely have raised eyebrows. Dictionary definitions of the word nob would distil to be ‘a person of wealth and high social status’ while nosh is slang for food or a meal.
Today the words are rarely used for their original purpose and I’m not sure I’ve heard to word nosh spoken for around 30 years.
So when an image of this book appeared recently on @elainekingett ‘s Instagram feed I was amused and after few insta comments found myself clicking on a button named ‘buy’ on a British online bookshop based in the west of England.
The hardback book is slightly larger than A4 sized, and is illustrated with photographs of nobs; Lords, Ladies, Hollywood stars, dancers, writers, politicians and others whose reputations I had to Google to find out why at the time of publication in 1974 they were deemed worthy of recording their personal thoughts on food, cooking, eating out and gastronomy.
Perhaps it’s my age, but I feel that the stars of those times, and about whose private lives we had little tabloid access, were more stylish, glamorous and worthy of being regarded as other worldly, of star quality.
Nobs & Nosh starts with an introduction by actor and raconteur Peter Ustinov who quotes Marcel Proust, Rainer Maria Rilke and that the ever reliable statement from French lawyer and gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin that memorably states ‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are’.
The first nob photographed and quoted is the late HRH Prince Philip who says, ‘the problem about cream is that people seem inhibited by it. Cream should be taken in large quantities and not in a few meagre drips.’
His son HRH Prince Charles is another who travels the world eating local delicacies – and remember in the early 1970s food from other cultures was relatively rare and only slowly becoming recognised in Britain and by its people. Prince Charles is pictured saying: ‘When I ate raw squid in Japan it tasted like a chopped up rubber hose … I wouldn’t like the idea of sheep eyes … maybe if I could swallow them in one go; it’s probably the thought of having to chew them that puts me off’.’ But to his credit he says … ‘I am prepared to try anything once.’
Pop star Cliff Richard sums his relationship with food as … ‘I eat anything whatsoever apart from tripe and raw oysters’. While actor, dramatist and writer Emlyn Williams noted that, ‘To me, eating is a bodily function as necessary as any other, but the sooner it is over the better. I realise the vulgarity of this attitude and still feel guilty about it.
Eartha Kitt, the African-American American singer, actress and activist says; “I like basic foods that come from my own race and never eat exotic food which only succeed in filling you and giving you the feeling that you’ve had an orgasm over eating them’.
Australian soprano June Bronhill says, ‘My favourite dish would possibly be Omar Sharif …’. While Hollywood star Gloria Swanson talks passionately about the way food is tampered with, ‘commercialising it so that will last longer, stand on shelves longer and in consequence, it has become embalmed – it’s dead – food – and we used to call bread ‘the staff of life.’ It’s a fascinating, and unexpected insight.
The fabulous Dame Sybil Thorndike, the British actress best known for her work on Shakespeare, said; ‘ Food bores me to death and I don’t like cooking it. Fortunately, I was married to a man who didn’t know if he was eating cheese or roast turkey and certainly couldn’t tell the difference’.
There are many other wry, humours and thoughtful stories, thoughts and assorted nobs talking about their nosh. It’s a fun read and insight into a very different time of tastes, personalities and their emotional, or absence of, attachment to cooking, eating, and sharing food from over-buttered chip butties with Yorkshire, England-born actor Tom Courtenay to eating caviar with Russian ballerina Dame Alicia Markova.