Last year Shelf Appeal was doing some research on interwar cookbooks and leaflets. It’s a bit of a wheeze for someone who doesn’t cook to be so interested in such things. But taking these publications as purely cultural, visual objects reveals all sorts of things about women’s history in particular. The imagery on the covers is fascinating. The Mr and Mrs Cook Book is a little later, just post war I think. But that cover and the illustrations inside meant it had to be bought.
This was printed for Bovril Ltd by S. H. Benson Ltd. Now the interesting story there is that one Samuel Herbert Benson who had managed the Bovril factory, decided to go independent and handle the Bovril advertising account. He founded Benson’s and soon they handled some of the biggest food and drink accounts, including Guinness. In 1971 the company became the Benson in the big advertising conglom Ogilvy Benson & Mather. And despite this being a Bovril publication there isn’t much product placement going on, just a few recipes that pimp the spread.
The cover is great; a most glamorous couple perched on a table, reading about how to make something of their pork chop and vegetables. ‘Husbands and wives find that cooking together is good fun – and lots of good things to eat are the result. Maybe it was the war that started men, ordinary men, cooking in a big way. Aboard ship, in the desert, or in the jungle, they found, perhaps, that they were born omelette-makers or masters of the stew pan.’
There were a couple of illustrators (among others I can’t name) who were doing drawings like this at the time: Aubrey Rix and Ray Tooby. The Mr and Mrs Cook Book is very much more in the style of Rix, who drew a lot of glamorous women for covers of Woman’s Own magazine in the 1950s and 1960s. Bovril definitely liked a glamorous woman in its advertisements. Usually with rolled and pinned hair and wearing an impeccable white apron and a light flush of accomplishment.
Talking of aprons, on the first page, next to ‘What’s for dinner dear?’ we have our Mrs tying an apron on her Mr. Every page has humorous little illustrations and copy. And to be fair it is an equal split between the Mr and the Mrs pictured cooking different things. Mr does seem to have dropped that impeccable apron as soon as he got past page 2. Pleasingly, though, he does continue to cook in his suit.