Grace Dent on Television...Nigel Slater: Life is Sweets BBC4

Thanks to Nigel, I spent the evening recalling happy memories of confectionery cravings

Although to the naked eye Nigel Slater: Life is Sweets may have looked like the BBC in a higher state of whimsy, it transpired to be something rather  important and jarring. Here, Nigel went “on a journey” to uncover the importance of sweets in our childhoods and therefore in our adult memories.

I’m always suspicious of these documentary “journeys” as they always begin with a presenter filmed in their own home, pretending to type on a laptop while theatrically “pondering”. Or worse still, filmed wandering the streets, pausing to muse at the anthropological mish-mash of mankind, while their voiceover, recorded at a much later date in a dusty BBC booth, intones:   “I have ALWAYS wondered about this thing, so now I’m going on a journey.”

Truth be told, it’s never usually the presenter’s idea to “go on the journey”.  Usually it’s the brainchild of a TV producer with a temporary period of grace at the channel, or of a production company owed a favour as their last idea “Enlightening Journeys into Sculpture”  was stolen, renamed “Stone-Cold Bruvs” and stuck on BBC3. 

I cannot say whether Nigel Slater has over recent years been gripped to the core with a wonder of confectionery; however I do know I love it when the BBC makes Nigel go and speak to anyone, as Nigel socialising always has the air of my tom cat when he hears his basket being yanked out of the cupboard, and the wafting of the once-a-year inoculation cards.

Let’s be clear: I bloody love Nigel Slater. If he says he’s on a journey, I’m on board. I love him, I love his way of cooking – “simple things smeared in other simple things and enjoyed for what they are” – and I love his barely concealed,  arch view of life. Nigel, like myself and many other sensible souls, clearly finds “other people” a necessary bind and is actually very content in his very white house with no furniture or clutter, where it’s never entirely clear if he’s moved in yet or not. I love to watch Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers and imagine some poor producer pep-talking him in the front of his Volvo: “Look Nigel, you’ve only got to make pleasantries with these organic beetroot growers for FIVE minutes tops. Just rifle about in their allotment and say, ‘Mmm lovely’. Just for a bit of colour. NO the whole show can’t just be you alone in an empty house, grilling a lamb chop and occasionally Skypeing Nigella.”

In Life is Sweets, an idea that seemed flippant in the opening scenes, was quickly made pertinent when Nigel was invited to a real, old-fashioned sweet shop full of sherbet flying saucers, mint limes, jelly babies, gobstoppers and a thousand other jars of childhood fun. He argued that sweets unlock powerful, often bittersweet memories: the parma violets in your aunty’s handbag, the jelly babies you shared in the playground; the marshmallows your mum ate; the gobstoppers all the bigger kids showed off with; the sherbet fountain you spilled down your school shirt; the boiled sweets in a tin for long journeys. This was back in the time when we rewarded, pacified and bribed children with sweets. My highlight of most days during the 1970s was a blast of “O Sole Mio” from the ice-cream van and ransacking the back of the sofa for coppers to buy something sweet. Oh, the poor sugar-forbidden kiddiewinks of 2012 – all they have to break-up their day is their mother rustling in the massive bag of “kid crap” all mums carry everywhere before producing a “tempting” packet of Organic Dehydrated Bracken with the cheery cry, “He can’t have sugar, he goes haywire!”

Nigel’s journey also took him through the history of boxed chocolates –  Milk Tray, Terry’s All Gold, and the exquisite decadence of a box of Black Magic —back when presenting someone with a selection of soft-centres meant something  important (you were either marrying them or it was Jesus’s  birthday). Oh, the excitement of that tin of Quality Street  appearing in the Dent household in early December, not to be opened until the 25th. The arduous period of childhood  deferred gratification for the whole month,  tested by thoughts of those green triangles and big,  purple caramels. There were never enough of the latter, and if one of my brother’s had to be hurt so I could secure most of them, well it was a price worth paying.

“You can tell a lot about a person by the sweet they choose,” argued Nigel. I concur. Anyone who opens a tin of Quality Street this December, pulls off the lid, inhales the fresh chocolaty, foil-wrapper air, then reaches immediately for the toffee penny should be declared mentally unwell in the gravest possible terms.

Nigel’s childhood  – after his mum died and his brothers moved out, he rattled about a big house while his dad worked late  – was a moving affair. Although I’m sure Nigel would have hated it, I wanted to give him a hug. Back then, Nigel’s father wasn’t big on cuddles, but he’d often leave his son a marshmallow (Mrs Slater’s favourite) on a saucer beside the little boy’s bed just to show him they both shared a common grief. Yes, life can be  horrible, but sometimes it’s sweet.

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
arts + entsFor a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
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).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
PROMOTED VIDEO
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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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