March 17th, 2010


Alan Davidson on BBC4

It may be indicative of how little I have in the way of t.v. habits that, if I put a television program into my calendar far enough in advance, I will often remember to watch it, but rarely otherwise. (Eurovision has been in my calendar since the dates were announced.) I had about two weeks' warning on tonight's BBC4 Alan Davidson documentary, and so managed to watch it in real time, as broadcast.

Alan Davidson wrote the magnificent Oxford Companion to Food, a volume I refer to frequently, and also founded the delectable Oxford Symposium, the conference with the best food in the world. He grew up all over the UK - his family moved frequently - and then worked over large swathes of the world as a diplomat. In Laos, when his wife was confused by so few names for so many fish, he wrote a book encompassing 144 Laotian fish, their names, and identifiers. Soon after, he left foreign service and from there, food writing, and promoting food as an academic discipline increasingly became his work.

Part of the wonder of watching the show was how many of the people interviewed, or at least filmed in passing, I recognized from attending the Oxford Symposium. I was delighted to learn that Paul Levy is (co-)credited with coining the word "foodie". The Mekong River looks spectacular. The only footage of Davidson cooking seems to have been from the Martha Stewart show, and the documentary made good use of it. I've never browsed the Ws in the book, so look forward to reading his entry on "washing up", in which the washer is likened to a priest before the altar. QI apparently relies on the book quite heavily in researching its questions.

The documentary was really a labor of love, an affectionate look at the history of the man and his major legacies. It wasn't particularly svelte or overproduced, although too many close-ups of pouring wine started to put me visually off wine. It was, however, a labor long in the making as is shown by filming of the Oxford Symposium - two years ago. I left with a desire to read more of the book, the Oxford Companion to Food - and best of all, one I already own and so don't need to spend more .