Television Review

SWEARING, THEY ALWAYS used to say at school, was the sign of a stunted imagination. This is nonsense, of course - propaganda put about by people who lack the imagination to swear properly. Of course, any fool can swear; but to swear really well is a rare gift. Check out the rhythms of Elmore Leonard's prose, watch a play like David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, and you can see how delicate a matter is the placing of a cuss-word, how a sentence can be deformed by a carelessly plonked down f***.

Gordon Ramsay is, by all accounts, a chef of enormous talent. Few of us will ever get the chance to test that claim out. But watching Ramsay's Boiling Point (C4), we can all appreciate that he is a swearer of genius. That's not to say that his vocabulary is very varied; but like the best chefs, he can whip up a few basic ingredients into something amazing.

The series picked him up just after he had walked out of Aubergine, following a dispute with his partners, and decided to go it alone, buying a restaurant called La Tante Claire. The first part of last night's programme followed him in the build-up to the opening night - among other pressures, he had discovered that he had been secretly filmed for an ITV programme called Bosses from Hell, and the press had leapt on stories of his fiery temper. This section was comparatively calm, but ended with a hint of the treat to come, as Ramsay, preparing to receive his first customers, spotted a waiter wearing an obvious dressing on his finger: "You're smart, you're immaculate and a f***ing blue plaster. S***!"

After the break, things turned spectacular. Ramsay's boiling point is, I would guess, fairly low. On this occasion, the extractor fan failed in the kitchen, pushing temperatures up to 138F. This was followed by malfunctioning air-conditioning in the dining room. It turned out that nobody knew how to work the controls, including a waiter who had been told to find out several weeks earlier. Ramsay hit a climactic riff: "Why did I send you down? So we're not in the f***ing s*** now, yer fat bastard. Or did you think it was just, come down to have a cup of coffee, show 'em how fat you were? Is your brains in your f***ing a***? What are we going to do now then, fatso?" You noticed, with something approaching awe, that the waiter wasn't even particularly fat.

It's worth pointing out that this is consensual cruelty. Most of the staff walked out of steady jobs at Aubergine in order to carry on working with Ramsay. The assistant wine waiter was summarily sacked for "Standing in front of the f***ing glass, drinking f***ing water in front of all the f***ing customers - f*** off!". But he spoke for them all when, weeping, he told his boss that he was the best chef he had ever worked with ("I don't give a s*** what he thinks," Ramsay said).

But their willingness to absorb punishment just piles on the pressure: each performance has to top the last if Ramsay is to continue shocking them into obedience. So far he has managed it, but there are four episodes to go. Something has to blow: the TV, his head, my jangled nerves. Love it.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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