The research took some time… reading the specific material sourced from the National Archives, trawling through Trove as well as other more general background research that showed how they lived at the time. A trip around the streets of Islington, London, to visit where the original milk dairies had been and see the buildings that were bomb-damaged proved key in providing an authentic canvas for the story.
Three elements that became pillars of the story were the establishment of the British Restaurants, the continued operations of The Savoy, and the rivalry that existed between the newly created restaurants and the established catering trade.
On 21 March 1941 Mr Churchill wrote to Lord Woolton, Minister of Food, in relation to the establishment of communal feeding centres:
I hope the term ‘Communal Feeding Centres’ is not going to be adopted. It is an odious expression, suggestive of Communism and the workhouse. I suggest you call them ‘British Restaurants’. Everybody associates the word ‘restaurant’ with a good meal, and they may as well have the name if they cannot get anything else.
These photographs are part of the “MINISTRY OF INFORMATION SECOND WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION”. Here five women from a nearby works enjoying a meal at the British Restaurant at Woolmore Street in 1942, just like they do in Maggie’s Kitchen. They work as oil and grease fillers at the factory.
© IWM (D 10676)
Here is entertainer Tommy Trinder in 1941 as he sings and dances in a British Restaurant, to encourage the public to use communal feeding centres.
© IWM (D 2413)
This is mealtime at a British Restaurant in Poplar in 1942.
© IWM (D 12268)
The self-serve British Restaurant in Woolmore Street, London, during 1942. Like Gillian and Rose, these ‘dinner ladies’ serve the meals to the queuing diners.
© IWM (D 10680)
M M Brookes holds a diploma in domestic science and runs the restaurant.
© IWM (D 10673)
Cooks are trained at the National College of Domestic Science in Westminster and the general public sit down to lunch cooked by students learning about communal feeding.
© IWM (D 22533)
The Savoy has a rich history and played a strong role in London life in peacetime as well as through the wars. Churchill really did entertain his cabinet there and there was a demonstration outside by the public complaining that it was one rule for the rich and another for the poor since they were able to access rations when the general public could not. Robbie knew where to look!
British Restaurants vs. Established caterers
The archives give an interesting perspective on how the established catering trade found it more than irritating that the newly established British Restaurants were able to source supplies that were rare to come by and in short supply.