Question: when is a newspaper article not a newspaper article?
Answer: when it’s an ill-formed and cantankerous rant. Of course, everybody knows that critics are famously surly creatures yet a couple of recent articles take curmudgeonly to new levels. First, and perhaps the more balanced of the two – though that’s not saying much – is a review of Gregg’s Table in London. Reviewers have had their knives (and their poisoned quills) out for Gregg Wallace ever since he opened the restaurant, largely because of his other job as a co-presenter on Masterchef. There is an odd logic at work here: people seem to think that they are permitted to be personally critical of the man because he is a judge in a competition. A competition on television, which by nature is exaggerated and hyperbolic and, let’s face it, meant to be entertainment. It is not designed to philosophise about the human condition nor is it meant to represent the internal workings of a West End restaurant so one wonders why people get offended by its deliberately slushy drama.
It reminds me of that hullabaloo a few years back when a gaggle of journalists became quite irate when it was revealed that the kitchen in which Nigella Lawson cooked her sumptuous meals was not her actual kitchen. You know, the one in her house. I couldn’t understand why people would get their dishcloths in such a twist over this. I mean, if we are going to charge television for being staged or fictional will also be arresting singing cartoon animals, dancing pepper pots and the entire production team of The X-Factor? Now that I consider it, maybe the latter might be worthwhile.
Back to Gregg Wallace. It is interesting to note that Masterchef is mentioned four times in the review of his restaurant. Twice would be excusable but four times? There is a point where the piece crosses over from journalistic objectivity to what sounds very much like a personal critique. Yes, restaurant reviews are at times satirical and at others to be taken with a mountain of salt but this précis of Gregg’s Table takes pot shots with gleeful abandon. Still, it must be a welcome break from people repeating the same gag about that other famous eatery with the name “Gregg” in the title.
Much less funny and much more wishy-washy is this article which, it seems, lambasts pretty much everyone involved with food television. Jamie, Gordon and, yes, Nigella, all come under fire for… well, it’s hard to tell, exactly. From what I can decipher, the writer is annoyed that television is currently awash with cookery related shows. This argument, like many others in the piece, is entirely reductive. If you pick any genre – Reality, Soap Opera, Home Hunting, Makeover, Quiz – and browse the Radio Times you are bound to find umpteen programmes in the schedules. What the writer is pretending to not understand is that each channel will have a remit they have to fulfil for specific types of programming. In short, they have to make a certain number of shows for each category. Further, just because the writer does not like cookery items does not mean that they should not be broadcast. I personally do not enjoy watching sport but I know that millions of others do. Therefore, it would be entirely naive of me to stamp my foot and demand that I have schedules exactly as I want them.
(As an aside, there is a fascinating debate currently growing on media-related websites over the idea that, thanks to the growth of “View Later” services such as 4OD and iPlayer, the British public are effectively creating their own programming schedules).
Also, some of the points made in this puff piece are simply incorrect. The writer dismisses Gordon Behind Bars for showing “precious little cooking” but then it never claimed to be a cookery show. I may not appreciate Ramsay’s pitbull style but the programme itself was an docu-style exposé of sorts of life in prison. Likewise, when speaking about Nigella, she bandies about phrases such as “totty cookery” (I suspect if a man wrote this article that phrase may well have been deleted by the copy editor), her point being that the celebrity chef flirts outrageously with the lens and drops innuendoes with gay abandon. Now, I’ve seen Nigella’s latest show and I know that this is not true. It’s a cliché based on an outdated joke about something which Nigella never did in the first place. Plus, if we are going to start chastising female presenters for wearing slightly revealing tops we will be here all day.
I could go on but I am wary of turning this into the kind of writing which I normally dislike. That said, this is a blog so, frankly, I can say what I want. I’m not passing it off as cutting edge reporting. Essentially, the piece of writing I’ve just been responding to is a column full of niggles and annoyances rather than an article of any clout or insight. In my mind, any kind of cookery shows can only be a good thing. Heston, Hugh, Marco, Gordon, Jamie and the two hairy ones may not be to my taste but they get people interested in food. They get normal people like you and me using local produce, visiting the butchers and grocers in their hometowns, sampling new ingredients and, most of all, cooking. That is all that matters.