Last Night's Television - Springwatch: Close Encounters with Simon King, BBC2; The Supersizers Eat... The Eighties, BBC2

When greed was good
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The Independent Culture

Sue Perkins and Giles Coren have rather cornered the market in culinary history on television, and given how often they have to eat revolting food while wearing silly wigs, it's a corner of the market to which they're welcome. In the first programme of a new series of The Supersizers Eat..., the revolting food and silly wigs evoked the 1980s, which wasn't a long way backwards to travel, and also invited informed criticism, since many of us watching remember the Eighties at least as well as they do and I for one can testify that never once during the Margaret Thatcher years did I eat potato waffles for breakfast. At least when they re-create the eating experiences of Tudor or Hanoverian or Edwardian times, there's nobody around to say, "Hang on a minute, what's with the partridge fricassee business?"

I enjoyed The Supersizers Eat..., but let me get some other gripes out of the way first. One is with the title, which originated a couple of years ago as a reference to Morgan Spurlock's documentary Super Size Me, in which he spent a month eating only food from McDonald's. This is a perfect example of the indigestion that can follow when popular culture feeds on itself. Spurlock and his film enjoyed a fairly fleeting notoriety, and it probably made sense at the time to hijack his title, but now I can think of any number of better names for a series about gastronomic time-travel. "Why are they called the Supersizers?" asked my daughter when I was telling her about the programme. I could hardly be bothered to explain.

Another gripe I have is with Coren, who always seems about 60 per cent too pleased with himself, an impression hardly suppressed by the eye-poppingly arrogant, bullying letter he wrote a year or so ago to a hapless sub-editor at The Times, who had dared to amend a sentence in his restaurant column. Coren's letter, which mysteriously found its way into the media section of another newspaper, likened the guilty sub-editor to "a pissed Irish plasterer restoring a Renaissance fresco". Instead of weighing up whether the monstrous self-regard in that fanciful slice of imagery is worse than the casual racism, I'll say no more.

Anyway, the title and "Michelangelo" Coren apart, The Supersizers Eat... had plenty of good moments. Perkins is fun, and it's always a pleasure to be reminded of the eccentricities of nouvelle cuisine. I wasn't sure whether a plate featuring a terrine of tomato, a coquille of tomato mousse and a yellow tomato, was invented to take the mickey, or a genuine throwback. My guess is the latter. And there was a near-genuine throw-up, too, when Perkins and Coren tried some classic Eighties cocktails, including the B52: Kahlua, Baileys and Cointreau. The mind boggles, to say nothing of the stomach.

Strangely, one of the most enlightening sequences was a lunch with Jeffrey Archer and Norman Tebbit, in which the former poured cold water on the idea that Mrs Thatcher was particularly fond of banoffee pie by confiding that she had no interest in food whatever, simply regarding it as fuel. If you had lunch with her and asked her three minutes later what she'd eaten, she'd have no idea, said Archer. Fancy allowing ourselves to be governed by a culinary agnostic for all those years – not that the French will be remotely surprised. And fancy, too, laughing along with Norman Tebbit. But I did. "I was born quite old, and a Conservative," he said. Before I could stop myself, I chortled.

There was more chortling in our house at the start of Springwatch Close Encounters, when Simon King said that if ever a bird has flown into your living-room "you'll know what I mean, where you get a sense of privilege, of experiencing another creature's life at close quarters". Coincidentally, my wife and daughter had only the day before screamed for my help, having felt decidedly un-privileged to discover a terrifying, gigantic flapping thing (which turned out to be a robin) whizzing around our living-room. And King left us all behind when he found a wild boar tending its young in the Forest of Dean. "Aren't they just the most exquisite little guys," he whispered. Not from where we were sitting.

But still we watched with a dutiful sense of wonder, and particularly enjoyed the rare sight of a green yeti, although it turned out to be King, in hairy camouflage, trying to find the elusive Scottish wildcat.