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Good Times At The Café Brian

One of the Professor's less successful literary ventures, Fiddleford Days nevertheless caught something of the public's yearning for continental-style living. It kept Le Chien Mort in business through difficult times. It was here that Ferguson Thrupiece met his future mistress, singer Uttilie Toneless

Dorset's most iconic "Parisian-style" Cafe - Le Chien Mort - which, despite its Chetnole location, features in Professor Brian Thrupiece's early novel Fiddleford Days has reopened, after renovation, as the Café Brian.

Proprietor Chai Latte knows that he is taking a risk - "you interfere with an "old lady" at your peril", he admits - but feels the time is right both to move the business forward and to honour one of Dorset's most famous sons, of whom, he admits, he has never heard.

Founded in 1926 by French emigre, Emigré Francaise, the cafe brought style and sophistication to a part of Dorset better known for its rustic pubs and old-style tea shops. It was opened in a fanfare of publicity by the American-born French sensation Josephine Bakelite whose early version of a gurning twerker was held unaccountably attractive. There is, as the saying goes, "no accounting for 1920s taste" or more properly "de gustibus MCMXXVI non est disputandum".

Parisian sensation Josephine Bakelite opened Le Chien Mort amidst a blaze of interest. Many expressed disappointment that she did not appear in the advertised costume.

With its famous offering of "real coffee made from beans", patisserie Pimpernique, fromages britannique et Pâteux de Cornwall and [on licensed days] les vins ordinaires des pays de France, it became the spot for the Dorset sophisticate and his wife [Oh for goodness sake [Ed]] to be seen and sometimes heard*. Its Wednesday evening "Vicaires et madames" evenings were perennially sold-out, proving particularly popular amongst the otherwise culture-starved Burton Bradstock business community. Many the happy reveller who tottered home to Burton Bradstock a little unsure on their feet and even more unsure with whom they were tottering home. Live music was another signature attraction with house orchestra Fred Gawp and his Bandoneon Trio an evergreen favourite. [Ferguson Thrupiece and his Teatime Orchestra were occasional guest artistes.]

* Ferguson Thrupiece, the well-known dance band leader was the paternal grandfather of both Professor Thrupiece and Mrs Whisky-McNightly. Ferguson was a prewar regular at thés dansants held at The Excelsior Cafe, Lyme Regis as well as Le Chien Mort, but fell out of favour during the rock and roll era. A chance encounter with the Harry Styles Skifemen briefly re-ignited his career after he mastered the washboard. He later toured the hotels of western Dorset (1958-1961) as Fernando Mediantepieza and his Latin Rhythm. The Latin American combo made several recordings for the Hornimint label.

During the 1950's, Le Chien Mort's main rival was “The Cool Kat” (formerly “The Golden Star”) Milkbar, Canford Cliffs - the place where Professor Thrupiece first encountered a Knickerbocker Glory. It was, he later recorded, “a bolt from the blue … a stupendous confusion of category errors infused with a tangible sense of definitional incongruity.” He hated the taste.

The following years were not always easy for Le Chien Mort - following the 1947 Civic Restaurants Act and the creation of a chain of cheap but not very cheerful British Restaurants - competition from cheaper rivals was severe; but Le Chien Mort survived into the modern era largely by adapting its menu to current tastes. The introduction of the hypo-allergenic cinnamon bun in 1962 more or less saved the day, but the Café's slow revival owes as much to its vicarious fame as its culinary offerings.

Happily, the publication of Fiddleford Days brought a flood of curious Thrupiece fans, eager to see where the Professor had first dipped his giant eclair.

So is today's re-opening under another name a risk - un pont trop loin - or will the Cafe's former customers return in floods to celebrate its resurrection? "เวลาจะบอกเอง" [Welā ca bxk xeng]* says Chai Latte, as he creates an oddly phallic cocoa powder shape on top of a skinny frappuccino. "คนแถวนี้แปลกมาก" [Khn t̄hæw nī̂ pælk māk].**

* time will tell **people around here are very strange

Those new menus in full HERE

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