Saturday, July 28, 2012

A culinary 'Unsuitable Role Model'

How time flies! It's nearly three years since the great Keith Floyd passed on, and I've been meaning to do an Unsuitable Role Models post in his honour ever since - and continually forgetting to get down to it.

Floyd was one of the great British eccentrics, an intermittently successful restaurateur who, in early middle age, fortuitously found his ideal milieu on television. Long before cooking became hip - essential, unavoidable - on our screens, he had one of the first really successful TV cookery shows in the UK, starting in the early or mid-80s (round about the time I started at university) and continuing for a decade or more. He amply conveyed his passion for food - and drink - but with a sincerity and an absence of pretension that few of his successors have been able to match.

He played up to his reputation of being an avid drinker, almost invariably having a glass of wine in hand when on camera and making it a running joke that he favoured recipes which called for a glass or two, so that he would have an excuse to glug the rest of the bottle himself while he cooked. On more than a few occasions, he appeared to become significantly stotious during the filming of a sequence - although he may have been play-acting just a bit.

The other distinctive feature of his shows was that he shunned the studio, choosing instead often rather challenging outdoor locations: half-way up a windswept Welsh mountain, a barbecue pit in the middle of the jungle, the galley of a storm-tossed trawler. And there didn't seem to be too much of the 'cheating' that we now regard as inevitable in such shows: the cooking was filmed in extended takes, and 'mistakes' were left in (his teasing monologues with his never-seen-or-heard cameramen ["Clive", "Richard"], constantly chivvying them to try to keep up with things in these hectic and demanding environments, was another of his endearing trademarks). It was seat-of-the-pants stuff, almost always a bit chaotic and occasionally threatening to spiral out of control; but the food always looked pretty damn good at the end of it all. For sheer bloody entertainment value, I don't think there's been a better cookery show before or since.

I hardly watched any TV in my late teens and early twenties, but Floyd was essential viewing for my generation. He was a terrific populariser of good eating, and he was the epitome of joie de vivre.

Here he is cooking up some beef...

And here making a fruity cocktail...

He had good taste in music, too. As the theme tune for his series on the BBC he chose The Stranglers' demented instrumental Waltzinblack.

When he died in September 2009, The Guardian rounded up a nice selection of tributes to the great man from today's celebrity chefs.

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