Television Review: Delia's How to Cook

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The Independent Culture
DO MY ears deceive me, or has Delia Smith been taking lessons from Tony Blair's elocution teacher? Last night on Delia's How to Cook (BBC2), she was swallowing more Ts and Ds than hot dinners. Her hair, too, had shaken itself out of that amateur harpist's bob. Blow-dried strands danced sexily as she explained that a spoon, and not a knife, was best for making a cup of instant coffee. Our placid madonna has gone a little bit funky on us.

When Delia, bless her, moves even one step towards being cool, you know that cool is definitively uncool. Cool died many years ago when it became a mass-market commodity, but it clings to a mockery of life. Like Dracula, it needs new blood almost every day to keep itself going. Like Dracula, it needs a bloody great stake through its heart.

Meanwhile, the demon seed of cool spawns programmes like Carry On Campus (BBC2). This is what might be called a post-modern University Challenge, except that only programmes like Carry On Campus still use the term post- modern. It covers a multitude of sins.

University Challenge may be predictable, but it is not in the same league of predictability as Carry On Campus. Although post-modern programmes have about them a veneer of aggression, an apparent waywardness, they are, in fact, touchingly dedicated to flattering the expectations of their audience. How to keep them happy? Throw in a joke about kebabs/ lager/ totty! Meant ironically, of course.

The actual competition within Carry On Campus lasted a very short time, which still seemed too long. It was difficult to tell whether the students

really couldn't answer any questions, or whether they thought it would be uncool to do so. David Beckham probably wouldn't know that Marlowe was murdered in a Deptford tavern, so should an under- graduate in English literature admit to knowing it, either?

Ask a competitor on Carry On Campus about the Raj, and they would certainly be able to tell you how strong the vindaloo is. Ask Andrew Roberts, who presented a film on the subject for last night's Timewatch (BBC2), and he wwould tell you that it was a uniquely successful imperial enterprise, beneficial to both rulers and ruled.

This foolhardy fellow then faced a debate, or rather an attack in which he was outnumbered three to one. Four to one, in fact, since Kirsty Wark refereed with an extreme lack of impartiality. Very naughtily, she rolled her eyes heavenwards every time she put one of Roberts's assertions to the other side, as if to say: "Look, I'm with you guys, not with this public-school bloke who looks like his nanny still brushes his hair for him."

Although interesting facts were bandied back and forth, the debate never really got anywhere because only one of its participants, the supremely sensible Professor Akbar Ahmed, seemed to allow that the concept of Empire had meant something very different 150 years ago, and that nowadays neither pride nor shame about the Raj are relevant emotions. Beyond that, the debate's apparent intention was to expunge from Timewatch all memory of the film which had started it.