Peter James: Manuel from Fawlty Towers, a miserable-looking salad and eating 30 cakes
PUBLISHED: 15:47 08 March 2017 | UPDATED: 15:52 08 March 2017
Every New Year begins with media roll-calls of celebrities who shuffled off their mortal coil during the previous 12 months.
It’s a salutary reminder that neither all the money in the world nor being adored by millions, gives any defence against the capricious swing of the Grim Reaper’s blade.
It was a particularly sad time for me a couple of months ago, when my wonderful agent for 16 years, and one my closest friends, Carole Blake, went up to the great publishing house in the sky – far too young at 70 going on 40. Other deaths this past year that made me particularly sad were George Kennedy, Alan Rickman, AA Gill, Gene Wilder, Robert Vaughan, and Andrew Sachs. But I’ve good news on that last one – Manuel from Fawlty Towers is back!
I can report he’s alive and well and working at a seafront restaurant in Brighton.
On Christmas Eve, wanting to take our dogs for a walk along Brighton seafront, we arranged to meet friends for lunch there, because it advertised itself as dog-friendly, and full marks – it really was, with a water bowl appearing minutes after we arrived. But one of my bête noires at any hotel or restaurant is a poor or surly greeting. Manuel (probably best to let him hide behind a cloak of anonymity) managed to do both in spades, announcing we had no reservation. My wife pointed out that my ruthlessly efficient PA, Linda, who takes no prisoners, had rung not once but twice to confirm the reservation and to confirm that dogs were allowed. He remained adamant there was no reservation. Then as we debated whether to kick up a big fuss or just leave, he informed us that it didn’t matter we had no reservation, as the restaurant was pretty much empty anyway…
Deciding to be virtuous, I ordered the solitary lightweight on the hearty mains menu, a superfood salad. Worried that it might not be enough, as I was hungry, I asked Manuel if it was substantial. “Enormous,” he replied. What arrived was quite the most miserable-looking apology for a salad I can ever recall seeing. If it was masquerading as a main course it was very definitely the main course’s understudy. In any other restaurant it wouldn’t even make the status of a side dish, it would be called a garnish. But to be fair to the joint, everyone else’s mains were both substantial and good – they included an excellent roast half chicken, a top notch burger and a very well made aubergine stew. Lara earlier asked him what was in the aubergine stew. “Aubergine,” he replied.
December was an exceptionally busy month for me. In addition to editing my 13th Roy Grace novel, Need You Dead, which comes out on 18 May, and my new play, Not Dead Enough, based on my third Roy Grace novel which was at the Theatre Royal, Brighton from 13-18 February, I’m writing a stand-alone thriller, Absolute Proof, which will be published on 5 October. It was a thrill to secure my Snowdog, GRRRace, at the end-of-trail auction, which raised a staggering £340,000 for the Martlets Hospice – and he is now proudly guarding our office.
I’ve also been busy judging. First it was designs to accompany the renaming of Brighton Pier. I’m very excited about this as Roy – and I – have always called it by its original name of the Palace Pier. Judging took place at the pier’s Palm Court restaurant, confirming for me that its fish and chips are simply unrivalled – and in a magical setting.
And from there the next day to judging – along with the Chief Constable, Giles York – the Sussex Police Comms Bake-Off competition. Comms plays a key role in part of Need You Dead, and it’s an incredibly high-pressure environment, the place where all the emergency – and non-emergency – police calls come in and are handled. And I have to say from what I ate, many of the team could carve whole new careers as pastry chefs.
I had to eat mouthfuls of 30 seriously yummy cakes, buns, flans and biscuits – a tough job, I hear some of you say. True, but someone had to do it. And hey, it’s not often you get to stand next to the Chief Constable, brandishing a knife, without six armed coppers jumping on you! But I sure felt stuffed afterwards. So now you know why I was barely able to finish that superfood salad…
• Peter James: Deep-fried prawn heads in Beverly Hills, Wabi in Horsham and heading out with Sussex Police - Bestselling crime writer Peter James talks us through his gastronomic adventures and keeps us abreast of everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace