Last Night's Television - Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets, BBC2; How to Win an Election: a Panorama Guide, BBC4; Blood and Oil, BBC2
Right in the slick of it
Tuesday 30 March 2010
Turn the boat round! Why aren't they turning the boat round!? Poor Claire (Jodhi May). She was only there because Alice (Naomie Harris), the naive and coldly ambitious PR exec working for the oil company, thought a joyful reunion with Claire's kidnapped husband would make a good story. Don't worry, she had said, this happens to oil workers all the time; a ransom will be paid and your husband will be released. What could possibly go wrong?
Everything, of course – we were still only about 10 minutes into BBC2's Blood and Oil (add to that tears, lots of tears) – but the next scene still came as a shock. Claire and Alice rounded a bend deep inside the Niger Delta to find not smiling ex-hostages but four bloodied bodies swinging from a rusty wellhead. Some excuse for not turning back was found and, by boat, helicopter and then ambulance, Claire cradled the rotting corpse of her husband, Jodhi May all the while managing to find new ways to scream, "No, no, no, nooo!"
It was harrowing stuff and there would be no let-up. No sooner had Claire emerged from the shock of that grisly discovery than she was plunged into the high-stakes mystery of her husband's murder. What was the "really bad thing" he had got himself into (and alluded to in one of the usually cheery video messages he emailed home)? And if the AK-toting kidnappers in the balaclavas hadn't killed the men, then who did?
The denouement comes tonight (when we can expect more wailing) but for all May's deftly delivered hysteria, the strength of Blood and Oil, written by Guy Hibbert (Five Minutes of Heaven, Omagh), lay in its exposure of an under-reported world. Sure, the bit with the boat was a dramatic contrivance but the tragedy of this film is that this stuff really goes on in Nigeria's oil-rich yet impoverished Delta region.
The dead oil workers were employed by the fictitious Krielson International and had been kidnapped by armed rebels acting for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), a real-life militant group committed to exposing the exploitation, oppression and pollution by a government and Western oil bosses who see the region as nothing more than a wellspring of cash. Mend bombs pipelines and kidnaps oil workers – anything at least to interrupt the rape of the land.
Alice realised she was earning dirty money when she met Tobodo (David Oyelowo), a charismatic civil-rights campaigner. He took her to the gleaming medical centre on the cover of Krielson's propagandist pamphlet, "The Community and Us". Their pay-off for the polluting pipelines, it was, quite literally, an empty gesture, the money for doctors and medicine having been diverted. "Everyone takes a cut, all the way down the line, until the people at the bottom get nothing," Tobodo told Alice, who took her turn to shed a tear.
Anyone flicking to BBC4 after Darling, Osborne and Cable did battle in Ask the Chancellors was taken on a journey down the road that led us to this landmark broadcast. How to Win an Election: a Panorama Guide revealed that things were a bit different when the programme started watching politics in the early Fifties. Elections were ignored by the BBC, disdainful politicians regarded the television as an "idiot's lantern" and archaic legislation prevented broadcasters dealing with issues under debate in parliament.
Of course, that all changed when everyone got tellies and a JKF-inspired Harold Wilson pioneered an age of spin later perfected by Margaret Thatcher and taken to new heights by Tony Blair. Michael Cockerell had the best anecdotes. The always-brilliant Panorama alumnus recalled how Robin Day, the presenter who made Paxman possible, asked him before a showdown with Thatcher if his first question shouldn't be, "What's the answer to my first question?"
It's hard not to think, never mind write, about Raymond Blanc wizout reaching for "ze zeds" and gratuitous expressions françaises. But some of the blame must lie with Blanc, who ladles on the Gallic hamminess by the gallon. But so what when his joie de cuisine (I don't know if you can actually say that) enriches Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets like the massive tub of crème fraîche he adds to his brioche
Turning his enthusiasm and skill to bread in the sixth episode of a series I wish I'd discovered sooner, Blanc shared the brioche with his unfeasibly handsome sons (swooning among at least half of viewers must have reached dangerous levels here) before knocking up some beer-topped pain de campagne, a fougasse and an apple croustade.
It hardly mattered that most of the recipes seemed impossible (two Michelin stars didn't prevent holes appearing in the fiendishly thin croustade pastry); Blanc is delightful enough without me needing to eat his food (though I wish I could). And, crucially, he fortifies everything – his recipes, his unscripted chat, his working kitchen – with honesty. If TV cooking reached a nadir of sickly pretence with last week's debut of The Delicious Miss Dahl, then Blanc offers the perfect savoury antidote.
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