World’s Greatest Food Markets, BBC 2, review: Billingsgate fish market is a world of its own

Barton’s resemblance to Lord Sugar wasn’t the only way we were reminded of The Apprentice

Ellen E. Jones
Sunday 16 November 2014 17:42 GMT
Roger Barton, nicknamed the “King of Billingsgate”
Roger Barton, nicknamed the “King of Billingsgate” (BBC2)

The Billingsgate fish market in east London is a world of its own and the king of this domain, according to World’s Greatest Food Markets (Sun BBC2), is Roger Barton.

With his grey beard and straw boater hat, Roger looked like Alan Sugar’s homeless half-brother, but his 50-plus years of graft have earned him the nickname “The Bastard of Billingsgate”. Now he’s ready to be a small fish in a bigger pond, but “can the Bastard of Billingsgate make a few quid in another man’s market?”

Barton’s resemblance to Lord Sugar wasn’t the only way we were reminded of The Apprentice. Both shows are also wistful odes to the glory days of capitalism, when a man could earn an honest crust by screwing other people out of their life savings. In his area, New York has a clear cultural advantage, so it made sense for Barton to begin his travels with three weeks at the New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx.

Seafood’s answer to The Sopranos included Big Joe Halibut, who shifts more halibut in a night than London does in a week, Eddie, the market veteran, who saw Barton’s boater and raised him a baker boy cap, and rotund depressive Frank, who complained of his cut-throat colleagues, yet wasted no time in undercutting Roger’s red perch.

The Bastard didn’t quite live up to his title, but any initial reticence on his part was more than made up for by the rich colour of his surroundings. You could smell the fresh cod, feel the chill of those 3am starts and taste the muddy jellied eels, which Roger had flown in as part of his ill-advised attempt to foist cockney cuisine on Manhattan. In the end, he came out £5 up on his £5,000 investment. Not a huge profit, but still a profit. Lord Sugar would have been proud.

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