So the ultimate nanny returns after a six-year absence. Delia Smith will soon be back on our screens in a new show. In 2002 she made a series called How to Cook, which explained how to boil an egg. The accompanying book went straight to the top of the bestseller lists – Delia has sold an astonishing 10 million books in her time – but weirdly enough, people didn't learn how to cook as a result.
Instead, sales of ready meals soared and an increasing number of us now spend more money than ever on eating out. Most Britons still shun the kitchen, in spite of Delia's easy-to-follow no-nonsense approach and high ratings over almost 30 years. When Delia used a gadget, like a particular omelette pan, we rushed to Sainsbury's and bought thousands of the ruddy things. There was a run on cranberries, in Christmas 1995, after she told us how to make sauce with them.
You couldn't imagine Yule-tide food without consulting Delia. When a girlfriend got married, or your son went off to university, you purchased them the appropriate cookery book by Delia. She was like an auntie who bailed you out. Then, in 2002, Britain's favourite cook announced that she wanted to spend more time supporting (and running the catering for) her local football team, Norwich City. She and her husband own the largest stake in the club. But did we ever believe that Delia would be happy sitting at home watching the motley crew of telly chefs who now dominate our airwaves? Cooking on television has become a new form of soft porn in the hands of Nigella and co. It's all innuendo, loads of licking of lips, masses of cleavage and soft focus double entendres.
Even Gordon Ramsay – whose cooking techniques are impeccable – can't resist promoting himself as a sex symbol, rather than the man who can turn out sublime dinners. He popped up on the cover of a food magazine last weekend with a freshly streaked hairstyle that looked like artfully arranged celeriac. There's no doubt that it's the female audience who find him deliciously sexy and who have made his shows such ratings winners. He's the alpha male they all wish they had at home, and sod the stock reduction he's wittering on about in his chef's whites.
I always found Delia's recipes dreary in the extreme. But there's no doubt they were guaranteed to work, and that starchy pinny and slightly bossy style turned her into a bit of a secret sex symbol for loads of middle-class chaps not the slightest bit interested in making a casserole.
Delia claimed she was stepping down because people wanted to watch cookery shows as entertainment (correct) – whereas she was more interested in teaching the real thing. If that's the case, then I'm disappointed that her new series is to focus on cutting corners, using stuff like ready-made sauces. It is said to be a new version of her first ever cookery book, published in 1972, called How to Cheat at Cooking, and a new book will (of course) be published to coincide with this series in 2008. It's a shame she can't be brave and start with the basics again.
Surely this programme should be required viewing in all primary and secondary schools? It will save the Government the trouble of devising a curriculum in order to teach kids how to cook, and, you never know, a spot of Delia's strong sense of moral duty (she is a devout Catholic who has written two books on the subject) might rub off on them at the same time.
Farewell, Frank – a genius and a half
One of the craziest interviews I ever did was with the entertainers Frank and Fred Cox. Frank has just died aged 86. Not only were they identical, but they were married to identical twins and all lived together in the same house. It was virtually impossible to tell them apart – when one twin started a sentence, the other interrupted and finished it. They had huge mops of wild hair and soon reduced me to tears of helpless laughter with their crazy repartee and potty songs. The Cox twins had been performers since childhood, appearing in Ralph Reader's gang shows at the London Palladium, and starred as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee in a film of Alice in Wonderland with Peter Sellers. Wonderful characters!
* Who's got the most money to spend in Britain? Not the Russian millionaires who buy posh houses and shop at Harrods, but the over-sixties. As a group, they are the big spenders that retailers and marketers are anxious to capture.
New research reveals those over 65 will spend on average around £4,300 on themselves this year, but this figure will grow by over 36 per cent to almost £7,500 over the next decade. The retail market for the over-sixties is valued at £37bn – fuelled by people spending their cash rather than leaving it to their children.
I hate being categorised as the Saga generation. It might be a successful magazine, but as far as I'm concerned, it's for 75-year-olds who want to pretend they are 60. In my head I think I'm 40. I've no intention of doing anything sensible like retiring, or going on a holiday with a load of other crumblies. Now oldsters have the cash (and the inclination) to behave exactly like teenagers used to. Hoorah!Reuse content