Molly at the Ministry of Food

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Much of Woolton’s genius lay in his ability to communicate and motivate. He arranged weekly press conferences and ensured that reporters were given factual reports on the situation, including regular press and information notices. He also made himself available for questions from the press which created an air of confidence and support. ‘Food Facts’ is typical of the material produced by the MOF throughout the War, characterised by timely and useful information.

Woolton quickly realised that he would need to devise publicity that would ‘appeal to every individual woman in the country’. He appreciated the power of the wireless to take him into every home in the country. He learned voice techniques from broadcasters in the BBC and took considerable time to prepare for his 12 minute talks which were a regular feature. The most famous programme was, of course, The Kitchen Front broadcast on an almost daily basis throughout the war and aimed specifically at housewives. The evening programme In Town Tonight provided another vehicle for communication.

Molly’s involvement started with a chance encounter with a Ministry of Food official who had stayed with Molly’s family in Dunvant. Molly’s practical nature and obvious ability to produce appetising meals on the ration impressed the official and it also coincided with a new strategy from Woolton who was set on enlisting the help of housewives from the regions of Britain to devise useful and economic recipes. The Ministry had accumulated a number of chefs and nutritionists who worked on devising recipes which were tested in the special kitchen built in the Ministry’s building in Portman Square. Successful recipes were then aired in a variety of ways including Food Facts in the newspapers or via the radio on The Kitchen Front.

Being deemed suitable, Molly was taken to London accompanied by her family. The agenda was simple, she was to recreate her favourite recipes for basic meals under the eyes of the Ministry’s experts. This entailed an amount of shopping in the London markets all of course subject to the ration. The chances of photo opportunities were not lost on the MOF publicists and Molly’s visit was covered in both the local and national press. A number of discussions with the Ministry nutritionists culminated in an appearance on In Town Tonight on 24 October 1942. This was a very formal occasion and the script for the item was very carefully prepared by the BBC and vetted by the Ministry. Although there was a great deal of small scale coverage in various newspapers, the best cover was in the 31 October edition of Illustrated which we have reproduced here.

Below: The original caption for this photo read: 'At the Ministry of Food dishes are "tried on the dog". The "dog" in this picture is Bill, the liftman, an ex-sailor. He's sampling a typical Welsh dinner meat, vegetables broth and dumplings.


As mentioned previously, there was a genuine and pressing need for such visits. Whilst the Ministry spent considerable time and resources on information for people through radio and newspapers, Woolton appreciated the need for reliable feedback on how women such as Molly were coping with the difficulty, and perhaps more importantly, what they were doing to get round the problems of scarcity. By the time of Molly’s visit one of the biggest problems was trying to come up with exciting ways of serving up rather dreary fare and Molly would have been questioned closely on how to enliven meals with local or regional additions. (Continued)



The View for Sunday 4 December 2000

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