WHAT could be more appropriate, as we prepare for our annual commemoration of the Lord’s Supper, than a brace of programmes about food? Remove from the Gospels every incident and reference involving eating and drinking, and you would be left with mere pamphlets — a doctrine that I not only preach, but, as my straining cassock buttons bear mute yet eloquent witness, take to heart.
The Delicious Miss Dahl (BBC2, Tuesday of last week) represents a significant logical climax in the development of TV cooking. Originally conceived as skill-based education, encouraging the newly liberated masses to widen their culinary repertoire, show after show has focused more on the personality of the chef, and they have become more and more self-regarding and outrageous.
Here we reach the apogee: the title does not even bother to mention anything as boring as cooking — the whole exercise is an excuse for the camera to snuggle up as closely as possible to the winsome Miss Dahl. Sensitively timed for Passiontide, last week’s opening episode was entitled “Selfish”.
It was not, however, a warning about the eternal dangers of self-centredness, but a full-on encouragement to indulge ourselves as much as possible, in an imagined day of eating a succession of yummy treats. There was an aura of conscious naughtiness throughout; an invitation to kick over every restraint. Actually, the recipes did look rather good.
Far more proper to the season was Bread: A loaf affair (BBC4, Wednesday of last week). Despite a desperate jokiness, which began with the dire title and continued on downhill, this documentary about the story of British bread dispelled, for me at least, several misconceptions.
Traditional bread was not wholesome and delicious: it was (because our climate is no good for wheat) rock-hard and full of impurities. No wonder the rich ate the far more refined white bread. With industrialisation, ways were found to make more bread appear white — albeit through lethal adulteration. Gradually, rich people wanted to show their discrimination by eating wholemeal brown bread.
Baking by hand to feed a community is back-breaking, soul-destroying work. Artisanal baking for the discerning few is a tactile, even sensual delight. So the world turns.
Where would you least expect to encounter the teachings of the great J. A. T. Robinson, the only one of my tutors to tell me honestly how completely a waste of his valuable time I was? What price as a specialist subject in Mastermind (BBC2, Friday)?
To reduce the work of a theologian and New Testament scholar to a series of “Yes” or “No” questions is an achievement of such towering, such monumental surrealism as to inspire genuine, awestruck admiration. Unfortunately, the hapless contestant who offered the theme came last.