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Gone but Not Forgotten - The Little Chef of All Our Hearts

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It is one of the moments in my life of which I am least proud: The time I spectacularly failed to recognise celebrity chef and cheese-lifter Anthony Worrall Thompson.

Ushered into the presence of a small bearded man who smelled of fresh veg, I greeted him much like the Queen might address one of her subjects: "So, what do you do?"

His reply was short, to the point, and that of a man who does not suffer fools gladly: "I'm a CHEF."

"Oh. Are you any good?"

Imagine, if you will, a very small volcanic eruption, and you will have some idea of the following minutes. Things, looking back, could have gone better.

If it was this obvious snub that drove Antony Worrall Thompson to a life of crime, turning like a trainee Sith Lord to the Dark Side, the antithesis of Wallace and Grommit's cheese-flavoured Jedis, then I can only apologise. For this was not the first time that my own less-than-acceptable behaviour drove a celebrity off the rails, and I humbly draw the jury's attention to an unfortunate mooning incident in 1988 involving Keith Chegwin.

A bad week for diminutive people in the catering industry then got worse with the news that roadside restaurant group Little Chef is to close dozens of its outlets with the loss of over 500...err...little chefs.

Large-scale job-losses are, of course, no laughing matter, but it illustrates the sad state of affairs in which a nation on the move changes its tastes from roadside restaurants to roadside fast food outlets; and in these trying financial times to its cheaper relation that is roadside road kill. For who hasn't, driving home after a long day at the coal-face, pulled over at the side of a country road for a quick nibble on a badger? And that, I am afraid, is why Little Chef is unable to keep up with the nation's demands for fresh, no-frills flesh.

The nearest Little Chef to me closed some 10 years ago, rendering the A33 between Reading and Basingstoke entirely devoid of all-day fried breakfasts. In fact, not only did it close, but the entire building disappeared overnight, possibly ripped into an inter-dimensional void, much like the final scene in the film Poltergeist. The site has remained empty - apart from a folorn public phone box - for the best part of a decade, haunted by the cursed souls of the dead wailing "How much?!" and finding themselves quite unable to leave.

Little Chef, and its erstwhile cousin Happy Eater - it must be said - suffered what can only be described as an image problem. Such a problem, in fact, that Happy Eater customers decided that they were perfectly happy eating somewhere else; while Little Chef eventually followed the lead made by the police, and dropped their height requirement for kitchen staff. A sad end to the icons that made Britain what it is today: Slightly round, and stuck in a car.

As far as I know, Mr Worrall Thompson (who I now recognise to be a 100% gold-plated proper chef of some repute) has never worked for Little Chef, and I would imagine he would come for me, cleaver in hand, should I even go so far as to even suggest such a slur.

Now, as any seasoned news-watcher will tell you, these things come in threes, and we are still one short. All we need now is for "Supersonic" Syd Little to perish in a bizarre cheese grater accident and the week's Miniature Kitchen Trifecta will be complete. Mark my words, get your death pool bets on now.

Around the Web

Little Chef - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

BBC News - Little Chef to close 67 outlets costing around 500 jobs

Little Chef Confirms 600 Job Losses And 67 Outlet Closures At The ...

Antony Worrall Thompson: the best of the internet jokes - Telegraph

Antony Worrall Thompson 'sorry' for shoplifting cheese and wine ...

Antony Worrall Thompson Shoplifts Tesco Cheese And Wine: TV ...