MOURNING A TRUE FOOD HERO: YOU MAY NOT KNOW HIS NAME, BUT YOU HAVE SEEN HIS WORK
For all the complaints you hear about there being too many celebrity chefs on the telly, food programmes remain hugely popular. Although rather too many of us are reluctant to attempt any proper cooking in our own kitchens, millions still like to watch other people doing it on the small screen.
Today we enjoy all sorts of formats, served with a huge dollop of creativity, but cooking on TV wasn’t always like that. In the early days it was largely staid, worthy and personality-free; the idea of eating and drinking as a hedonistic activity was anathema to our post-war, buttoned-up world.
The person widely credited with breaking this mould was Keith Floyd, and certainly his mercurial personality brought a new kind of cooking programme which has largely shaped everything which has been on our screens since. When Floyd died in 2009, there was a justified outpouring of sadness in the foodie world.
But if Floyd was the frontman, the true architect of that food TV revolution was another larger-than-life character who, despite finding cameo roles in front of the camera, would mainly stay behind it. And sadly, that true food TV hero passed away at the weekend.
David Pritchard is not perhaps a name which trips off the average TV viewer’s lips. And yet, as well as being responsible for bringing Keith Floyd to the small screen, he also discovered that other giant of foodie TV, Rick Stein, and directed pretty much everything both of them ever made.
While Floyd had an affable TV persona – and I know from speaking to those who met him that he could be great fun – I think I’m glad that I never actually had to work with the man. Being his director must have required heroic levels of patience. And yet across all the Floyd programmes, from ‘Floyd on France’ in 1987 right through to the final series, ‘Far Flung Floyd’, it was Pritchard who cajoled those memorable performances out of this flawed and slightly out-of-control genius.
You sense that his relationship with Rick Stein was much closer; there seemed to be a genuine friendship between them, as we saw during his increasing appearances on screen. The slightly irascible, pernickety character portrayed might have been an act, but to have consistently produced top-notch TV of that standard must have required a certain perfectionism.
I actually once had the privilege of working with David Pritchard, on a TV shoot here in Norfolk. It was ever such a long time ago, pre Rick Stein. I was a young, eager, and rather naïve PR man, trying rather too hard to impress this sophisticated film crew with my organisational skills. David was incredibly patient, making me feel useful rather than just in the way, for which I will always be grateful.
He inspired me, and I suspect his work has inspired generations of amateur and professional cooks. You would have to be well into your 50s to have been an adult before he propelled Keith Floyd onto our screens; Rick Stein’s first series aired 24 years ago.
Perhaps it’s ironic that someone who notoriously had simple tastes in food, and who was dismissive of poncey chef cooking, is the person largely responsible for the variety and quality of foodie TV today. You will find it very hard to find a day when one or other of his programmes is not still being shown on our screens - and we still watch them in our millions.
The phrase ‘food hero’ is rather overused these days. Few are those whose work is truly transformational, who change what we aspire to eat. David Pritchard was one such, even if he was not a celebrity, and true foodies will mourn his passing.
This article was first published in the Norwich Evening News and the Eastern Daily Press.