Last Night's TV: Mad Men/BBC4
The North on a Plate/BBC4

Who is Don Draper?" That question – with a few supplementaries thrown in – has already sustained three fine series of Mad Men and it was the very first thing you heard in episode one of series four, as if to bring fans back to basics after the recess. The question was asked, in this instance, by a reporter for Advertising Age, prompted to do a small feature on Don and his new agency by a Glo-Coat Floor Wax commercial that has "caused a bit of a squeal". Don, though, was not in any mood to sell himself. "I'm from the Midwest," he replied. "We were taught that it's not polite to talk about ourselves." To give him his due – he has a lot on his mind right now. His new agency is up and running, but the employees of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are having to lie about the scale of their operation, referring offhandedly to a "second floor" that doesn't actually exist. There's no guarantee that they'll get enough new accounts to keep the firm going, and some of the accounts they do have are proving tricky. With Thanksgiving looming, Sugarberry Ham has sent just one tin of the product into the office – a slight that Pete reads as a sign of imminent defection to another agency – and Don is struggling with the Jantzen account, a self-styled "family-firm", which is attempting to hold back the advancing tide of bikini miniaturisation.

When the Advertising Age piece appears it is not flattering, something of a blow to Don's colleagues, who were hoping he might unbend and try a bit of ingratiation, given the fledgling company's need for good publicity. Ingratiation isn't something that Don does, though, nor Mad Men come to that, a series that often seems preoccupied with its own concerns and to only occasionally remember that we're sitting at home paying the bills. That isn't a criticism, incidentally. It's praise, because one of the things that makes Mad Men distinctive as television is the unhurried pace of its storylines, and the fact that some episodes pass without a great deal happening at all. A less confident drama might also have fretted about the fact that we hadn't seen the ground-breaking Glo-Coat Floor Wax commercial, and so wouldn't be aware of how Don had advanced the art of advertising. Mad Men moved on to something else as if it wasn't intending to enlighten us, and then dropped it in later almost as an afterthought.

A year on from where the last series left us finds Don divorced and living in a bachelor apartment, where the only female visitors appear to be his maid and a brusque hooker, who he pays to slap him about a bit. Betty is now living with her new husband, enduring the open contempt of her new mother-in-law, for whom a divorcée counts as another man's dirt. This is, we are reminded elsewhere, a time when chicken kiev is still a fashionable novelty and divorce carries a moral stain. The young actress who Don meets on a blind date isn't entirely sure she should be seeing him at all, and she certainly isn't going to invite him in for coffee. Frustrations of various kinds fed into the explosion that concluded the episode, when Don threw the Jantzen executives out of his office infuriated by their prudish response to his creative work. To make good the damage he'd done, he submitted to another interview with the Wall Street Journal, this time pitching himself as hard as he usually pitches his ideas. It is not enough to make great ads about polish, he belatedly seems to have realised. You have to be prepared to put a layer of Glo-Coat on yourself.

In The North on a Plate, a cultural historian called Andrew Hussey – born Liverpool, now resident in France – set out to import the untranslatable French notion of terroir – the way that the spirit of a place is infused into its foodstuffs – back to England. He wasn't a foodie, he confessed, just someone interested in the intersection of food, history and politics. He began in his home town, visiting a local café to sample their version of lobscouse, a meat and potato stew of Scandinavian origin that proved so popular with Liverpool's residents that its name eventually became theirs, too. I'm not convinced that a dish that can be made in a hundred different ways – and originally came from somewhere else altogether – does really demonstrate the quality of terroir, but then the specific taste and quality of the foods discussed here didn't seem to matter to Hussey as much as their backstory. He also visited a chippy in Blackpool, a pie shop in Wigan and potato fields in Ormskirk, part of whose terroir derives from their enrichment with night soil from Liverpool. "A long time ago," added the potato farmer hastily, when this was mentioned, clearly anxious that his current customers might think twice about eating scouser-fertilised spuds. Then he went to investigate tripe, a dish whose limited visual charm was not enhanced by footage of a tripe-dressing works in action. The smell of tripe being processed, we were told, has been likened to a "cross between hot cowpat, petrol and earwax". It doesn't taste anything like that bad once it's been cooked, though, and it seemed rather feeble of Hussey to refuse to sample a slice of honeycomb tripe, drizzled with vinegar. Not terroir, I think, so much as terror.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as Doctor Who and Clara behind the scenes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cheery but half-baked canine caper: 'Pudsey the dog: The movie'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce leads the MTV VMA Awards 2014 nominations with eight

music
Arts and Entertainment
Live from your living room: Go People perform at a private home in Covent Garden

theatre
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor