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The man who made TV cookery edgy - and fun

PUBLISHED: 08:12 03 May 2018

Much-missed: TV chef Keith Floyd, pictured in 1992 with his third wife Shaunagh. Picture: Fiona Hanson/PA Wire

Much-missed: TV chef Keith Floyd, pictured in 1992 with his third wife Shaunagh. Picture: Fiona Hanson/PA Wire

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David Clayton reflects on the man who reinvented TV cookery programmes - Keith Floyd.

I stumbled across Keith Floyd on the telly the other day. You’ll remember him - the bon viveur chef, who was never more than arm’s length away from a glass of fine wine, while he produced mouth-watering food in breath-taking locations. I was busy working all hours when he was on the telly first time round, so missed a lot of his early TV series, but the BBC repeat some of his choice recipes within their Saturday Kitchen Live programme, so despite having passed away in 2009, he’s still with us, larger than life, thanks to the VT library.

There’s possibly a moment in TV history when you can pinpoint cookery becoming entertainment; the moment when we didn’t watch it for instructions, but more for a laugh. I’d suggest it’s when the wonderful Floyd broke through onto our screens. Before that, the formidable and scary Fanny Cradock held court in an evening gown. Then someone who looked like your favourite aunt, called Zena Skinner, would pop up on Look East. It was all very instructional and formal. The sets and scenery were stark, and the food was mostly in the category of “ordinary.” Delia was around, bringing a younger, fresher approach but it still leaned more towards a cookery lesson. Flamboyant it certainly wasn’t.

But back to Floyd. I was transfixed not so much by how or what he was cooking, but by his relationship with the one, single camera, in other words me, the viewer. He was talking right to me and directing the cameraman to close-in on this dish or that cut of meat and then, “Come over here with me and get a shot of this bubbling away.” Was Floyd “winging-it” and mildly inebriated? Does it matter? It was oh, so watchable.

But here’s the thing, TV cookery hooks me in. It’s everywhere. I can watch it for hours and wish I could analyse why. I’d like to say it’s because I leap into the kitchen straight afterwards and replicate the recipes, but it’s not. There’s always a point during any recipe when I’m saying to myself, “I could do that,” as I mentally stock-take the ingredients in our kitchen cupboards. Then Jamie Oliver (for instance) reaches into a cupboard for a jar of preserved lemons, of which I’ve never seen the like before and I’m handed the perfect excuse for my continuing inactivity. I should declare straightaway that I’m not the main grocery shopper in the family and I dare say you could all shame me by walking straight to the “preserved lemons” section of your favourite supermarket.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with our local chef and food champion, Richard Hughes, cooking on stage at The Assembly House in Norwich. Richard has a well-honed library of anecdotes and one-liners like telling his audience, with tongue firmly in cheek, that as far as chefs are concerned, food is never burnt, it’s caramelised. “If you’d told me thirty years ago I’d be putting on a stage show, I wouldn’t have believed it!” he told me. “It’s not really anything to do with what you’re cooking because they can’t really see what you’re doing, it’s the stories you tell around the food, it’s the interaction with the audience, but I always want them to go away having learned something.”

After pausing to consider that his Mother loved watching Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet, Richard agreed with me that Floyd was a genius and a pivotal point in turning cookery into watchable entertainment. We pondered on who does something like Floyd now and concluded that James Martin gets very close, particularly how he interacts down the camera lens with us and how he gets the best out of his guests.

But the all-important question. Has Richard Hughes got a jar of preserved lemons in his cupboard at home? “No, I haven’t, can’t stand them!”


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