TELEVISION / Cooking up a tasteless dish

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TAKE ONE Stan Laurel, just as that wistful quiff is stiffening in terror, and dunk him in egg white. Leave to set on the side. Meanwhile, blend a dish of cockney whelks, half a pound of tuppeny (all right, arborio) rice, arugula, parmesan shavings and lots of sauce. Add a laddish dash of lager, et voila] A foolproof recipe for the new 'celebrity chef'. Sadly, Rhodes Around Britain (BBC2) will not be to everyone's taste. Some of us, for example, prefer our chefs to earn the label 'celebrity' by yer actual cooking (know wot I mean, Gary?) not by talking cockles to schoolchildren at Swansea fish market. Welshwomen, of necessity, have grown skilled at handling the immature male, so it was no surprise to see one of my eight-year-old compatriots rumbling Gary as he went about the feverish business of being a Personality. 'The thing I don't like,' said she, squinting up at him, 'is yer stupid 'air'.

Gary's hair may be short - think lawn-mower with a stutter - but it is long on impact. The electric-shock look will have been a big factor in securing him a series. You can imagine the meeting where it was decided that food on TV needed street-cred: time to update flighty Floyd and no- nonsense St Delia of Pimento. Rhodes certainly fulfils the brief: it is down to earth and all-nonsense.

On Tuesday, we were straight into a recording studio where Gary was bopping to north Wales's finest - possibly sole - rock band. The only heavy metal that food usually comes into contact with is Le Creuset, so what was our chef doing there? The answer came as Gary and Mike, the band's lead singer, took a thoughtful stroll by a waterfall. 'It's got to be similar to cooking, creating a record?' ventured Gary. 'When I'm putting a dish together I'm looking for different textures, different tastes, the balance, the depth behind it. And that's exactly how your music comes across.' Mike obligingly took up the tortured simile and gave it another turn on the rack: 'Mmm, sometimes music has to live on beyond one play, and there has to be aftertaste and there's got to be layers beneath the surface that you can delve into. There is, though, that part where you can overcook something.' At this point, I smelt burning.

'Gary Rhodes may seem just like an ordinary bloke,' says Radio Times. No seem about it; he is. The one thing at which he excels (he

won a Michelin star at 26) is what we see least of. There is Gary patronising elderly cheese-makers, Gary driving in a flash jeep to inspect some sheep. Few surprises there: off-white, curly, leg at each corner, that kind of thing. But the message was clear: if you can't stand the kitchen get out to the meat.

Once Gary finally gets his apron on he is a joy to watch. When he made sausages the previous week, your delicious revulsion at seeing him force wet sand into a condom was matched by your drooling relish at the end product. He is happiest in the close confines of the workplace, and only the idiot vogue for variety prevents him staying there. Graham Kerr, an early and peerless exponent of TV cookery, was known as the Galloping Gourmet, although he never left the stable. Deliriously unstable - Derek Nimmo on acid - he pranced on the spot, proving that you can be king of infinite space though bound in a mussel-shell. Gary could learn something from Kerr and come back with a sedentary sequel: No Through Rhodes. It is the cook at liberty that proves so embarrassing, hence the barely watchable Travels a la Carte (C4) where Sophie Grigson and husband William Black are given a passport to a Europe they are ill-equipped to describe. Even worse, someone forgot to pack the vital ingredient: humour.

This week it was Istanbul. There are many ways of looking at Turkish cooking, most obviously with your head down a lavatory. But this perspective had not occurred to the sober couple, who greet fine mosques and grilled brains with the all-purpose middle-class murmur, 'How interesting.' You kept thinking what fun Floyd or Jonathan Meades would have had with all this. Despite a wacky weekly cameo by Sophie's earrings (parrots, trapeze artists, Peru), the couple has no screen presence whatsoever. This probably reflects well on them as human beings, but it makes for drab TV. Sophie, in particular, appears to have suffered a spontaneity bypass. When she visited a bakery and a sweaty giant laid a handkerchief of transparent dough on her bosom, she came over all Queen Mary: 'Not terribly elegant.' In another scene, William and Sophie went to visit Nesrin and Farou, an odd couple whose flat abuts the Bosphorous. There were two ways of looking at this: there was Sophie remarking, 'What a wonderful view', and there was the rest of us at home shouting, 'So, how come the crabby old guy got off with the Sharon Stone broad?'

The full folly of A la Carte's broad menu became apparent when William (prompted by his producer, no doubt) struck up a conversation on the terrace with Farou about 'women's rights in Turkey'. Meanwhile, the hers indoors were slaving over a lukewarm aubergine. It would be nice to report that this was a delectable set-up, but that would have taken airy inspiration, not the stolid fare on display here.

Proof that you don't have to go abroad for absolute turkeys, Little Napoleons (C4) entered its second dismal week. Michael Abbensetts has allegedly written a comedy about rum doings in local government. You could forgive him for pilfering from GBH and To Play the King (trumpet-voluntary theme, mad Machiavellian riffs to camera), if he had managed to lift anything of value from Alan Bleasdale or Andrew Davies: a plot, perhaps, plausible lines, or recognisable characters rather than ciphers shuffled for expediency. Still, even the unimaginative have one big idea: Abbensett's is racial inclusiveness. There is Vijay (Saeed Jaffrey), an Indian solicitor who becomes a Labour councillor, his rival, the Jamaican NK (Norman Beaton) also a Labour councillor, and Judith (Lesley Manville) whose mother might as well be wearing a T-shirt saying: 'You don't like my Jewish cliches, already?' Equal opportunities may be a splendid guiding principle for local government, but it is no way to run a drama. The result - deploying people according to whether they are black or white rather than their mottled humanity - is oddly racist. Vijay is a Peter Sellers goodness-gracious-me type of Indian, while NK lurches embarrassingly towards a minstrel just tap-dancing off the boat. In real life, Vijay would probably be a Tory and proud of it. We shall know that integration is here on the day they allow a black guy to be a baddie.

ITV came up with a much better reflection of contemporary life in the slight but surreally seductive An Evening With Gary Lineker (ITV). A primer for World Cup widows everywhere, it featured a fine performance from Caroline Quentin as the woman tackling her menfolk over their foul want of feeling during a key England match. Quentin's husband, Paul Merton, was the weak link in a strong cast: comedians acting natural are not the same as actors acting natural. They achieve a heightened reality which makes Merton's everyday sort look weedy by comparison. Reviewers have said Love on a Branch Line (BBC1), David Nobbs's adaptation of John Hadfield's novel, is too Wodehousean. This is a shorthand sneer for anything that is posh, period and potty. In fact, there is no greater compliment. Wodehouse's world was more than the sum of its snobbish parts: any comic writer would do well to drink in PG tips, and Nobbs has had more cups than most.

It was curtains for The Windsors (ITV) which sounds ominous and probably is. Like antique brocade - gorgeous but with a few holes - the series drew on authoritative witnesses right until the final episode, when the usual suspect royal watchers were rounded up: there was Penny Junor saying how disappointed she was in Prince Charles. Sadly, we did not get to hear the Prince's views on Junor. Contrast her with Lord Charteris, whose Tufton Bufton facade tremulously shed a little plaster as he described his feelings for the young Queen Elizabeth: 'I fell for her. Sorry.' He thought the Queen should live for ever, 'simply for the sake of the monarchy'. Wincing at the unwarranted extracts from the Squidgy and Camillagate tapes, you could only agree. Dame Barbara Cartland has lived for ever already: extreme age matched with girlish indiscretion makes her fearless. Rebuking Prince Philip for his strictness, she said: 'I'm not being unkind but, I mean, he is German.' Greek, actually; but how right she was.

NYPD Blue (C4) ended with a sublime episode, taking with it a world where a kiss feels more threatening than a bullet. Saturday nights are now achingly free. I tried recording it and watching the next day, but it was no use. It needs the dark.