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A tribute to Philippa James

PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 January 2016

Philippa James at Weavers Cottage in Rawtenstall, the setting for her appearance on the Great British Bake Off

Philippa James at Weavers Cottage in Rawtenstall, the setting for her appearance on the Great British Bake Off

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Editor Roger Borrell pays tribute to cookery writer Philippa James who died during the Christmas holiday

Philippa with culinary legend Marco Pierre WhitePhilippa with culinary legend Marco Pierre White

It’s with great sadness that we report the death of Philippa James, until recently the food and cookery writer for Lancashire Life. She was 53.

Philippa, who died suddenly on Christmas Eve, started writing a monthly food column for us in 2008. Her exploits kept readers entertained until the end of 2014 when ill health forced her to take a break.

Philippa was passionate about food and the people who produced it – not the foams and swirls but what she called real cookery. She brought a new dimension to our food pages by charting and championing the rising popularity of local producers and retailers. She was also a valued judge of our food and drink awards.

Philippa’s writing style reflected her character – boundless enthusiasm, considerable humour and great warmth. If there was a tangent to be found, she would go off on it.

Timekeeping was never one of her strong points especially when the deadline for her magazine copy approached. But it was always worth the wait and after you’d read one of her features, you felt you knew the people she was writing about.

She was also a great ambassador for Lancashire Life – she represented us at many functions, rarely arriving on time but always with a reason that invariably had her audience in stitches. She dined with Marco Pierre White, appeared in Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and pursued Raymond Blanc down the carriages of a train before cornering him for an exclusive interview.

However, she was far more at home with everyday folk. Her features were often responsible for helping many fledgling food businesses by bringing their stories to a wider audience via our food pages. Many people have reason to be grateful for her help and encouragement, done without any thought of personal gain. She also promoted and revived regional delicacies such as butter pies and courting cake, which landed her an appearance on the Great British Bake Off.

Philippa, who leaves a husband, Kevin, was born on the Wirral but her family moved to Lancashire when she was very young. She was a talented pupil at Scarisbrick School and was certainly bright enough for university, but family circumstances prevented that. Instead, she forged a career as a highly successful saleswoman but Philippa always loved food – she had been cooking since she was three. Eventually, she fulfilled an ambition by opening a deli in her home village of Eccleston. Sadly, the reality didn’t quite live up to the dream.

She also worked with her husband, a former police officer who became a sailing and diving instructor. While he taught students the ropes, Philippa was busy in the galley keeping them all fed – sometimes during a storm.

After Kevin suffered an accident that ended his career, they started going to car boot sales where customers raved about her home-made cakes. Pretty soon, her product range grew and, with it, her reputation.

She came to the notice of the Made in Lancashire organisation and her cake-stall banter led her to staging cookery demonstrations at shows and food fairs.

She ran a gourmet course at Runshaw College, made regular appearances on Radio Lancashire and staged cookery courses for widowers and young mums. Schoolchildren around the county will fondly remember her classroom cookery sessions on wartime food rationing.

She even did a ‘stretch’ in one of the local prisons, teaching the inmates how to cook. Her Tuesday sessions were so popular the cons sang the theme to the TV series Happy Days as they waited for classes to start!

She also won a UKTV Local Hero Award and her Lancashire tea bread led to an association with Booths.

Philippa opened her own cookery school in Mawdesley and she built up a strong following. Sadly, in more recent times she had been dogged by health problems which prevented her from working.

In a world where we bemoan the lack of characters, Philippa was an effervescent cocktail of passion, kindness and good humour. We’ll miss her.

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