Book review: Penny Sweets and Cobbled Streets by Nanny Pat

At the age most people are settling into retirement, Patricia Brooker discovered she was one of the most famous faces in Britain.

If she wasn’t heading for the TV studios, she was giving interviews to the press or attending glitzy launch parties.

For those who still haven’t cottoned on, Patricia is better known as Nanny Pat, one of the much-loved stars of the popular ITV reality series The Only Way is Essex, known affectionately to viewers as TOWIE.

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The matriarch of the large Wright clan, Pat became the darling of the show when she called round at the flat of her grandson Mark Wright with his weekly ‘food drops,’ including her now famous sausage plaits.

Before she knew it, the mother of five, grandmother of 14 and great-grandmother of six was affectionately regarded as the best thing since sliced bread by an adoring audience of millions.

Fame beckoned at the grand age of 75...

It was all a long way from her early years growing up – and falling in love – in the cobbled streets of the East End of London, a tough childhood and early life that she shares with us in the pages of her funny, down-to-earth and moving memoir.

Pat Spicer, a freckle-faced, proper East End girl, was born in 1935 within hearing distance of the famous Bow bells and lived with her parents and older brother Tommy in a council-owned second-floor flat.

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Her dad Tom was a member of the Spicer family which had been involved in the local fish trade for many years, and her mother sprang from the well-known Chipperfield Circus family.

Bow was a warm, friendly and close-knit community where everybody knew everybody else’s business, partly because they were nosy but mainly because they looked out for each other.

Pat’s parents were working class in the true sense of the word. To the young girl, it seemed they were both always at work. Life changed when war broke out in 1939 and Tom left for six years service with the Royal Navy.

In 1940, with the threat of bombing hanging over London, the Spicer siblings were evacuated from the city to different locations. For a child who had only ever travelled within a two-mile radius of home, it was an emotional and yet exciting day for four-year-old Pat when she boarded a train for an unknown destination.

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Bizarrely, she has never known for sure where she was evacuated but thinks it was in Derbyshire where she stayed in a big country farmhouse with four or five other children for six months and enjoyed both the animals and her independence.

The family survived the terrors of the Blitz but tragedy struck when her mother died suddenly aged only 35. Pat, aged 12, was heartbroken but, after breaking the news that her mother had passed away during the night, Pat’s father never talked about her death again.

In those days, remarks a philosophical Pat, ‘you just got on with life. You got on with everything.’

However, her life was never the same again; she was soon running the home, washing, cleaning and cooking for her father and brother, as well as working in a cork factory when she left school three years later.

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It was a lonely life at times as her strict father refused to let her go out courting. But then she met a handsome young man called Charlie and, against all opposition, she was determined to marry him...

Pat’s story is packed with great characters, including Auntie Alice who dressed in all her furs to buy a pork chop and her Nan who had eleven sons, called the first Bobby and, when she had run out of names she liked, returned to her favourite name Bobby for the last son, doubling it up to Bobby Bobby!

Penny Sweets and Cobbled Streets is a warm, affectionate and eye-opening memoir of a life lived to the full... roll on the next chapter of Nanny Pat’s fascinating and nostalgic story.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)