Last Night's Television - The British Family, BBC2; Paul Merton in Europe, Five; Gordon's Great Escape, Channel 4
Some like it hotter
Tuesday 19 January 2010
As if the delicious High School Musical parody Glee wasn't treat enough for a Monday evening, Channel 4 last night brought us "Ghee", otherwise known as
Gordon's Great Escape, in which Gordon Ramsay trucked round India learning how to cook the proper food of the subcontinent, rather than the ersatz stuff dished up for us in Britain. Here, we consume around 3.5 million curries a week, yet only a tiny fraction of them bear any resemblance to curries in the old country.
This series, by contrast, showcases authenticity. This is Indian cooking to swear by, and needless to add the great chef obliges, making what I suppose in these circumstances is an Uttar Pradesh of himself by confusing profanity with personality. I don't mind Ramsay effing and blinding in the kitchen, where the heat and general frenzy seem almost to demand it, but somewhere along the line he evidently decided, or was advised, to make it his unique selling point. Of course, a USP is useful in a telly career. Magnus Pyke waved his arms around; Gordon Ramsay says "fuck" a lot. But someone, perhaps even Gordon himself, should now be big and brave enough to rinse out his vocabulary. It won't happen, alas. There would be a worry that his considerable if peculiarly charmless charisma might not survive, like a soufflé without eggs. But it would.
Anyway, all that aside, the first salvo of Gordon's Great Escape, which continues tonight and tomorrow, had some memorable moments, not least the spectacle of our man intrepidly climbing 40ft up a tree to cut down an ants' nest, these ants and their eggs being the main constituent of a particuarly splendid chutney. Apart from a few grazes sustained in shinning up the tree, he also ended up with ants in his pants and pretty much everywhere else. The staff at the Sharwood's chutney factory can consider themselves lucky. Unless of course someone was just winding Gordon up; practical jokes don't come much better than sending a bloke with a camera crew up a tall tree to get ants to make chutney.
The same irreverent thought crossed my mind when a venerable octogenarian chef, catering for a lavish wedding, showed him his recipe for goat biryani, which involved stuffing the goat with chickens stuffed with quail stuffed with eggs. I think it was for real, but it could have been sweet act of revenge on the part of the old man, who perhaps didn't like being described by Gordon as "the dog's bollocks". In India, as in many parts of the world, I imagine you need a really top-notch interpreter to explain that dog's bollocks are good things to be.
There were no dog's bollocks in Paul Merton in Europe, just wooden dildos and butt plugs, manufactured by a family business in Germany. It is perhaps evidence of a sheltered life that I hadn't come across butt plugs before watching this programme, and I'll be happy enough if I never do again, but at least I was reassured to find that my wife was in the same boat, butt plug-wise. I wasn't looking for her to turn to me askance, saying, "You've never heard of them? Really?"
Merton's brief seems to be to cross Europe looking for weirdos, who are easy enough to find but add little value to a travelogue. The German couple who have turned their home into a shrine to the Wild West, and like to stage their very own Battle of the Little Big Horn, might just as easily have been Dutch, Danish or even, just to throw a really outlandish thought into the equation, American. Neither they nor the dildo-making family offered much insight into the nature of Germany, but Merton is an engaging host and I did at least learn that the German word for dildo is dildo, which came as something of a relief, when you think what a formidable mouthful it could be.
And so to the second episode in The British Family, "Sex". One of the pleasures of Kirsty Young's intelligent four-part exploration into how family life has evolved since the Second World War is the archive material, and it was a particular joy last night to see again old footage of the 1970 Miss World show at the Royal Albert Hall, which was sabotaged by women's libbers, as they were then known, throwing bags of flour.
I love the wholesomeness of the protest; these days it would be nail bombs. But more than anything it was good to be reminded how splendid those flour-chucking feminists were, for realising long before the rest of us that Miss World really did degrade women. Hell, contestants in the swimsuit round actually had to turn to show the judges their backsides. And I confess that on such occasions I was at home with my mum and dad, it being an annual treat to be allowed to stay up for Miss World, all of us earnestly discussing the size of Miss Spain's bottom. As, I should add, was half the nation.
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