Delia Smith and Gargrave’s glamorous Ann Ladbury have a lot in common. Both have enjoyed high-profile careers as television presenters and both have been the saviour of desperate housewives everywhere.
But instead of teaching the nation how to cook, Ann has taught a generation of women the secrets of making gorgeous clothes suitable for every occasion. And now, like Delia, Ann is enjoying something of a revival.
She puts her renewed success down to the recession, with women keen to mend and make do. And now she’s launching a website and giving talks to women’s groups across Craven on how to make attractive outfits for a fraction of High Street prices.
Ann has followed in the footsteps of her father, a gifted Savile Row tailor. And before that, her grandfather had made clothes for members of the Viennese Royal family.
Ann, who is coy about her age but admits to being over 60, was “discovered” by BBC programme makers in the 1960s while a domestic science teacher at a college in London.
“The fashion industry was really taking off and thousands of women were queuing up for dressmaking classes,” said Ann. “The BBC wanted someone to present programmes showing viewers how to make garments step by step and that’s how my TV career started.”
The programmes, which began with dressmaking for beginners, were a success and were watched by millions of women. Ann’s bookcases are crammed with books containing dress patterns in the back, which she wrote to accompany her television programmes. A lot of them are now sought-after in the second-hand book market and crop up for sale on e-Bay.
“Making Clothes for a Children’s Wardrobe” and “Weekend Wardrobe” were among the most popular, along with a book on making clothes from the famous Liberty fabrics.
Ann also became a regular on a popular daytime TV programme for housewives called Houseparty in the late 1960s. “It’s still the most popular daytime programme there’s ever been,” said Ann. “Everyone identified with us. We were meant to come across as a group of friends sitting round the kitchen table having a chat, sharing stories about our experiences and talking about our everyday lives.
“We had to forget about the cameras and were told not to say anything that you wouldn’t say to your best friends. We used to get letters from women saying we had saved their lives as we had discussed the type of problem they were facing and we had made them feel they were not alone.
“A lot of the time it would be no-holds-barred. It was the pioneering days of TV and there was not the concentration on celebrity like there is now.”
Ann took part in more than 3,000 Houseparty programmes – which were shown three times a week – over 13 years – and there was a national outcry when the series was cancelled in 1983.
Ann’s TV fame also led to her meeting her partner of 22 years, the late John Harris, who produced the legendary Denis Potter Singing Detective series and won plaudits for his depiction of Charles Dickens’s Bleak House and a documentary on Shackleton’s conquest of the North Pole.
Sadly he died suddenly, aged just 50, and for Ann a much quieter period ensued in her life during which she lived in the country.
A year ago, however, Ann moved to a cottage in Gargrave, to be closer to family in Ilkley and she has been amazed to discover her talents are again in big demand.
A talk on “Making the most of your wardrobe” hosted by Gargrave Civic Society was a sell-out and now more guest appearances are planned at women’s groups throughout the Dales.
“Suddenly, due to the recession, sewing is popular again,” said Ann. “A lot of people don’t know whether they will have a job this time next year so that focuses the mind on saving money. Sewing machines are selling faster than they can make them.
“I think sewing is enjoying a revival because people are getting sick of our throw-away society and are wanting to make things that last. They also want something individual rather than turning up in the same outfit as another woman.
“A lot of people remember me from Houseparty and my new website, called Ann Ladbury’s Sewing Room, will take over from where the programme left off.
“I’ll be giving tips and responding to requests for help and writing a personal diary about what I’m making.
“When I was on Houseparty I used to get 300 letters a week from women asking how to cope with sewing problems and I’m here again to help.”
Ann, who of course makes all her own clothes, also has tips on how to wear garments and hints on toning down your worst features. Watching her transform a simple black dress into a marvellous array of outfits with the use of simple accessories is a sight to behold.
Ann hopes to have her website up and running soon and anyone who would like to learn more should log on to annladbury.co.uk.