How to test for a really good egg

Delia, Valerie, David, Ken - they're not a glamorous bunch, are they? But we love them because we believe in them, says Hester Lacey

When Delia Smith says "Jump!" our only question is "How high?" If Delia says one particular omelette pan is the tops, 90,000 of them walk off the shelves. Her recipes strip supermarket shelves of cranberries and coriander, and her chocolate truffle torte was responsible for clearing Europe of its entire stock of liquid glucose. She is even held responsible for increasing sales of eggs by 54 million since her latest series, How To Cook, guided viewers through the complexities of dealing with the pesky things (5 million watched her demonstrate how to identify an egg that is past its freshest by floating it in a glass of water). When an upstart like Gary Rhodes dares suggest that Delia is too simplistic there is uproar. How dare he!

Delia is not one of the current crop of flamboyant television-personality chefs who tend to concentrate on egos rather than eggs. There is something about her that we trust. She is no fly-by-night, but a stayer - her Complete Cookery Course remains steadfastly in print, she has sold more than 10 million books, and has been broadcasting regularly for 25 years.

She is fast on the way to becoming a national institution, in fact: joining others who, while never exactly fashionable or trendy, carry far more clout than any interchangeable flavour-of-the-month face. They may not be young and hip, but they are all-round good eggs; if Delia put any of these in a glass of water they would pass the good-egg test with flying colours. They haven't been hyped to boiling-point by a sharp PR campaign, they have bubbled up on their own merits. We trust them in the same way we trust Delia to recognise a good omelette pan when she sees one.

If Barry Norman says a film is worth watching, we'll give it a go, and if we don't like it we'll forgive him. If David Attenborough says that the secret lives of birds are more than interesting enough to fill out a major television series, we start to find the habits of the common sparrow fascinating. Even those who find Terry Wogan's stream-of-consciousness a little too whimsical must feel some affection for the man himself. And John Peel is a cult figure; we even read his column about his family life. Tony Blair might not want Ken Livingstone as mayor of London but there are enough voters with a soft spot for old Red Ken to make success a distinct possibility.

Joanna Lumley has the self-deprecating good humour that is part of being a good egg, while Judi Dench does not. Sue McGregor is one, Victoria Wood is another, while Anna Ford is too spiky. Gary Lineker and Dawn French are well on the way to becoming ones, and Des Lynam was one (before being caught in flagrante). And Valerie Singleton can do no wrong in the eyes of the millions who felt they knew her during the years she presented Blue Peter: a far cry from today's identikit overbright young upstarts.

Good eggs are rarely involved in scandals and they do not welcome over- effusive publicity or take part in promotional stunts. They are supremely confident and do not need to stoop to gimmickry. Delia Smith just stands there and cooks, without the aid of a silly hair-do, silly voice, silly jokes, tacked-on fake "personality", motorcycle and/or set of hilariously incompetent studio guests. Food writers and journalists have never loved her - she has been called bland and mediocre. A Sunday Times profile of Delia once called her "possibly the most boring television cook in history". But good eggs aren't boring, they are simply solid and straightforward: far better than being a mere flash in the pan.

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