BBC Show presence: no small beer

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I was performing at the BBC Food Show at the Birmingham NEC last week and in between hosting eight tutored beer tastings I had ample time to wander...

I was performing at the BBC Food Show at the Birmingham NEC last week and in between hosting eight tutored beer tastings I had ample time to wander round the vast halls and see the other participants at work. The result was to deepen my belief that we live in a bizarre, topsy-turvy world.

Beer has always had a minor role to play at the long-running show. The big tickets are wine and food. While I was pleased to get 30 paying customers to my events, Oz Clarke next door in the wine theatre got three times as many punters, aided by a new series on BBC2 that coincided with the opening of the show. But the real stars are the so-called "celebrity chefs". Their theatre looked half the size of the new Wembley stadium and thousands queued to watch such star names as Antony Worrall Thompson, James Martin and Jean-Christophe Novelli displaying their culinary arts.

I have been on stage with both Worrall Thompson and Martin at the show and know that most people who pack the theatre haven't the faintest interest in food and how to cook it. They are celebrity stalkers. Martin and Novelli have the added attraction of being extremely handsome and you can see the female eyes out on stalks as the chefs prance around the hot ring.

But despite the demonstrations at the Beeb's show and the interminable cookery programmes on just about every television channel in Christendom, the British are no better at buying ingredients, and preparing and cooking them than they were 20 years ago. If anything, they are worse. Most of the people ogling the chefs at Birmingham would have gone home and placed some packaged pap in the microwave then settled down to eat an apology for good food on their laps in front of the telly - no doubt watching Gordon Ramsay effing and blinding his way round the world. In other words, for all their fame, wealth and notoriety, celebrity chefs have failed. A small minority of Brits may eat in smart restaurants - run by Worrall Thompson and Co - but most either eat pre-cooked food at home or nip out for a curry or Chinese takeaway.

The prominence given to wine is equally puzzling. As recent editions of the MA have chronicled graphically, the brewing industry is going through a torrid time (though it's interesting to note that while Coors and Carlsberg have seen their profits nosedive, Fuller's has returned impressive figures by concentrating on quality cask beers). In spite of the problems, the Brits still drink between three and four times as much beer as they do wine. We remain a major beer drinking and producing country. Yet beer is just an also-ran at not only the BBC Food Show but in most of the media. As I watched Oz promoting his new TV wine series on BBC Breakfast last week, I thought how fine it would be if the same attention were given to beer.

Mention the dread word "beer" to anyone in television and you get the immediate response: "Michael Jackson did beer". Yes, but the Beer Hunter programmes were 16 years ago. The world has moved on and a few million gallons have been brewed since then. There is a lot to talk about in the world of beer but no one in the media wants to give it any airing.

But things are improving. I was performing in a section at the BBC show called the Great British Beer Experience. It was organised by the Campaign for Real Ale with the support of several regional and craft brewers. The design was good, people poured in to sample the beers on offer and some paid a small fee to hear the likes of Jeff Evans, Tim Webb and yours truly describe the pleasures of the juice of the barley and the hop. We put down a marker for good beer at the show. We will be back next year, building on that small but encouraging success. It would be good if the media barons gave us just a modicum of support.

www.beer-pages.com

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