Wot's all this nonsense about Saddam Hussein and your silly cookery show?
Poor old Saddam - Gone but not Forgotten. Here's the story of how one of Uncle Sam's top bad boys was responsible for your favourite TV cookery series. Truth is stranger than fiction.
Back in the early 90’s the unhappy person who went on to devise ‘Get Stuffed’ was a broke, penniless and unemployed nerd. He was even on the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, which was a government ploy to keep total no-hopers off the unemployment register. But, he liked his grub, and he liked the telly, and he had a wild and silly dream for a brilliant TV series. A series that would be called “The Hasty Tasty Show”.
So, with the help of a mate, he set to work with a business plan that had all the hallmarks of total failure. To give a front to the enterprise and because he was living just outside a village called Ditchingham, he posed under the business name of ‘Last Ditch Television. The idiot.
‘The Hasty Tasty Show’ was offered to almost every broadcaster in the UK and would have been a global romp examining the history, culture and practise of fast food dishes from around the world. There’d be: pizzas from Italy; beefburgers from the States; kebabs from Greece; etc. Such a groovy idea! Channel 4 should have be gagging for such a politically correct, high brow/low brow series because the whole cultural, culinary caboodle would be related back to fast food outlets in the British high street. Geddit?
Well, of course, nobody “Got It”. And, even if they had, with all the travelling expenses, such a series would have cost a bomb. Not one single television company touched ‘The Hasty Tasty Show’ with a shity stick and many couldn’t even be arsed to send rejection slips. But Last Ditch TV was not bitter.
And then, another predictable thing happened ... the USA and UK went ape cos almost everybody thought that Armageddon was immanent and that we were all about to die in a nasty war. Worse, the price of petrol would rocket so we wouldn’t even be able to afford to drive down to the supermarket to stock up on baked beans and bog rolls.
If you are reading this and you are under the age of 30, you will simply not understand, but that is how scary it really was ... for just a few days.
The tabloid press fueled the panic and their pages were full of stuff about how there was about to be a national call-up of UK citizens and how we were all about to fight in grizzly battles that would have every jackass in the country shooting at Saddam’s army in the desert. Everybody in Britain was shitting bricks and, naturally, our brave American civilian comrades got wind of our fear so they did the obvious thing. They all cancelled their holiday plans to the UK, especially London, coz it was going to be WW2 all over again. Bombs galore!
Meanwhile something totally unrelated was going on: Britain’s London-based television industry was slowly coming to grips with the new-fangled satellite TV and there were a few channels transmitting low budget, studio based programmes to rich people who lived on council estates. One of these channels was called Lifestyle and it used to spruce up its unwatchable schedule by dragging C list American celebs into its studio for a bit of cosy sofa chat.
These celebs were always eager to appear because they would get £300 a pop for about two hours work which, more or less, covered their air fares. But, with the prospect of war in the Gulf and Jumbos being blown to smithereens .... the Yanks immediately stopped coming to Blighty, so Lifestyle was suddenly faced with a massive gap in its programming plans because there simply weren’t enough people to appear in its cheap and cheerful programming. So, Lifestyle did something very stupid indeed and rang Last Ditch Television. (Remember, this is all President Saddam Hussein’s fault).
“Will you save our skin and make ‘The Hasty Tasty Show’ for us?” they asked, urgently. It was an offer that Last Ditch TV could not refuse because, by now, ‘The Hasty Tasty Show’ had attracted a pile of rejection slips and the proprietor was on the brink of bankruptcy. The only problem was that Lifestyle couldn’t afford for ‘The Hasty Tasty Show’ to be made as an expensive romp around the world’s most exotic locations (which was the original idea) ... the cheapskates only wanted a couple of blokes who would stand in the Lifestyle studio kitchen and give five cookery demonstrations of fast food recipes. These five recipes would be transmitted on consecutive weekdays but the segments would be pre-recorded in one batch so, if there were any stumbles or fluffs, everything would be seen. Television professionals call this technique “as live” and it’s absolutely no problem for experienced TV chefs or presenters.
Last Ditch TV seized the moment and, a few days later, they packed their favourite pots and pans together with boxes of ingredients for the recipes that they were going to demonstrate and set off on the three hour journey to Lifestyle’s Soho-based studio. They travelled in their clapped out Austin Allegro, a car that drank a gallon of oil every week and blew out more smoke than James Bond’s Aston Martin when he needed to escape the bad guys.
Despite the poor public image, Last Ditch TV were on the brink of the big time and they were smart enough to keep silent about the sole issue that might be problematic ... the truth! And the truth was that nobody at Last Ditch Television had ever presented any sort of TV programme before ever in their entire lives! Worse, Last Ditch TV’s front man was a lousy public speaker.
There was a funny atmosphere in the Lifestyle studio when they arrived, in fact, you could cut the air with a carving knife. Resident chef, Lesley Waters, was putting on a brave face as she pre-recorded some of her own cookery demos in advance of the Last Ditch session. Lesley had been the Lifestyle chef for quite some time and her attitude to the newcomers was politely stand-offish. It suddenly dawned on Last Ditch that maybe, just maybe, they were being screen tested as her replacement. If this was the case, the Last Ditch guys were trying to learn as quickly as possible ... it was the first time that they had ever been inside a TV studio when someone had been recording a cookery demo.
Maybe you think that television studios are exciting places to hang about in but the truth is that they are rather dull so, after about 30 minutes of watching Lesley Waters, Last Ditch was bored to tears and they started nibbling some of the tasty ingredients that they had packed to use in their own demo. Then, with dry mouths, they started necking from a huge bottle of wine that had been brought along as an ingredient to one of their recipes. Suddenly, Last Ditch Television was on familiar territory.
Unfortunately, this familiar territory happened to be a quagmire permanently enveloped in a purple haze. A place where the time space equilibrium floated in an orange sea of half-chewn, regurgitated carrot. A place where the DNA of brain cells untwined and entangled like messed up slinkies. A comfy territory of pink elephants who blew balloons of psychedelic bubble gum. Last Ditch Television was heroically pissed.
Everybody knows that it is fun to be drunk but, basically, drunks are sad, inept bores. They are not funny, they are not entertaining and they tend to break things when they move about.
Worse ... they are not loved by the housewives of middle England, (which was Lifestyle TV’s target audience). But none of this seemed to be a problem because hardly anyone watched the Lifestyle TV channel.
The host and ‘face’ of the channel was veteran broadcaster and all-time-cuddly-chap, David Hamilton, whose job it was to introduce the cookery spot from a cosy corner of the studio.
Everybody was in an awful hurry so, as soon as Lesley’s demos were over, all the food that she had prepared was chucked straight into the dustbin and the floor manager shooed the Last Ditch pair in front of the cameras and the recording began. For the first recipe, David’s introduction was enthusiastic. For the second, polite. Thirdly, doubtful. Fourthly cynical. And his final introduction was a yowl of despair. What happened in front of the cameras remains indescribable but it had nothing to with a television cookery demonstration. Food was dropped on the floor, essential utensils suddenly broke, ingredients got burnt or simply lost in the mess.
At one point, an onion had to be chopped and added to a mixture, but the onion had somehow fallen off the presentation desk and got lost on the floor. The answer was for Last Ditch TV to demonstrate the chopping of an “imaginary” onion. The concept of imaginary onions might just have worked on the radio, but imaginary onions are a total no-no on the telly, which is primarily a visual medium.
The cameramen had never known anything like it and could not believe that what they were witnessing in their viewfinders was really happening in front of their lenses - so they stepped around the large, pedestal mounted cameras to eyeball and get a reality check on an event that was beyond their deepest and most dreadful imaginings.
When it was all over, David gave his sincerest thanks. “I think that you might have something there, lads”, he said. But his the message in his eyes screamed, “Adieu”!
Red with embarrassment and alcohol, Last-Ditch Television grabbed its equipment and scuttled back to the Allegro for the long journey home, deep in the country.
During the next few weeks, a couple of totally unexpected things happened ...
1. Last Ditch TV invoiced Lifestyle TV and got paid.
2. Lifestyle TV transmitted the cookery slots during their daytime schedule.
During the next few months, a couple of totally predictable things happened ...
1. Last Ditch Television’s phone did not ring with any offers of work.
2. Lifestyle Television closed down.
Meanwhile, the lads at Last Ditch had acquired a tape of their transmissions and they wondered if it would be possible to edit the five disastrous demonstrations into one short, madcap routine that would entertain in such a way that it would attract the attention of mainstream broadcasters and save their bacon. Much time and some money was spent trying to find out but the effort was futile. Last Ditch TV’s foray into the world of TV cookery had produced a load of cack.
Maybe that dowdy housewife, Delia Smith, really was a talented genius.
Anyway, Last Ditch’s life continued as the Gulf War raged. Whatever the aspirational lifestyle that Lifestyle Television had hoped to depict, the Last Ditch TV lifestyle stumbled into the year 1991 with the typical life of the unemployable loser, or "Enterprise Allowance Scheme" loser which amounted to almost the same thing.
Long, lazy days; wasted. Watching telly. Strumming guitars. Trying to save every penny and eating frugally. Life’s disappointment would occasionally be interspersed with the occasional binge because, in those blissful days, you could get legless for under three quid.
It was during one of these drunken binges that an unexpected and blinding flash occurred. The flash that was to change Last Ditch TV’s destiny. With hindsight it seems so obvious because the elements were already spread out in front of Last Ditch TV and starring them in the face. All that was needed was the glue of alcohol to stick them together. The elements were: cheap food, the inability to make or present professional television programmes, an inability to cook, an overriding fear that we were about to die in a nuclear/biological holocaust and, rather weirdly, the poor musicianship of people who struggle to play more than three chords on their guitars. Suddenly, Last Ditch TV saw the light and realised that millions of other people were sharing this same experience.
It only took a couple of days to write the proposal for another cookery series and post it to LWT. This new proposal was certainly not a progression from ‘The Hasty Tasty Show’ ... it would be unlike anything that had ever been seen before. It would be a series where inept and ordinary, young people would struggle to cook their own recipes that would range from the bland to the brilliant. It would be a series where there would be no celeb chefs and where things would go wrong, just like in real life. It would show people in a whirling frenzy - cooking as if their lives depended on it to a raucous rock & roll soundtrack. Since it was clear that no broadcaster would touch this idea and since Last Ditch TV knew that its days in the television industry were numbered, it was decided to go for broke and give the series the only title that could ever say it all for us. “Get Stuffed!!” And it’s all thanks to Saddam Hussein.
BTW. it’s a darn good thing that “The Hasty Tasty Show” never went into production because, like most TV cookery series, it would have been a load of pretentious poo.
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