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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Sheila Dillon has the voice of sleep angels

 There was a sketch on the radio comedy That Mitchell and Webb Sound where two men talk about the act of counting whales. 'Usually we start by counting one... then two and three...followed by four...' says one. 'Ahh. So tell me. Now we've been talking about whale counting for eight hours, do you think radio 4 will let us out of this room?'. The Food Programme today did much of the same on the astonishing subject of the export of malt. On the headbangometer, the measure for dull programmes on the musicless station, it scored a fractured skull and the loss of one eyeball. This was a similar score to the episode on ice cream, that turned a fascinating food subject into a meditation on the Freudian aspects of licking a 99.

  Every sunday I relive my disbelief that such an endlessly wonderful subject should be reduced to debates about farming subsidies and import duty. It may be that R4 has a strict code of conduct on interesting topics and need to ensure a means-tested quota of insomnia-cure. There is even the possibility that to appear entertaining is to lower oneself, to appeal to the penultimate common denominator.

  If this is the aim of TFP then Sheila Dillon is doing her job brilliantly. By some curious means her narration is haughty and pompous. She does not relate to the proletariat that do all the work in the food industry. She is a mere observer from a leafy London suburb learning a new way to despise modern food production. And I struggle to hear her soporific tones without shouting loudly at the blameless wireless.

  It could be so different. It could be about eating new things or buying different products. Or the anatomy of a great dish. Or just what to cook and how to cook it. It could be practical, inclusive and even interesting. It could loosen its iron-grip obsession with British farming. My brain may have been addled by too many computer games, rock n' roll music and violent films but even when the topic is something I'm really interested in, I fail to retain the drizzle of information. Food in schools is very important to my mind but the TFP format rinses it dry of interest.

 Sorry Sheila. I'm sure you're lovely and your heart is a pure gold cobbler wrapped in dairy milk chocolate from Guernsey but you are dull as dishwater.


  1. forgot to mention. The image is from sortof.co.uk and the copyright is theirs.

  2. So it's not just me then - I've always thought the same thing. Seems to be targeted at audience with absolutely no idea of food whatsoever. Oh for Derek Cooper again.....

  3. Quite agree. I start listening to the programme and lose interest after about 10 minutes. Sheila Dillon is rather poor. Astonishing that such an interesting subject can be turned into boring and monotonous twaddle. Derek Cooper was one of the main reasons I became interested in food. His voice combined with clear delivery could make even the most esoteric aspects of food broadcasting seem beguiling.

  4. Why does she speak with a Scottish accent ?

  5. i think she is from Lancashire...
    but it is true her awful soporific voice droning on manages to make everything uninteresting

  6. Completely agree. There's very few things on R4 that I absolutely can't listen to or can't ignore enough not to have to get off my arse and turn the radio off. Sheila Dillon is one of those few things. I can't stand her voice. She makes every story sound as if it's a report on the horrors perpetrated by an evil dictator in some god forsaken part of the far East.

  7. This blog post is spot on... happy to find it tho late in the day..... . Sheila Dillon's dreary voice droning on and on talking about fooooooood etc. makes me shout at the radio. I love food, love cooking, sometimes I am interested in the subect matter, but I actually have to turn off the volumen, she has to be one of the worst presenters on radio, and although i believe she is from Lancashire I have never ever heard anyone else with this ghastly accent and dreary tones.

  8. Frank's apposite posting is four years old now, but after hearing Sheila Dillon's pompous musings on seaweed I just couldn't let alone leaving my twopence worth of thoughts here.

    As Frank mentions, this has the potential to be a great show. And yet...

    In some ways I think the programme sums up the problem with Radio 4. Who are those that work at the station, who do they represent and talk to. So on the face of it 'The Food Programme' should be at ease talking about the realities of the food industry in this country, one very important facet of that being that a huge swath of those in its employ are immigrants.

    And yet, somehow all you ever get to hear about is how some rich posh white folks have opened a new trendy deli in Stow on the Wold or how a minor landed gentry in Cumbria is opening a new micro brewery. The number of times I've heard Sheila Dillon dismiss immigrant food in this country (Chinese, Indian etc.) as being poor fayre is extraordinary. On today's programme on seaweed she quite openly dismissed Japanese and Chinese preparation and eating of seaweed (no mention of Korea at all), as to be almost passe and unimportant. Considering the vast majority of seaweed is eaten by the inhabitants of these countries surely shows that we have a lot to learn from them when it comes to how and why we should start eating it ourselves. But no, they were just dismissed as being almost beyond any interest. So instead we get to hear from more posh people in Edinburgh.

    I've lived in parts of London with high rates of immigration, and I was very taken by how the middle class liberals who lived in these areas and commuted off to the city every day, and who would represent the demographic that makes and is, I presume, thought to listen to the show, rarely if ever properly interacted with the immigrant communities in their midst.

    I think this programme about sums that up.

  9. Oh! I think she sounds lovely - yes, she does have a strange accent, but I find it comforting to tune into the food programme on a Sunday morning and hear Sheila Dillon. I DID love Derek Cooper, though!

  10. Yes, her voice is really quite weird, in fact I dread being on a desert island with her and Paul Lewis from Money Box, as he also has a quite incredibly irritating voice / accent, although he at least knows about economics and sounds interested, whereas Sheila sounds like the lady with an O Level in Home Economics who happened to get the job. From her picture, she is rather lovely looking, mind, so maybe I could tolerate the desert island as long as she didn't speak :-)

  11. One of the most irritating voices on radio along with Grace Dent. Hope they are both taken off soon.

    1. I find Grace Dent's voice unbelieveably creepy and horrible - can't bear to listen even if the subject matter is interesting

  12. One of the most irritating voices on radio along with Grace Dent. Hope they are both taken off soon.