I texted a hurried SOS to a friend during the last stages of the recent series of MasterChef. “John Torode has cried twice in this episode. What’s going on?” I convinced myself it was a sign that the world had stopped, tilted and was heading for the eternal flames of destruction.
“When John Torode cries on MasterChef” should surely be an official indicator of forthcoming disaster. You know, like that story about us having to prepare for the final conflagration if Radio 4 goes off the air.
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Sometimes the DAB radio in the bedroom is a bit tardy in delivering the Today programme of a morning, and I’m already whitewashing the windows and wrapping myself in tin foil by the time it tunes itself properly and Giles Fraser is delivering a sanctimony bomb in Thought for the Day. (Thought for the Day, it always makes me feel so bad, as if I’m lounging in bed, biting the heads off mice, when I should be knitting blankets for someone in need).
But I suppose it was inevitable that the habitually dry-eyed Torode should weep, because cookery shows are awash with tears. In Britain’s Best Home Cook (Thursday BBC1) people cry for no particular reason that I can make out. It’s not a ruthlessly highly pressured environment, like the MasterChef kitchen is always made out to be by Torode and Gregg Wallace with their Greek chorus of variations of, “If it’s not cooked for long enough, it won’t taste nice”.
Britain’s Best Home Cook presenter Claudia Winkleman is very huggy and kind, and the judges, led by the beatified Mary Berry, hardly constitute a firing squad as they almost give themselves hernias trying not to say a bad word about anybody. And there are some very uninspiring dishes, despite the contestants having to “put all of their personality and talent into the dish.”
I think what’s really going on here is that contestants are so immersed in the narrative of these sorts of shows they just fit in and do what’s expected – complain about the pressure, talk about how “passionate” they are, spread a bit of sentimentality talking about their families (they are encouraged to personalise their work stations with family photos and other bits and bobs), and cry a bit.
In the excruciatingly inconsequential Top of the Shop (Tuesday BBC2), where a grinning Tom Kerridge oversees kitchen table food producers as they try to sell their goods in a North Yorkshire farm shop, there are many mentions of the two most deadly words in the English language “artisan” and “heritage”.
Which is bad enough. But in the first episode people cried about their pickles, which was a first. Now, there are many things in this world that are worthy of our tears – the gassing of toddlers in Syria to name just one. But pickles? Dry your eyes, for goodness sake, it’s only food.
Just give me a competition where nobody blubs. Like University Challenge, and the brilliant Only Connect, whose final was on Monday on BBC2. I love Only Connect, I still see it as a little secret between you, me and a hamster called Alan, even though it does very good business on BBC2. It’s fun, no one takes it seriously, and everyone is lovely. Contestants know mad things and the winners are those who know even more madder things than their opponents. There’s something very charming and British about it, not least that everyone remains dry-eyed throughout.
Britain’s Best Home Cook is on Thursdays at 8pm on BBC1