It’s Friday, fish and chips for tea?

SAFELY HOME: the Yarmouth drifter Covent Garden returns to harbour with her herring catch in October

SAFELY HOME: the Yarmouth drifter Covent Garden returns to harbour with her herring catch in October 1952. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

AS today is Friday, the traditional day for Britons to enjoy a fish-and-chip meal, it is an appropriate time to ponder why they always seem that bit tastier eaten straight from the paper wrapping, using the fingers.

MAINPERFECT DISH FOR A PERFECT DISH...a plate from Poole Potteries' Fish and Chip range of tableware

MAINPERFECT DISH FOR A PERFECT DISH...a plate from Poole Potteries' Fish and Chip range of tableware.Picture: POOLE POTTERY - Credit: Archant

I find that the wooden or plastic forks provided by the chip shop are more of a hindrance than a help and are best discarded.

In the old days, of course, the paper was not the pure white variety used in these health, safety and hygiene obsessed days but old newspapers brought in to the chippie by customers not needing them to light their coal fires in their grates at home. Even the good old Yarmouth Mercury, when it had been read, was useful in the cause of wrapping fish and chips to keep them hot until you reached home.

Besides, when your fish and chips were wrapped in newspaper, invariably you spotted an interesting report that you had overlooked and just hoped a mix of greasy fingers, hot fat, vinegar and salt had not partly obliterated crucial paragraphs.

When Mrs Peggotty and I were on a spring coach break in Dorset this year, one of the day trips included a visit to Poole and an opportunity to look around the spacious quayside premises of Poole Pottery where we discovered that the fish-and-chip eater could enjoy the best of both worlds: he or she could eat the meal from a plate while still being able to read a newspaper – and not any old newspaper, but a special one, the Daily Catch!

That is a slight simplification: in truth, Poole Pottery’s wide selection includes a range of tableware entitled Fish and Chip that seeks to provide an impression of the newspaper experience. The red-top Daily Catch’s forthright slogan is: “Today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper.”

The spoof lead story, headed “Chips Ahoy!”, reports that record-breaking numbers of visitors to Poole are wanting to eat its best-quality fish and chips. It claims: “This once-a-week dish is now being served to wedding guests and in five-star hotels across the country, celebrating both the local chip shop and fishermen.

Most Read

“If fish and chips are the great British gift to the world’s culinary delights, we should indulge ourselves, with or without a glass of champagne.”

The other main story is headlined: “A bad day’s fishing is proven to be better than a good day’s work.” According to a Professor T Rawler (that’s a fishing vessel joke), “No matter how good your day may have been in the office, a bad hour at sea or on the side of a riverbank is worth the equivalent of eight days at the desk.”

But the main feature that caught my attention in the ceramic was the photograph a herring drifter heading towards the camera, very similar to the countless shots taken from Gorleston Pier decades ago of members of the returning fleet, hungry seagulls wheeling overhead, about to enter harbour and head upstream to the Fishwharf to land their catches.

Could it be a Yarmouth drifter, I wondered, keeping my fingers crossed. Alas, the picture is almost a silhouette, the registration number on her bow almost indecipherable. It could be FR153, or possibly a PD, both Scottish ports of registration (Fraserburgh or Peterhead). Was she heading into the River Yare as the camera shutter clicked?

If memory serves me a-right, when the autumn herring fishery here resumed after the war, many of the Scottish fleet were motor-powered whereas their Yarmouth counterparts were mostly still steam drifters, like that in the Fish and Chip depiction, so it could have been a pre-war photograph.

I tried to track down the original photograph, or the designer of the earthenware, Andrew Tanner, but without success.

Poole Pottery tells me that the company has been through several changes of ownership over the years. “This unfortunately means that we do not have any historic records on site,” explained a spokeswoman.

“We are owned by the Denby Pottery Company and our main production is now carried out in Middleport, Stoke-on-Trent. We decorate here (in Poole) and also produce individual studio items.

“The only information that we have I have lifted from a reference book, Poole Pottery, by Hayward and Attenbury. The Fish and Chips design that you refer to was designed in 2010 by Andrew Tanner. It is printed with faux newspapers and made of earthenware.

“The range was manufactured in Stoke-on-Trent in the Royal Stafford factory. It was discontinued when production ceased at RST; Denby took over and we now only produce giftware, not tableware, hence the reductions on the ranges as we are clearing the last pieces.”

The Fish and Chip set comprises cups and saucers, dinner and side plates, cereal or dessert bowls and serving bowls.

I do like logic, and neat and tidy endings, but regret that I find this impossible with the Fish and Chip range. Why? Well, because the picture of the fishing boat almost certainly shows a herring drifter and not a trawler seeking so-called white fish like cod and plaice.

One eats white fish fried with chips, in paper or at home on a table. But I cannot remember anybody of my acquaintance eating herring with chips. It just did not happen.

Which means that the reproduced photograph on the tableware shows a vessel seeking to haul fish – herring – which certainly would be served on a dinner plate, but without the chips element of the meal which gives the service its name. But that does not detract from the attraction of the Fish and Chip service which is nearing its end of its availability.

In hindsight, it might have made a logical addition to the output of Great Yarmouth Potteries owner and craftsman Ernie Childs, designing and producing in his converted Blackfriars Tower and fish smoke-house which has become an institution and top tourist attraction in the resort.

It has been run as a museum of fishing and nautical life, a working pottery and also an arts centre, the enthusiasm of owners Ernie and his wife, Karen adding to its popularity as a true local effort.