I’m a bit daunted by my visit to Beverley Jarvis, dubbed “the original domestic goddess”. Getting lost on the way to her house in the depths of the countryside south of Ashford in Kent doesn’t boost my confidence.
Despite my arriving 15 minutes late for our appointment, Beverley is the perfect hostess, brushing aside my apologies and ushering me into her home to offer me refreshments after my journey.
As she busies herself in the kitchen, I take a look around the large open-plan living room, with views over the surrounding fields. It’s all perfect, as one might imagine. Cushions placed on the chairs just so, scarves and a chain of glass beads tastefully draped around vases of flowers on the hearth.
“It’s a shame the weather isn’t better,” Beverley tells me, as she sweeps in bearing a tray on which sits tea – with proper cups and saucers – and a plate of tasty looking biscuits and buns. “I’d have loved to show you the garden”. Instead, we admire it through the extensive lounge windows and chat for a while about the pleasures of having grandchildren (she and her second husband Malcolm have an astonishing 19 between them, aged from two to 23).
“We do a lot of entertaining. I love having the whole family round for meals,” Beverley tells me with a smile and I can picture her at the head of the table, handing round lovingly prepared food.
We sit to discuss Beverley’s career as a TV cook, microwave pioneer and now campaigner for teenagers to gain culinary skills.
Beverley was brought up in Herne Bay, Kent, and attended a girls’ grammar school in Faversham, before being sent to Switzerland for a year to study cookery. This sounds posh, but she explains that her parents were in the process of divorcing and there was an element of keeping her away from unpleasant atmospheres. It turned out to be a life-changing experience – “the best thing that could have happened to me,” she says enthusiastically. “I learned how to cook properly and became fluent in French. It taught me so much.”
On her return, Beverley booked herself on an HND course in domestic science and nutrition at Croydon Polytechnic, which was taught by “a real old-school matriarch” who was a stickler for detail and method. After this, she took a teaching course, got married and had a child in quick succession. Another child followed three years later.
After teaching at evening classes, Beverley wanted to find a part-time job in home economics, but nothing was available. Then she heard of a role demonstrating the new Philips microwave. It was 1973, this was the absolute latest in technology and the company was keen to have trained home economists to show the public how it could transform their lives.
“I got an interview, then heard nothing for months, so presumed I’d not got the job. Then suddenly they called and asked if I could start the following week.”
Demonstrating microwave meals, cakes and bakes in an electrical store in Maidstone was not a fulfilling role and Beverley began to create recipes which she planned to put into a book. She found a publisher in London and was offered a contract – provided she could produce a book of 120 recipes in two months! “I just about managed it, including organising the food photography, and it was lucrative. I sent the book to the BBC and almost immediately I was asked for an interview, with the opportunity to do a series of cookery demonstrations on the Pebble Mill at One programme.”
After a screen test, Beverley was taken on for a six-week trial and despite an outbreak of extreme nerves on her first live appearance “my knees buckled and I thought I would not be able to carry on”, she survived and grew to love the broadcasting experience.
Since then, Beverley has written more than 20 cookery books, shared her tips on healthy eating with members of the retirement group U3A and is now gearing up for her latest challenge – teaching teenagers to cook. She regards this as particularly important, with rising levels of obesity among the young and evidence that many have no experience in the kitchen.
Beverley plans to hold regular classes in her home, passing on basic cooking skills to young people. The first two pilot schemes have proved a great success, with feedback including “it’s the best thing I’ve ever done!” to “I loved the aprons!”