Too many cooks spoil the broadcast

'We did a pilot cooking history programme, but it didn't really work. Keith Floyd's wig kept falling off'
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The Independent Online

The word "ghettoisation" has been used in connection with the BBC recently, which is weird, because in recent years the BBC has spent most of its time mixing gardening, cooking, decorating and travel with gay abandon. Ghettoising? Wildly intermarrying, more like. Teams of gardeners move in to redecorate people's houses; fashion experts go on luxury holidays; interior decorators give makeovers to everything; and celebrity chefs are then brought in to try everything that hasn't been done so far...

The word "ghettoisation" has been used in connection with the BBC recently, which is weird, because in recent years the BBC has spent most of its time mixing gardening, cooking, decorating and travel with gay abandon. Ghettoising? Wildly intermarrying, more like. Teams of gardeners move in to redecorate people's houses; fashion experts go on luxury holidays; interior decorators give makeovers to everything; and celebrity chefs are then brought in to try everything that hasn't been done so far...

It was said that Greg Dyke was going to put a stop to this strange trend before people burst into the newsroom and redecorated it as the news was actually being broadcast, but I have learnt that under his director generalship the trend is actually going to be accelerated. It has been spotted within the BBC that there is still one major strand not so far affected by cross-fertilisation. I refer to period costume drama. And I can reveal that between now and Christmas the first experiment is being done to mix period drama with a cooking programme. Filming is due to start next month on a hitherto unknown Jane Austen story called "Pride and Polenta".

"Yes," Verity Gamble, the new head of the new cookery drama department, confirmed to me, "I don't know how you found out about this, but it's true. We are very excited about it."

But surely Jane Austen never actually wrote a book called "Pride and Polenta", did she? It was called Pride and Prejudice.

"What's in a name?" says Verity Gamble. "Don't forget that Jane Austen herself did not call the book Pride and Prejudice to begin with. She called it First Impressions. Names change," she continues. "And we have changed it again. We are very excited about it."

So what will be different about this new costume/cookery drama?

"Well, this all came about because we were trying to think of a new cookery programme. They always say that there is nothing new under the sun, but somebody suggested that we hadn't really explored classic cooking techniques from previous centuries and said we ought to try the history approach. We do dishes from other countries - why not from other times? It seemed a great idea, so we did a pilot cooking history programme, but it didn't really work. Keith Floyd's wig kept falling off, for a start. Then we came up with the brilliant idea of doing Jane Austen, but with cooking in it! The characters will keep to the original plot but will do a lot more cooking and will discuss the ingredients as they go along. Can you imagine how many copies the 'BBC Jane Austen Cookbook' will sell? We are all so very excited about it."

Mmmm, but surely the characters in Jane Austen didn't do any cooking, did they? I mean, even an unprosperous middle-class English family in the early 1800s would have had servants and cooks to provide the food, and cooks don't do much talking in Jane Austen novels, do they?

"Well, they do if they are played by Delia Smith and Sophie Grigson!" says Verity Gamble.

You are going to write parts into Pride and Prejudice for Delia Smith and Sophie Grigson?

"Nothing is decided yet," she says coyly, "but things are looking hopeful. We have other books lined up for the treatment, too. We are doing a version of A Tale of Two Cities that shows excitingly how new dishes travelled from Paris to London, even during the revolution. We are turning Vanity Fair into 'Vanity Fare' and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes into 'The Cook-Book of Sherlock Holmes'. We are doing a new version of The Secret Garden... "

Hold on, hold on. Where does cooking come into that?

"Well, when the girl finally gets into the secret garden, she finds that the Changing Rooms team have got there first and transformed it into a lovely Betty's Tea-Rooms. It's giving a completely new slant to the classics. It's going to bring a whole new audience to the old favourites in a brand-new way! We are so very excited! Now, if you'll excuse me, I must dash to an audition..."

I don't want to give away any secrets, but I couldn't help noticing that when Verity Gamble left, she was clutching the script of a work called "The Riddle of the Sandwiches".

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