Here in Johnston Towers not a huge amount of TV is watched in normal times. Each of us has our own guilty secrets. And we also have guilty TV watching habits, some of which simply cannot be shared, lest divorce follow, at least as soon as lawyers’ offices reopen. So, sadly, you will hear nothing from me about the unsavoury habits of the current Mrs Johnston.

That leaves the spotlight on me then. We have a small TV in the kitchen. When I’m working on routine masterpieces to share with you, it tends to be tuned to the Food Channel, though largely ignored, like muzak. There is now a huge, football shaped gap to fill be filled in the schedule. Add to that a week or two of general, dry-nosed, tired, not on the top of the game malaise, and little more time than normal  is being spent in front of the box. It prompted some thoughts on what I like and dislike about food TV, and those who present it.

Fanny Craddock: even as a child I could see she was ghastly. Robert Carrier: even as a child I could see he was a self important poseur. Graham Kerr (the “Galloping Gourmet”): he actually seemed quite fun, even if he was responsible for generations of cooks mispronouncing the word scAllop. Remember your basic alphabet, taught to you in Primary 1. It is NOT a scOllop.

And then there was Floyd. Irresponsible, flamboyant dipso that he was, Keith Floyd changed food on TV for ever. A huge suspicion which must cloud every TV “chef” is whether they can cook at all, let alone have earned the moniker of chef. When he was discovered by producer David Pritchard, Keith Floyd was running three restaurants in Bristol, all of which were in the Good Food Guide. He had had the supreme effrontery to open a restaurant in a provincial town in the south of France, and lived to tell the tale. Watch his programmes again or, better still, read his cookery books. You cannot fail to be inspired by the genuine love of good food, well made.

Rick SteinIt is often forgotten that it was in Floyd’s shows that we first saw such luminaries as Richard Corrigan, Gary Rhodes and Rick Stein. While they were probably discovered by the production team, I believe that Floyd remained a friend and mentor to them all.

Delia SmithIt’s now occurring to me that there is a book in this, not an article. Worry not, 1000 words max. Every comedian needs a straight man. Enter Delia. You know you’ve made it when you are referred to only by your christian name. For a while it was fashionable to curl the lip at our Delia. Well, only if you were a ridiculous fashionista. It’s not an exaggeration to say she taught the nation to cook. I preferred her books to her TV programmes, but the fact is that her recipes worked. 100% of the time, unlike those of others, Jamie Oliver. (Astonishingly, our Jamie is author of seven of the ten most successful cookery books of the modern era, but I’m not alone in my assessment of his recipes.)

Probably because it makes for better TV, speed seems to be the thing these days. While any amateur watching a pro in action will generally be amazed by both the pace and the ability to multi task, I do wonder if this is the way to go. I refuse to believe that everything on Ready Steady Cook is properly cooked in the allocated 20 minutes, and I have serious doubts about the abilities of some on our screen.

I recently put out a poll on Twitter for favourite TV cooks/chefs. To my surprise, Delia got only 6% of the vote. Rick Stein eased James Martin into third place, but Floyd was the runaway winner with 50% of all votes cast. When you consider he hasn’t been on our screens James Martin(other than in short clips) for years, it’s quite remarkable.

As you will gather, I’m not a Jamie fan, but one finds much worse. The Food Channel has enlisted a ghastly giggling southern (as in USA) lady who calls herself Pioneer Woman. Avoid. The idea behind this blog isn’t to do a survey, but to open this up to comment.  Rereading this, I see I’ve omitted other favourites of mine such as The Hairy Bikers, and the wonderfully eccentric Mesdames Paterson and Dickson-Wright, AKA The Two Fat Ladies.

But this article is for you out there. To quote Delia, where are you? Let’s be having you. Who are your favourite (or least favourite) screen foodies and why?

12 Comments

  1. Callum Henderson on 1st April 2020 at 5:51 pm

    A lovely wander through the history and pioneers of chefs on TV with a nod to their influence on food in the UK. Top marks Tom.

    • Tom Johnston on 2nd April 2020 at 3:03 am

      Thank you, sonsie boy. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Janet Hood on 1st April 2020 at 6:50 pm

    Jamie Oliver’s first 2 books had recipes that worked but after that he seemed like many after him to be trying too hard to be different.

  3. Sarah Wyndham Lewis on 1st April 2020 at 10:04 pm

    Love those Hairy Bikers! But also keen on the Locatelli/ Andrew Graham-Dixon partnership for great mix of food and culture.

    • Tom Johnston on 2nd April 2020 at 3:01 am

      I think I caught only one series of the Locatelli/Graham-Dixon combo. Loved it very much – but far too intelligent for my readership!

    • Mark Baird on 2nd April 2020 at 11:37 am

      Am a huge Floydy! Really enjoyed the biographies and also David Pritchard’s book which talks a lot about Floyd. Undoubtedly a pioneer of the ‘cooking show’ and am always amazed that he did it without a script. The short film ‘A Tale from the Riverbank’ made in 1990 about him opening his pub in Devon is also worth a watch for diehards! (30 mins long on YouTube)

  4. Allan Stewart on 2nd April 2020 at 10:20 am

    Oh dear! I had just managed to get the quite bizarre Fanny Craddock out of my nightmares. She was a sort of hangover from the Ministry of Food films that were made and shown during the War (that’s WWII by the way): “How to wreck any vegetable in one easy step!” . However, the one lasting contribution her show made to British sub-culture was her husband Johhnie solemnly intoning “Good evening and may all your doughnuts turn out like Fanny’s” – screams of laughter, choked off when you realised your parents were in the room.

    I have a real fondness for Keith Floyd, but always find that is tinged by some sadness. At first Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall annoyed but I’ve come round to him more as he has attempted to get the nation away from junk-food addiction, being aware of what goes into producing our food and making the best of what is available. He can actually cook, maybe not in a Michelin Star way, but cook well, as much as anyone can judge on the telly.

    But genuine influences for me have been Madhur Jaffrey and Ken Hom.

    • Tom Johnston on 2nd April 2020 at 11:53 am

      Yes, I too like Hugh F-W. I remember the first time I tried cooking Indian food at home. Had to go to Napier the Herbalist to find the spices. All of Madhur’s recipes seemed too hard. Then I found one I thought I could do. But then it said, joint your chicken into 8 pieces. Well that needed another book and, I kid you not, about two hours of painstaking effort. Ended up with a very nice dish. Preparation time, around 4 hours; eating time, 5 minutes.

      • David D on 2nd April 2020 at 2:15 pm

        Enjoyed your article Tom and the comments. Of course, I’m far too young to remember any of those in the first half of the piece…HFW is good but I do find his recipes less successful. Where’s Nigel Slater? Winner every time and his enveloping programmes are a joy. If a man can write a volume on cheese you can produce one on chefs. CDW life story was adversity itself but she won out.

        • Tom Johnston on 2nd April 2020 at 2:42 pm

          Thanks for that, David. I’m a fan of Nigel Slater, and I particularly like the going out to shop with no particular dish in mind – very French. I think I prefer his writing to his TV programmes.

  5. Robert Corrigan on 4th April 2020 at 9:33 am

    Very enjoyable Tom. I of course have my own favorite TV chefs and an avoidance of much more for various reasons. Not being voiced here. Maybe during another wonderful chatty lunch.
    These are not in any order:
    Keith Floyd 5* entertainment, location, storytelling and food.
    Delia 5* good precise cooking and everything works.
    Gary Rhodes 5* So enjoyable to watch, very precise cooking and a masterclass every time.
    Anton Mosimann 5* what a gentleman and outstanding chef.
    Two Fat Ladies 5* eccentric in many ways and pure entertainment. Their stories and outlandish recipes made them a must see.
    Ken Hom 5* most enjoyable and charming.
    James Martin 5* has been consistently good throughout two decades.
    The above chefs are for me not to miss if I can absolutely avoid it. One who has not really had a decent show but for me contributes so much to our industry is Brian Turner. 5*
    Jamie not at all + ++++++++++
    Nor shows such as GBM, Masterchef in all its guises, Ready Steady Cook

    • Tom Johnston on 4th April 2020 at 10:41 am

      Wasn’t sure whether or not you would be in the James Martin camp. I’d always liked him, but wasn’t sure how highly the pros rated him. Then, when I saw that he was one of the judges for the Roux Brothers’ Scholarship, I thought, if he’s good enough for Michel and Albert…

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