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TV: Did Heston Change Little Chef?

November 1, 2009

Fish and Chips

Heston Blumenthal returned to the Little Chef in Popham recently to check on how his previous efforts to improve its output have been maintained.

If Little Chef’s percentage increase on sales after Heston’s previous visit to the chain are to believed, then the Liverpool Echo’s assessment of the programme being a glorified advert for the restaurant chain is in part correct. Mind you, the combined broadcast viewing figures on Channel 4 and Channel 4+1 proved Heston’s ongoing popularity (more to do with his obvious on-screen sincerity rather than a desire to see an old brand like Little Chef revitalised) up and against the brilliant Andrew Marr and his new series on BBC Two.

Mark Lawson argues in the Guardian that the jeopardy inherent in infotainment type programmes such as Did Heston Change Little Chef? is threatened by the pressure TV networks are under to secure viewing figures. Consequently the overriding question about whether or not Blumenthal succeeded in turning around the fortunes of the restaurant chain was already known before the programme was broadcast.It came out, he says, when the Good Food Guide was published.

I don’t pour over the Good Food Guide press releases – although my recent ‘Jonny On Tour’ in Cardiff, Newcastle and Belfast may now prompt me to at least buy the publication – consequently, I was unaware of the inclusion of Little Chef Popham in the directory. What was obvious however from the style of documentary was that there was always going to be a happy ending anyway. That is the way these programmes are made. We start knowing Heston’s going back. We figure there’ll probably be something he needs to sort out (after all – this is an hour’s worth of material) and there has to be some kind of redemption at the end of it.

Like reality TV, maybe there’s a call for this kind of formulaic docu-entertainment to be put down. There is nothing more boring than being able to visualise the storyboard and the shooting script when you’re watching a programme.

The food – even if fish and chips – didn’t look that amazing. If anything it looked like the kind of basic standard food I’d expect from a company who have a captive audience to satisfy in 170 properties nestling alongside the UK’s main roads.

What I rather hope is that it’s one small step along the way to improving this country’s appalling service industry culture with it’s long fringes, bottle blonde hair and alabaster attitude. Now that would make an interesting documentary. A twelve parter, I’d suggest.


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One Comment
  1. I’d be intrigued to know if Little Chef were to let standards slip in their Popham restaurant, like they did after Heston’s original programmes, whether or not customers would still flock there because they’d seen it on telly.

    A few of my thoughts on the TV show are here:

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