IT’S maybe a bit of a surprise that the couthie charms of Sunday Post cartoon family The Broons were born as a global brand at a posh afternoon tea in Edinburgh.
But at Inverness Book Festival, the trio who inspired the success of Maw Broon’s Cookbook in 2007 - and the many titles and other merchandise that have followed - got together to tell and update the story.
Waverley publisher Ron Grosset, Broons and Oor Wullie scriptwriters at that time – David Donaldson – and the latest, Morris Heggie, explained that having seen the success of other celebrity cookbooks, they’d thought of creating one for Maw Broon.
There was just one obstacle. DC Thomson, the newspaper’s publisher.
Ron explained: "It is very particular about what it does with its characters and the idea had been turned down the year before!"
The reason was they couldn’t see why Maw Broon would need a cookbook. So the inspired trio wrote their own backstory for the book.
Ron recalled: "Among all the people having their posh afternoon teas, we sat and discussed mince and tatties.
"Yes, Maw could cook. But her mother in law didn’t think so.
"So Paw's mum had gone out, bought a notebook and written down all her son’s favourite recipes to give to his fiancee (Maw) so she could make the mince and everything else he loved 'just like his mum’s'."
The plan moved forward and the Inverness Book Festival audience were treated to a slide show of pictures marking the project’s progress.
These included mock-ups of the early pages showing the approach they had of making the cookbook look like an old yellowed notebook with handwriting and recipe cards and cutouts stuck into it.
The fake "Macduff" recipe cards had even fooled the public into thinking they were real.
Ron laughed: "At events people will come up and say ‘Oh I’ve got all those cards!’ – but we made them up,"
Getting the cover right was tricky, they revealed, but it too had the authentic retro feel with what looked like old cracked sellotape to hold it together.
Ron remembered that his comment on how it looked had been: "If you dropped it in a pan of water you could make a good soup out of it!"
The bonus for Morris, the Broons’ scriptwriter was that he could make a storyline out of Ron’s remark to appear in the Sunday Post.
In the tale, the Bairn actually drops the book in a pan ... but luckily it’s just Maw’s bad dream. Her precious book is still safe in the scullery drawer at the Broons house on Glebe Street!
The team then joked that the Scottish Government curriculum was pretty well catered for in the one book.
From Scots – with words like "scunner"to maths – working with the recipes’ weights and measures – and goegraphy, Dundee cake, Forfar bridies and Genoese pastry. Even a bit of French with Choux pastry!
And they also had media studies taken care of when The Times picked up on the book and led with the headline "Is Maw Broon a domestic goddess?"
And even an apparently negative newspaper story critical of the fatty dishes included in the book actually led to a positive – sales of the book spiked because of the added profile!
Soon the trio found that their idea had become Scotland’s fastest-selling book – beating even Harry Potter.
They revealed how the book had led the company to create more Broons merchandise – such as The Broons Burns Night which was initially given away with the paper but went on to sell on eBay for $20!
The company also started to license the characters who now appear on everything from shortbread to the Oor Wullie tartan. "What I’d call fairly bright," said Morris of the eye-catching design modelled by actor Alan Cumming in their photo.
The session added details of the three’s own lives and careers with DC Thomson, momentous landmarks in The Broons and Oor Wullie history and tribute to original artist Dudley Watkins and his eye for detail – down to the exact design of the Broons’ mantelpiece wally dugs!
The event was a feelgood session for both the long-time Broons aficionado and anyone discovering the legendary Scottish family for the first time.
Fittingly for a story that began with afternoon tea, it ended with the news that Waverley Books’ last title with The Broons is The Afternoon Tea Book.
The Broons may have swapped from tea to a stronger tipple for their next branding appearance!