Obituary: Christopher Driver

Christopher Driver was perhaps Britain's most percipient writer about matters of food and drink in the last three decades, and editor of The Good Food Guide from 1970 to 1982. He described himself as one who owed "most of his tastes in food, drink, art and apparel to the sedate professional class in which he was brought up", but he never fell victim to self-delusion and was more open to prospects of novelty and adventure than most of us.

He was born in 1932, the son of a doctor living in south India. His father eventually retired into the book trade, running a shop in the Dorset town of Shaftesbury which Christopher Driver continued to manage until its sale a couple of years ago. He was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford, at Rugby, where he was head boy, and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he read Greats. Classics, particularly Latin, were the ever-present bedrock (and occasional volcanic peak) of his complicated, but always logical, prose style. It now seems inevitable that one classical scholar, Raymond Postgate, should have ensured his succession at The Good Food Guide by another.

A conscientious objector, Driver undertook his National Service after Oxford in the Friends Ambulance Unit, an organisation that embraced both religious and intellectual nonconformity in a peculiarly British, albeit internationalist, style. A perfect niche, in fact, for Driver, who later acknowledged its role in his gastronomic education. Another pillar of British taste at that time, George Perry-Smith, of the Hole in the Wall restaurant in Bath (perhaps The Good Food Guide's favourite, if ever it could have been less than impartial), was also transmuted from Cambridge graduate to cook by the solvent of the FAU.

Driver joined the Liverpool Daily Post in 1958 to learn the craft of journalism, moving to the Manchester Guardian in 1960, where he remained, with intermissions, until his death. From 1964 to 1968 he was features editor, then, after his stint with The Good Food Guide, he returned to edit the first weekly page devoted to food and drink in any national newspaper, from 1984. Latterly, he shared responsibility for obituaries. Driver's cast of mind - clever, knowledgeable, sardonic and not a little dismissive of the sacred cows of the establishment - seemed perfectly attuned to that of the Guardian.

He had been informally involved in the bourgeois democracy of The Good Food Guide since it was sold in 1963 to the Consumers' Association by its founder Raymond Postgate, who continued as its editor. Begun by Postgate in response to some articles he had written in 1949 about the awfulness of British catering, it was harbinger of the whole process of British consumerism: the middle classes telling each other how to master the confidence tricksters of commerce and reporting their successes on thousands of little forms that were converted into a publishable annual.

Driver's appointment as successor to Postgate in 1970 was in fact unexpected, another having been groomed for the editor's chair, but he soon set about revitalising the guide, profiting from the acute guidance and information provided by its chief inspector, Aileen Hall.

The British catering trade has never liked criticism. In 1970, except for the GFG, there was none: merely slavish reports of freebies by impecunious journalists anxious to fill space, or very poor guides that took the trade at its own valuation. Even Postgate's guide tended to the gentle. Driver had none of it. Disregarding that aspect of restauration and hotel-keeping that has more to do with theatre and entertainment than good cooking, and is more concerned with profit and charges than value, he did away with scores of hitherto unblemished entries; excoriated many which remained with intelligent prose which exposed the soft belly of their cupidity and the vain pretensions of their customers; and included with gusto and near-apostolic zeal Indian, Chinese and other ethnic restaurants which had hitherto been thought beneath a linen-and-crystal gourmand's notice.

The effect was galvanic. In 1978, the fancy end of the business combined (for once) to launch letters to the Times, meetings with the Consumers' Association, and constant abuse from its lackeys in the trade press. With hindsight, Driver was right, and they were very wrong. Without his barbs, and they could be difficult to extract from a bleeding, bloated limb, the customer would have been less well served than he was.

He was less than happy with the populist turn that both the Consumers' Association and the guide were to adopt after his departure (which to the outsider seemed prompted by a certain decline in sales, mostly due to the Thatcher-Howe slump), but he was able to state his view of things with impressive clarity in The British at Table 1940- 1980 (1983), a history of our food habits that seems almost impossible to fault for its careful analysis and exquisite phrasing.

His love of food - and his enthusiasm at the sight of good food and wine was quite infectious - was balanced by a strong sense of faith: nonconformist, independent. This had to be one reason for his disliking the gratuitous display that seemed inextricable from haute cuisine. He was a board member of Christian Aid (1972-84). He wrote his first book in 1962, A Future for Free Churches; and revisited his non-violent past in The Disarmers (1964), about CND. In 1968 he took leave of absence to study universities in The Exploding University. Latterly, he wrote more about music (Music for Love, 1994) which impassioned him (two of his three daughters are professional musicians) and social history (Pepys at Table, with Michelle Berriedale- Johnson, 1984). His last book, published only the month before he died, was John Evelyn, Cook, which is his transcription of Evelyn the diarist's own recipe book, never before printed. He ended with a flurry of activity: a new volume of poems, Strokes, and an orchestration of Schubert.

Recent years had been dogged by a stroke that he suffered while walking in the Lake District in 1987, and the subsequent discovery of a brain tumour in 1993. This did not impair his faculties, though making his prose more convoluted than ever it had been. He continued to enjoy any signs of mordant wit, fine wine, friendship and food, while with the devoted care of his wife Margaret, who survives him, he managed concerts at Wigmore Hall until the last.

Christopher Prout Driver, writer and broadcaster: born 1 December 1932; Reporter, Guardian 1960-64, Features Editor 1964-68, Food and Drink Editor 1984-88, Personal Page Co-Editor 1988-94, consultant 1994-97; Editor, The Good Food Guide 1969-82; married 1958 Margaret Perfect (three daughters); died London 18 February 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence