In truth, I've never given Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall much of a chance. Inverse snobbery, perhaps. I caught a bit of his early work – Escape to River Cottage and all that – clocked the plummy accent and organic, Good Life-esque premise and thought: pffff. It's all right for him, isn't it, with his manor lodge, nice wellies and Eton education? What about those of us who live in under-nourished concrete jungles, where the only antioxidants to be found come wrapped in several layers of heavy-duty plastic and the local butcher's shop is a 15-minute drive away? And, seriously, as if I'm going to make gorseflower wine or self-slaughtered spit of chicken.
So anyway: I tuned out. Bye, Hugh! See you next millennium. Or so I thought. Hugh had other ideas. It wasn't just the endless TV shows. He's got newspaper columns and political campaigns, too. And books, of course, all of which serve to make him rather difficult to ignore. What's more: each project appears to be rather good – or so I'm told. Inverse snob I may be, but it's difficult to ignore the repeated recipe recommendations of friends, colleagues, Twitters. And so it was that I turned on River Cottage Everyday, to find not gorseflower wine or hand-slaughtered spits, but a rather useful segment on bolognaise. As it turns out, Hugh's not all trustafarian self-sufficiency. He can be pretty good, too. And pretty difficult to dislike.
The premise, broadly speaking, of this series is that each episode looks at a different food group, with Hugh and his dishy companion, Tim, demonstrating simple, affordable things to do with it. Last night was meat, and so we got a rather lovely-looking ox liver concoction, a very easy bolognaise (and leftover-friendly moussaka), a lesson in stock and a very, very straightforward three-step curry that – and this, my friends, is a television first – I actually noted down while watching and emailed to my boyfriend with the words "EVEN YOU COULD DO THIS!" in the subject line. That is how Neanderthal-friendly the recipe looked. I don't eat meat, but even so I found myself twitching to make virtually everything suggested, a reaction that no amount of Nigellas, Gordons or Jamies are able (any longer) to produce.
The only off-key note – if there was one – was the slightly weird "stew club" that Hugh tried to foist on the local football club. The players, reasoned Hugh, could all take it in turns to cook stews for one another. They looked as convinced by this as they might had he suggested they make – I don't know – gorse wine. He started things off with a mammoth sausage and cider number, and even offered to organise their summer barbecue for good measure, but still, I can't see this sticking. Never mind. Next week it's fish, and I for one will be taking notes.
Hugh wasn't the only posh boy on TV last night. While he was holding forth on the benefits of DIY stock, Prince Charles was doing the same on the joys of the Highgrove garden in Highgrove: Alan Meets Prince Charles. Well, sort of. In fact, Alan Titchmarsh was doing most of the holding forth, Prince Charles more politely going along with it. (Why is Titchmarsh famous, by the way? I've never understood it. Wikipedia tells me it's not just television, which he is all over all the time, but also radio and – horrors! – novel writing. How did this walking embodiment of Middle England blandness become such a, well, superstar?)
It's odd, now, to think how Charles was vilified. Vilified over Diana, over his conversations with plants, over his oddball organic opinions. If ever there was someone less worthy of vilification it's Charlie. Look at him! He puts busts of himself in the hedge. "Why?" asked Titchmarsh. "Well I suppose it would just be rather fun," chortled His Royal Highness. "And I get given so many of them." Who can honestly vilify that?
The best bits of the programme were with the Prince wandering around the garden. No matter what you think of the royals – and I tend towards the off-with-their-heads school of thought – it's difficult not to find them interesting. Theirs is an existence quite unlike any other. Charles has several thousand visitors pass through his private garden each year. Sometimes, he laughed, he lies down on the floor to eavesdrop as they walk past. I'm fairly sure this wasn't a joke.
The thing is, Charles seems like a very affable person indeed. Asked about the furore of his organic advocacy back in the 1980s he looked genuinely hurt. "It was as if I was doing something positively evil. It was baffling." He's right, of course, it was baffling. It's totally mad that so much scorn was poured on him, not least because, by and large, he has been proven right.
Unfortunately – perhaps inevitably – there wasn't enough of this to fill the full hour-length programme. The result was lots (and lots) of padding: interviews with staff gardeners, with landscapers, with the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury. Lots of long, strolling shots with Titchmarsh, too. He was a little too fawning for my liking – hardly a surprise given the foliage/royalty combo, though a little grating none the less. Perhaps, BBC producers, it would have been better to keep things short but sweet. Axe the bumf and stick to 30 minutes. Off with the head (and tail) as it were.
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