Obituary: Pat Chapman

Patrick Lawrence Chapman
20th December 1940 to 23rd July 2022

Pat Chapman, the food writer, broadcaster and author, best known for founding The Curry Club and its Cobra Good Curry Guide, was a longtime friend of the Asian Catering Federation and chaired the panel of judges of its awards for many years.

He was born in London during the Blitz. His grandfather held a senior rank in the British Indian Army.

Branches of Chapman’s family had lived in India from 1715 to 1935, first working for the East India Company then the British Raj. Chapman inherited their deep-rooted interest in the country and curry in particular. Pat visited the country more than 40 times during his lifetime.

His early education was dysfunctional, with him attending no fewer than four different schools.

As a chorister at a local church, he auditioned to join the Westminster Abbey Choir School but failed because he had been watching trams driving around Westminster on a very smoggy evening, which clogged up his voice. Had he passed, he would have sung at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation ceremony in June 1953.

Instead, his secondary education was at Bedales School whose headmaster, Hector Jacks, said that he would never pass A’ Level examinations, which turned out to be case. Bedales, the countryside and the farm were a revelation for a 13-year-old London boy, born and bred in the concrete jungle of Ealing. He disliked afternoon sports and instead opted for ‘Outdoor Work’ (O.W). At the time the Bedales farm was fully operational with a herd of Friesian cows, poultry and sheep. It also had a piggery at the south west corner of the estate, with its own pigman and a number of pedigree Wessex Saddleback pigs (with black bodies and a white-collar and front hooves). Pat chose to work at the piggery and’ or the dairy, milking the cows. The farm supplied the school with meat, milk and fruit and vegetables.

After being taken to a pantomime at the London Palladium, aged around 10 , he became intrigued by all things backstage. He followed this by taking course at the Central School of Speech and Drama, now renamed as The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Sir Laurence Olivier and Dame Peggy Ashcroft were Central’s most famous alumni, but Pat’s contemporaries included Julie Christie and James Bolam.

As a teenager, Pat first obtained work during school holidays as an electrical stage hand at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith then as a light board operator in West End theatre land, obtaining a highly coveted NATKE union card. (The National Association of Theatrical Television and Kine Employees, which represented employees who worked in theatres, cinemas and television was later renamed ‘Unison.’On leaving drama school, he worked full-time in the theatre, including stage management at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry, where from time to time he was required to play bit parts, and he ‘trod the boards’ with the likes of Ian McKellen, David Warner and Edina Ronay.

After he left school, Pat’s friends, knowing his passion for the subject, asked him to teach them the secrets of spices and their cooking. At that time little information had been published on the subject of curry, yet national interest in the subject was emerging. He set up a club as the vehicle to exchange information.

He later joined the Royal Air Force where he trained as a jet pilot.

He spent 6 years in Sales & Marketing at Lesney Products, which made die cast toy cars and attended night school at Enfield Tech (latterly part of Middlesex University) obtaining an HNC in Business Studies and a Diploma from the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

He was then accepted as a mature student at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge to reading economics. As a student he founded the stage lighting and sound company, Entec. In 1968 his company established itself by providing the lighting for Cambridge May Balls, as well as performing liquid light shows for BBC Television, including a six-month contract on Top of the Pops and a four-part Doctor Who story, Claws of Axos in 1970/1.

Chapman was a pioneer in touring lighting for rock acts and festivals, introducing techniques which are in use to the current day. Chapman and his crews provided lighting and sound systems for an eclectic mix of rock, heavy metal, pop and glam rock groups, including, The Carpenters, Bing Crosby, Black Sabbath, Ray Conniff, Dusty Springfield, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Mud, The New Seekers, Lou Reed, Status Quo, Rod Stewart, Sweet, Ike and Tina Turner and Wings.

In 1979 Chapman’s investor, the Marquee Club’s Harold Pendleton, took over Chapman’s Entec interests. He moved to Haslemere, Surrey, where he lived for the rest of his life.

He spent the four years consulting to a number of major entertainment multiples the like of Mecca Leisure Group, Rank Ballrooms, Warner Bros and Pontins, both in the UK and overseas, advising on the equipping and installation of lighting and sound systems.

In 1981 Chapman’s friend and writing mentor, columnist Carol Sarler, then editor of the best-selling Honey Magazine and currently a contributor to the Times Group wrote a piece on curry featuring the (then) non-existent Curry Club with recipes by Chapman. Honey was a monthly magazine for young women, regarded as having established the teen magazine sector in the UK. At its height, Honey sold about 250,000 copies a month.

Chapman frequently gave cookery curry demosrtaions, ran curry cookery courses and from time to time took small groups of curry enthusiasts on trips to India to sample its cuisine.

After 2008 Chapman was an active member of the Army Benevolent Fund committee, help with fund-raising for their annual Big Curry event.

For the 2010 National Curry Week celebrations he was commissioned by Cobra Beer to create recipes which add spice to top British Regional favourite dishes.

In 2012 he became a trustee of the Cobra Foundation, an independent charity supported my Molson Coors and Cobra Beer to distribute funds to young people in South Asia by providing health, education, community support.

On 17 November 2019 Chapman was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Asian Curry Awards from the Asian Catering Federation. of which he is the longstanding Chairman of Judges. To ill to attend in person, fellow judge George Shaw accepted the award on his behalf saying, “Everyone who works in the curry sector owes Pat a huge debt and never has a Lifetime Achievement Award so been richly deserved.”

Chapman’s first cookery book, The Indian Restaurant Cookbook, was published in 1984. He wrote some 36 books, with international sales exceeding 2 million copies. Most were on Indian dished curry, but some of his other books cover cuisines such as Thai, Chinese, Middle Eastern and International spicy cuisines. His Balti Cookbook was the first on the subject and became a Sunday Times Number 1 bestseller.

Chapman built up a database on Indian restaurants, which contained over 10,000 entries. In 1984, this led to the publication of the Good Curry Guide sponsored by Cobra Beer, a guide to the top 1,000 UK curry restaurants. Its final edition was published in 2013. It was cited by the Oxford English Dictionary for usage of the word “Balti”.

Chapman appeared on British television many times, includingWho’ll Do The Pudding?, This Morning, Food and Drink, Great Food Live and Good Food Live. He also had a regular spot on the Good Morning with Anne and Nick show.

He is survived by his second wife Dominique and his son from a former marriage.