Television: The raw and the half-baked

Whatever has happened to Food and Drink (BBC2)? I stumbled across it last week, for the first time in a year or two, and I was shocked. It used to be an agreeably middlebrow, Middle-England sort of affair, amiably presented by Chris Kelly, a man any Rotary Club would be proud to call its own. There was also a little deft cookery by the chappie who invented Classic FM, and robust consideration of an issue or two.

In fact, if your visit to the loo was carefully timed to coincide with Jilly Goolden's preposterous rhapsodies about Tesco's marvellous new cabernet sauvignon with its unmistakeable whiff of blackcurrants, kippers, stewed telephone directories and rusty scaffolding, Food and Drink could sometimes seem positively intelligent. But Kelly and the Classic FM man have gone, leaving silly old Goolden at the helm, with the ubiquitous Antony Worrall- Thompson as her right-hand gnome.

Food and Drink is a flagship of sorts, but a flagship that has been holed beneath the waterline. It goes out on BBC2, not BBC1, so it has no obligation to the Lowest Common Denominator. Yet it shirks the opportunity to be insightful and distinctive. Last week, for example, Worrall-Thompson showed us how to make zabaglione. For four or five years now, it has been hard to switch on the telly during daylight hours and not find Worrall-Thompson, or Ainsley Harriot, or Brian Turner, making zabaglione. The BBC's flagship food and drink programme should surely look for other fish to fry. Or other puddings to whip. Or be really radical, and eschew recipes altogether, like the excellent Food Programme on Radio 4. At the very least, it should try to get along without Ainsley Worrall-Turner.

Consider the evolution of Food and Drink. It is a parable for these TV times. The title was thought up years ago by the restaurant critic Fay Maschler, who envisaged a series she could co-present with the admirable Jancis Robinson, well-known vinophile. They made a pilot programme, on which, among other things, Robinson demonstrated the correct way to open a bottle of champagne. But this was deemed far too highbrow. Maschler was paid pounds 500 for the name, and the BBC lowered its sights in search of a different target audience. The sights have been getting lower ever since. I winced last week to find Worrall-T performing a half-hearted comedy double-act with someone called Emma, who was pleasantly chirpy but decidedly amateurish. "Do you think she's a work experience presenter?" my wife asked, sweetly.

Food and Drink today has only its name in common with Maschler's original conception. Or to put it slightly differently, Bamber Gascoigne has mutated into Paul Gascoigne, which is rather the way of things these days. Although on University Challenge (BBC2), Bamber has mutated into Jeremy Paxman. And last week Paxo suffered the discomfort of presiding as his old college, St Catharine's, Cambridge, was emphatically stuffed by Oriel, Oxford. Not that he looked particularly uncomfortable, investing that curt "nope" with equal scorn whichever team he was patronising.

For those of us with young children who insist on getting up to welcome the dawn, there are precious few good reasons to remain awake after 11pm. But an in-form Paxo on Newsnight (BBC2) is one of them, and Ali G on The 11 O'Clock Show (C4) is another. Friends of mine have been raving for weeks about the faux-naif, mock-rapper Ali G, but I have ignored them steadfastly and, as it turns out, stupidly. After all, television needs all the originality it can get, and there aren't that many faux-naif mock- rappers about.

More significantly, Ali G, or rather his improbably-named alter ego Sacha Cohen, is a class act, witness Tuesday's hilarious encounter with the unsuspecting former head of the CIA. But when Ali G is missing - which, alas, is most of the time - The 11 O'Clock Show is patchy. Its presenters, Iain Lee and Daisy Donovan, are slick, and engaging, and attractive, but there is an undergraduate feel to the thing, filling me with vivid though not unpleasant memories of sitting through hit-and-miss university revues at the Edinburgh Fringe. Ali G provides the only original touch. Otherwise, the show covers ground long since trodden by The Day Today, Not The Nine O'Clock News, even The Two Ronnies. Take last week's news item about the 80-year-old who forged a prescription for Viagra. The Two Ronnies reached the same punchline about 20 years sooner, announcing that an escaped convict had fallen into a cement-mixer ... "police are looking for a hardened criminal".

There is nothing hardened or even criminal about the alleged hoax perpetrated by Binjamin Wilkomirski, just something both disturbed and disturbing. Wilkomirski wrote Fragments, a haunting memoir about a childhood spent in the concentration camps of Majdanek and Auschwitz. The book was likened to the works of Primo Levi. The Latvian-born Wilkomirski became a celebrity. And in Los Angeles he was reunited with another child of Auschwitz, Laura Gribowski. He said he remembered the shape of her face. She said that reading his book had finally set her free.

But Wilkomirski, it now appears, is an elaborate fantasist, born Bruno Grosjean in Switzerland. Christopher Olgiati's riveting Inside Story (BBC2) presented compelling evidence, based on the research of a man whose father really did survive Auschwitz, to suggest that Wilkomirski has never set foot inside a Nazi concentration camp except decades later as a tourist, and that he is not even Jewish.

The programme interviewed Wilkomirski at length. His heaving sobs, as he recalled the sights and sounds of Auschwitz, seemed genuine enough. But apparently they did not tally with reality. "I have talked to dozens of survivors, and I never saw any tears," said Wilkomirski's unmasker, Israeli-born Daniel Ganzfried. Pressed on why he had devoted so much time and energy to exposing the hoax, Ganzfried added, "If you let it [the Holocaust] be invented, you can let it be denied." How marvellous to be so eloquent and wise in a foreign language. Some of us would settle for being half as eloquent in our own.

But what, meanwhile, of Laura Gribowski? Surely she would be devastated to learn that Wilkomirski had misappropriated her pain? But no. Amazingly, astoundingly, Inside Story discovered that she was a fraud, too. I actually gasped to learn that she was plain Laurel Wilson, born and bred in Seattle. And I don't do much gasping these days. For example, my reaction to the startling denouement of Dance, one of the films in Channel 4's Shockers season, was more of a mild yawn.

That said, Dance was a well-crafted drama thoughtfully written by Kate Maravan and Sophie Vaughan. A single father, excellently played by Douglas Hodge, had an affair with a young woman (Christine Tremarco, also excellent) he met at tango class, who turned out to be the illegitimate daughter he had never seen. But regardless of the plot, it is always heartening to find a concise one-off drama, with a beginning, middle and end, for very few of them make it to the screen in this era of balance sheets and focus groups. Kathy Burke once told me that her ambition to act was born in front of Play for Today. Future Kathy Burkes will have to find their inspiration elsewhere.

Of course, before we start lavishing too much praise on Channel 4 for rolling back the years, it is also worth bearing in mind that Dance made it to the screen not just with the help of a beginning, a middle and an end, but a beginning, a middle, a fairly explicit spot of cunnilingus, several nipple shots, and an end. The nipple, in fact, may even be more ubiquitous on television than Antony Worrall-Thompson. United, they could eat the airwaves.

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past