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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS on TV: When it comes to bad taste, leave tortillas and yuppies in the 1980s!

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the weekend’s TV: When it comes to bad taste, leave tortillas and yuppies in the 1980s!


The Secret World Of Crisps

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Upgrade Me! Secrets Of First Class

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Viva Las Vegas. The casino city conjures images of Elvis in white leather and rhinestones. What you don’t think of immediately is a sales convention for crisp manufacturers.

But it was in Vegas at the Snaxpo exhibition (which showcases international snack food) in 1980 that Britain first encountered a tortilla chip. This momentous discovery was made by two northern blokes who recalled their excitement in The Secret World Of Crisps (C4).

It’s fitting that, while most Vegas double acts have exotic names such as Siegfried and Roy, or Penn and Teller, our lads were called Roger and Keith.

Roger McKechnie and Keith Gill launched an upmarket snack brand called Phileas Fogg

Roger McKechnie and Keith Gill launched an upmarket snack brand called Phileas Fogg

Roger McKechnie and Keith Gill were convinced the UK snack market was crying out for tortillas — baked triangles of mashed sweetcorn dipped in spicy cheese powder laced with preservatives. Yum . . .

Extensive research with the British public showed that nine out of ten people who expressed a preference didn’t merely dislike tortillas. They actively despised them.

But this was the beginning of the 1980s, when a whole sub-culture was booming in the South-East of England. Young people with German cars and jobs in the City were being dubbed ‘yuppies’.

They had no taste and loadsamoney. And they thought tortillas were great. Roger and Keith launched an upmarket snack brand, quickly adding garlic croutons and poppadoms to their range. They called it Phileas Fogg, after the chap who went Around The World In Eighty Days.

Their rivals were scathing. At Walkers, former manager Martin Glenn sneered: ‘It was posh crisps; it was for the middle classes on a Friday evening.’ As we saw in the episode on duelling chocolatiers, competition is tough in the snack business, and the talk is tougher.

Roger talked about his old bosses at Smith’s Crisps with contempt: ‘Smith’s were dead from the feet up. Boring.’ 

MIS-SPEAK OF THE WEEKEND

Novices Jade and Brynn were planning to sail from Cornwall to Greece, on Living Wild: How To Change Your Life (C4). ‘You strike me as people who throw yourselves into the deep end, literally,’ host Sophie Morgan said. I hope they literally don’t.

Paul Weiland, the filmmaker who directed the first ads with Gary Lineker for Walkers, made a point of ostentatiously scoffing from a jumbo bag of crisps made by another company.

Walkers were no longer paying him, he muttered, through a mouthful of salt ‘n’ vinegar.

Information about production- line methods was wisely kept to a minimum. No one wants to see how Cheesy Wotsits are produced . . . not if you ever want to eat one again. 

Instead, the story focused on the dramas, such as the Great Golden Wonder fire of 1989. In Corby, the factory burned down after boiling oil burst into flames. Now that’s a big chip pan blaze.

No one wants a kitchen fire at 30,000 ft, which is why most airline food is cooked on the ground and warmed up during the flight. If that’s not an unappetising thought, Upgrade Me! Secrets Of First Class (C5) revealed that even the fanciest dishes are heavily salted and spiced, because subtle flavours disappear under cabin pressure. Once again, yum . . .

Largely consisting of wobbly footage shot by passengers using smartphones, this vacuous documentary set out to make us envious but never really got off the ground. Apart from the extra legroom, it’s hard to see why anyone would pay ten times more for a first-class ticket instead of opting for economy.

We were shown around the ‘luxury lounge’ at the airport, and watched while a VIP called Sam enjoyed a foot massage, before bedding down in a compartment with a telly.

Sam went into raptures. If that’s all it takes to make him happy, he could have stayed in a B&B in Skegness, and had a pedicure at the beauty parlour on the seafront. Same treatment, ten grand cheaper.

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