Television review

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The Independent Culture
If you were wondering whatever happened to Fotherington-Thomas, the ineffable weed from the Molesworth books, then I have news for you. He is presenting a food programme on BBC2. It's true that he has put on a bit of weight (he looks as if he has eaten both of the Molesworth brothers before rounding things off with the school dog). He has also, for reasons best known to himself, adopted a heavy Italian accent, but there can be no question that it is him. The greying mop of curls offers one clue and his tendency to greet trees as long lost friends another. And while he may be a bit burly now to be safely described as "uterly wet and a sissy", the habit of undifferentiated rapture is unchanged by the years.

Adulthood has increased the force of that juvenile glee; it is now the sort of enthusiasm that leaves cars up-ended and bridge supports clogged with driftwood, a spate of delirious pleasure at everything he encounters. Among the things described as "wonderful" in Antonio Carluccio's Italian Feast (BBC2) for example, were: a family reunion, a piece of cheese, the air in Aosta, the women who makes "the best polenta ever", and the idea of a slow-food society. This is by no means an exhaustive list and our researchers are still compiling the lengthy accounts for "delicious" and "perfect". The effect is contagious; asked for an opinion of his cabbage soup, the woman whose kitchen he had borrowed said "Mirabilioso!". "That for me is a compliment," explained Carluccio, "because it means it's good".

One doesn't want to be too grumpy about this (and one recognises that a food programme would hardly spend all that money seeking out the mediocre) but it is difficult to suppress the feeling that there is something a bit bogus about a joy which doesn't distinguish between a fine topside of beef and a young couple: at his family reunion Carluccio looked at a nephew and his new girlfriend and crooned "I really wish those two would get married soon - they are so perfect together." It was as if they were the ingredients for a pasta sauce, and were being stubborn about forming a liaison. More seriously, a cookery programme in which no-one ever says "No, that's not quite right yet," is not really a cookery programme at all - just propaganda for eating. Listening to Carluccio's unending parade of super- latives, one finds oneself thinking wistfully of Valery's wise remark: "Taste is made up of a thousand distastes".

Still, I suppose you need something sweet to unpucker your mouth after the sour astringency of EastEnders (BBC1), currently working itself towards another gloomy crescendo. "I promised I'd stay away from yer, David, but I can't, I just can't," sobbed Cindy, escaping briefly from house arrest to seek solace with her lover (a time-share arrangement with half the women in Walford). Ian was unwise enough to needle her while she was chopping onions, setting off murderous impulses which look likely to end in the involvement of a hired killer. As they're not listed in the Yellow Pages, Cindy did some more distraught sobbing until a local villain coughed up the relevant telephone number. Meanwhile Phil has been knocking Caff about, not to mention calling his mum an "old cow" - a far graver sin in the dockland calendar.

I have a new problem with Grant and Phil, which is that they have become unshakeably associated in my mind with those novelty heads made out of foam rubber and old tights. Every time they appear, I find myself checking for the first signs of cress. Phil will show first I think because he is permanently damp at the moment - moist-eyed and lager-soaked, but you can't rule out a spring of bruvverly tears from Grant.

By no coincidence Brookside (C4) is also preparing for one of its periodic five-day blow-outs - with dishes of incest, bullying and child custody on the menu. Mirabilioso, if you have a taste for bitter things.

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