You ask the questions: Jonathan Meades

(Such as: so, Jonathan Meades, what made you decide to give up restaurant reviewing? And why do you always wear the same black suit in your television programmes?)
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The Independent Online

Jonathan Meades, the author, television presenter and self-appointed "cardinal of atheism", was born in 1947 in Salisbury. He attended King's College in Taunton, Somerset, before moving to London in 1968 to study acting at Rada. In 1971, deciding he was "not good in tights," Meades began writing for the now defunct Books & Bookmen. Between 1975 and 1980 he wrote for Time Out, The Architects' Journal and The Observer before moving to edit Event, an unsuccessful London listings magazine. In 1982, while working as the features editor of Tatler, Meades wrote several short stories about "rural lowlife" for Harpers & Queen. These were collected together as Filthy English.

He joined The Times as food critic in 1986, and three years later published Peter Knows What Dick Likes, a collection of stories and journalism. Since then Meades has become best known as the black-suited, shades-wearing presenter of the BBC2 series Further Abroad and Travels With Pevsner, and the recent surrealism documentary tvSSFBM EHKL.

Meades' first novel, Pompey, was published in 1993. A new work of fiction, The Fowler Family Business, and a collection of journalism, Incest and Morris Dancing, are published next month. He has four children and lives in Borough, London.

What made you give up restaurant reviewing? Can you remember the moment you decided to pack it in?

Mark Forrester, by e-mail

I am presently correcting the proofs of a collection of my reviews. It becomes pretty evident that disenchantment set in with the turn of the century/millennium. Whether that disenchantment was calendrically prompted is moot – but it's possible.

To write about something with which one is out of sympathy is to write in bad faith. And my lack of sympathy derives from my inability or unwillingness to move with the times: I don't much like the direction that restauration is going in. I had hoped, 10 or so years ago, that the example of cooks such as Gary Rhodes might be pursued, that this country might achieve a sustainable cooking based on indigenous products, rather in the way that Belgium manages. Didn't happen. Indeed, so didn't happen that Rhodes-style English cooking is truly exotic and much rarer than Thai or Bangladeshi or Cantonese or...

Barry Norman claims he is unable to enjoy watching films in his leisure time any more. Do you feel the same way about eating?

Rory Munroe, London

Mr Norman has a point. I guess that satiety is a state which inevitably afflicts critics whatever it is they are writing about, whether it is film or theatre or restaurants. Since I am no longer obliged to go to restaurants, I am in the happy position of only going to those that I like, and even then of not going to them particularly frequently.

I once went into a pub in Norfolk and they had assembled a little "shrine of hatred" devoted to you, apparently after you had given them a particularly bad review. How does it feel to inspire such passionate loathing?

Helen Keel, Kettering

You must send me the address. Are you sure it was Norfolk and not Suffolk? A Suffolk restaurateur and brewer developed a heightened animus against me after I had written about his establishment. I guess it goes with the territory. The restaurant trade is notoriously unself-critical and does not enjoy being taken at anything other than its own estimate – which is one of the several reasons why it is so complacent.

Ramsay or Oliver? Delia or Nigella? And why?

Carla Hulford, Cirencester

Ramsay and Nigella – their talent, their looks, their very being.

All that rich food, yet I

read somewhere that you have lost a lot of weight recently – how did you manage it?

Delia Waterman, London

No carbohydrates, no lactic, no fat.

Have you ever thought

of opening your own restaurant?

Barbara Stamp, by e-mail

Yes. But within moments I rethink.

I understand you trained as an actor. Do you ever regret not taking it up as

a profession?

Deborah Bridge, London

When I left Rada, Hugh Cruttwell, the principal, told me that I might as well forget about acting till I was middle-aged, at which point, he reckoned, I would make a good living as a character actor. Extraordinarily, he remembered this when I was talking to him a few years ago and was amused by his prescience, which he qualified by saying that the only thing he got wrong was that he couldn't foresee that I would merely play a character called Jonathan Meades.

Do you think television has a future?

Katie Brown, Manchester

Unhappily, yes it has. I say unhappily because an opportunity has been lost, and a potentially beneficent medium has been abused by the people who run it. The sort of stuff that I make is now regarded by the people who run television channels with suspicion, with a kind of bemused contempt.

Your televisual diatribe against grandiloquent Victorian architecture suggested that syphilitic visions may sometimes have had something to do with the excess. Have you ever worn mercury-coated underpants, a popular curative in the 18th century? And what might be the sexually-transmitted disease that informs post-millennial architecture?

Jay Stansfield, Cardiff

Victoria Died In 1901 was not a diatribe. Rather, it wasn't thus intended. I have great affection for many of the buildings that we filmed. The conceit that they were occasioned by neurosyphilis, laudanum and religious mania was just that – a conceit. No, I have never worn mercury-coated underpants and I'd prefer it if you didn't send me yours. The notion that today's architecture might be influenced by an STD is regrettably fanciful. I rather wish that architects were more prone to the sort of promiscuity that might result in their suffering in such a way. But they are not reckless people. The savagery and dodgy logic which characterise so much Victorian work is quite missing today.

What's the ugliest city in Britain?

Frank McDonald, by e-mail

We're spoiled for choice. Or are we? There are few cities that lack redeeming features. I'm in earnest – after all I have made films in praise of such places as Birmingham, have written passionately about Southampton and Portsmouth, actually enjoy Newcastle and Reading, and can see the point of Swindon and Grimsby. I'd say Stoke – but then I think of the Wedgwood Memorial Institute and of the wilfully Baroque town hall and of the kilnscape when you come over the bank from Newcastle-under-Lyme...

Why do you always wear the same black suit? And where did you buy it?

Paul Isaacs, by e-mail

I have many black or blackish suits, some of them off-the-peg, and some made by tailors such as Timothy Everest, David Chambers and John Pierse. I wear such garb on telly in the hope that it makes me appear detached from the surroundings – it's a self- caricatural tactic.

Are you really making a film about the late Brian Jones, starring Kate Moss?

Jonathan Simmons, by e-mail

Francis Hanly and I are trying to persuade the BBC to commission a piece about Jones's death. Much of it will be underwater and our intention is to do it en travesti – hence the idea of having Kate Moss play Jones.

You once described your fiction as "fairytales contaminated by bad pornography". What is good pornography?

Iain Douglas, Exeter

Octave Mirbeau, Alain Robbe- Grillet...

Are you a snob?

Louise Ferry, Newcastle

Everyone is snobbish about something or other. Snobbishness is merely deprecatory synonym of discrimination.

'The Fowler Family Business' is published by Fourth Estate, £10; 'Incest and Morris Dancing' is published by Cassell, £20

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