Last Night's TV: I wish she'd made a proper meal of it
Delia, BBC2; White Girl, BBC2; The Fixer, ITV1
Tuesday 11 March 2008
Those who believe in a wrathful god will find a simple explanation for the ferocious storms that have battered Britain these last 48 hours; indeed, Delia Smith's use of frozen mashed potato, in the first programme of her new series, Delia, might also have propelled the ravens from the Tower of London. The world suddenly seems upside-down.
Delia, I should add, occupies a firm place both on my bookshelf and in my heart. When I assume cooking responsibilities in our house, her Complete Cookery Course, a tome as well thumbed as Dr Billy Graham's bible, is still my first port of call. But now I feel as Dr Graham might if presented with conclusive evidence that there was no virgin birth. Not only frozen mash, but also tinned mince and ready-made cheese sauce! Why, why, why, Delia?
The series accompanies her new book, Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking, and is ostensibly for those who don't have the time to peel, chop or grate. Fair enough. Nigella Lawson, in the widely lampooned but functional Nigella Express, addressed a similar predicament. But by going the extra yard to the tinned-mince counter, Delia risks alienating her loyal constituency.
Maybe it all started with her famous "Let's be 'avin' you!" address to the crowd at Carrow Road, when, if not a little squiffy then certainly a little over-excited, she lapsed into estuary English to exhort the fans of her beloved Norwich City FC to get behind the team. This showed a side to her that was at odds with the prim schoolmarm of popular perception, and she obviously enjoyed the effect, because the clip was shown again last night. So could it be that she has now decided to go the whole hog, and similarly challenge our perception of her as a reliable, discerning cook? Because what she is doing with this series is akin to walking on to the pitch at Carrow Road and exhorting the fans to switch their support to Ipswich Town. Or to find a more culinary metaphor, she is mixing messages with a turbocharged Kenwood Chef. For years, she has encouraged us to reject what she is now preaching as gospel.
Besides, her justification for cheating doesn't stand up. If time is so much of the essence, then why even bother to make a shepherd's pie with tinned mince and frozen mash? Why not simply buy a ready meal and stick it in the microwave, or is she saving that idea for the next series? At any rate, supermarket executives must already be turning cartwheels at the prospect of Delia-enhanced profits, waiting for bags of salad leaves and pre-diced veg, which anyone with the slightest awareness of kitchen economy knows to be among the least cost-effective of foodstuffs, to start walking off the shelves simply because she has endorsed them.
Clearly, she is aware that she is presenting a controversial message, because the food writer Nigel Slater was ushered on to lend his support. He's a polite fellow, and plainly didn't want to upset his hostess, but it seemed to me that his support was on the under-cooked side of equivocal. The only person I know who might properly explain Delia's mission is my friend Rosie, who used to be a fashion writer on Vogue. When I questioned some of the more absurd Vivienne Westwood creations, she explained to me that the likes of Westwood don't expect women to walk down the street with one breast showing and wearing a purple top hat; fashion works by some of these more outré ideas filtering down in a more diluted way. Maybe that's Delia's scheme.
Whatever, having gorged myself on Delia I am left with little room to praise White Girl, a grim yet ultimately hopeful drama about an 11-year-old girl from Bradford who, saddled with an alcoholic mother and an abusive step-father, found solace in Allah. Wonderfully written by Abi Morgan – "Allah 'ad 99 names, were 'e fiddling 'is benefit too?" – and marvellously acted, especially by Holly Kenny as young Leah, it was more effective than any documentary at showing why someone without much of a life might embrace whatever religion happens to be available, which in the terraced streets of West Yorkshire tends to be Islam. Some of the previews dismissed White Girl as unconvincing: to me it seemed all too plausible.
The same cannot be said, alas, of ITV's daft new serial The Fixer, starring Andrew Buchan as John Mercer, an enigmatic killer who is sprung from jail by an enigmatic cop so that he can become a state-sanctioned assassin. Unfortunately, Buchan's way of playing enigmatic was to wear only one expression throughout, a look of slightly puzzled consternation, which in fairness was reproduced on our sofa. We couldn't understand why the enigmatic cop had paired Mercer with an accident-prone small-time crook called Calum (Jody Latham). Why team the Jackal with one half of the Chuckle Brothers? Like much of last night's telly, it made no sense.
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