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.