Editor-At-Large: Why can't more men be like Jamie?

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The Independent Online

Like or loathe him, no one can deny that Jamie Oliver's got the vital ingredient lacking in politics today - charisma. His successful School Dinners series ended last week with the removal of revolting turkey twizzlers from the menu and a lot of expressions of commitment to higher standards from Ruth Kelly and co. More importantly, Jamie is to give evidence to the parliamentary select committee on education shortly. Jamie's sheer strength of personality combined with 100 per cent commitment to his goal of improving school meals has proved a winning combination for viewers. Meanwhile another multimillion-pound initiative to persuade us to eat better food has just been launched on television and in print, featuring two butch men, this time a couple of sportsmen both way past their sell-by date, and hardly in Jamie's class when it comes to sex appeal - Alan Lamb and Ian Botham. This unlikely pair are appearing in animated form as Beefy and Lamby extolling the virtues of English meat (for the English Beef

Like or loathe him, no one can deny that Jamie Oliver's got the vital ingredient lacking in politics today - charisma. His successful School Dinners series ended last week with the removal of revolting turkey twizzlers from the menu and a lot of expressions of commitment to higher standards from Ruth Kelly and co. More importantly, Jamie is to give evidence to the parliamentary select committee on education shortly. Jamie's sheer strength of personality combined with 100 per cent commitment to his goal of improving school meals has proved a winning combination for viewers. Meanwhile another multimillion-pound initiative to persuade us to eat better food has just been launched on television and in print, featuring two butch men, this time a couple of sportsmen both way past their sell-by date, and hardly in Jamie's class when it comes to sex appeal - Alan Lamb and Ian Botham. This unlikely pair are appearing in animated form as Beefy and Lamby extolling the virtues of English meat (for the English Beef and Lamb Executive) in a series of TV commercials called "At Home with Beefy and Lamby" in which they live in a cricket pavilion and bicker over the cooking, booze in the middle of the day and play steel drums with the saucepan lids. Not a woman in sight - and we, dear readers, are the people who generally buy the nation's meat, more often than not. So what's the logic?

While Botham is still very much in the public eye as a commentator for Sky, who knows or cares about Alan Lamb? When I showed the ad to a selection of girlfriends no one had the faintest idea who it was. But sometimes just having the right surname and a best mate called Botham can work to your advantage. South African-born Lamb's days as a professional cricketer ended back in 1992, and since then he seems to have adopted the life of a country gentleman. Botham, on the other hand, rarely has been out of the news since he retired more than 10 years ago, whether it's walking for his pet charities or expanding on his favourite subject (fine wine) on shows such as Ready Steady Cook. Botham is undoubtedly one of our finest sportsmen ever - but another Jamie Oliver? If you asked me whether a couple of middle-aged men could persuade me to buy English meat, I'd have to say no.

The print campaign, launched in magazines the other week, seemed spooky in the extreme. Beefy and Lamby animated characters with funny mullets and stuck-on moustaches feature on a series of fake cigarette cards (how politically incorrect is that?) posing in their whites behind large plates of food. But on television, it's a different matter. Even though I can't stand cricket and find Henry Blofeld (who provides the commentary) eminently resistible, I secretly have to admit that the sight of these two unfashionable chaps sitting down to roast lunches and swigging from bottles of red wine in the middle of play is a thoroughly entertaining idea. In the latest ad, a streaker flashes through the room and past our cheery pair, hotly pursued by a copper. The scripts are sly and funny, and it's one of those campaigns (as with the little men in the glorious Smash potato ad of yesteryear) where you can't wait for the next episode.

Farmers are beleaguered people and all too often are seen in the media moaning about their lot. So using humour to promote their wares can only be a plus. And the signs are that although they might not give a stuff about cricket and former sporting heroes, women have logged on to the website and downloaded recipes in their thousands. So what is it about blokes and eating well? These days all the most successful chefs (apart from Nigella Lawson) from Gordon Ramsay to Ainsley Harriott are men. Delia's retired and Sophie Grigson's disappeared under the weight of her earrings. Jamie is someone we may or may not fancy, but we certainly want to mother. He's authoritative too - he speaks and politicians from Charles Clarke to Tony Blair listen and start making promises. He tells us our children are eating badly - something every parent in the land must have known for years - and suddenly we are outraged and demand action. Like Jamie, Lamby and Beefy are ebulliently masculine men at home with their team-mates or behind the stove. Sadly, this is all a media myth - the real shame is there are few men in the kitchen in the real world. Jamie may be admired, but he's not being emulated by many of his sex.

I hate the Eighties

From Eighties cricketers to ancient politicians - the feeling of déjà vu continues as Baroness Thatcher stepped back on to the campaign trail for the Tories last week and reminded us of another era wearing a 1980s power suit and hairstyle as she patted a greyhound in deepest Essex, accompanied by her faithful lapdog Lord Tebbit. Meanwhile, Julie Andrews appeared on stage with the cast of the new musical of Mary Poppins.

Then the BBC had no sooner announced its Africa season of programmes (to be broadcast in July when most of the viewers will be on holiday) than they were forced to stand by the politically incorrect Stuart Hall after he made some non-funny remarks about Zimbabwe's cricket team on the Radio Five Live show Fighting Talk. I ought to be surprised that dinosaurs like Mr Hall can still find work at the BBC, but I'm not. And not to be left out of the obsession with the 1980s, ITV plans to revive a whole range of "classic" (its term) quiz shows to celebrate its 50th anniversary. These benchmark programmes include Bullseye, The Golden Shot and The Price Is Right. As far as I'm concerned most of these shows deserve to be destroyed for good, and as for Jim Bowen - don't get me started.

After watching this lot, we'll be grateful for Ant and Dec and even that irritating pair of young men in their bungalow. I've just recorded TV on Trial for BBC television (which will be broadcast after Easter), in which I defend the current output. John Humphrys (a man who never watches television) roundly denounces it. Compared to The Price Is Right we are living through a golden era.

Watching Richard Eyre's engrossing new production of Hedda Gabler at the Almeida Theatre in London reminds us that fine writing never dates. Hedda is a woman before her time, frustrated with her surroundings, her lack of skills, her husband, her enclosed world. Although Ibsen wrote that the play was about human rights rather than women's rights, Hedda is a lethal combination of boredom and malice, bitter about what she cannot have, and Eve Best gives a compelling performance.

Over the past month or so I've sat through a lot of theatre, and most of it wouldn't hold your attention if it was broadcast on television. Alison Steadman has been fêted for her performance in Losing Louis, but for my money she's still playing a larger-than-life version of Beverly from Abigail's Party after all these years. A fine actress, she's not served by a play that is basically an old-fashioned domestic romp. An evening with Hedda Gabler might be short on laughs, but it's a far more rewarding experience.

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