Jamie Oliver: the personification of contemporary Britain? Image: Getty
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Will Self: Why I hate Jamie Oliver

What this society needs is a culture that values its eternal soul above its lemon sole and a form of social justice that doesn’t depend on the tit-beating self-righteousness of charity.

Jamie Oliver – like the poor he so adores – seems always to be with us; to be with us and to have been with us always as well, although it’s only 14 years since he first thrust his meat and two veg at us in the television series The Naked Chef. Since then, not a year has passed without some new Oliver production: cookery books, more TV, many Sainsbury’s advertising campaigns, restaurants, delicatessens, food product ranges and latterly a number of campaigns aimed at improving the eating habits of the nation, specifically its children.

Not content simply to gnaw the mound of bread he’s accumulated by giving supermarket endorsements, Oliver has committed himself to spreading the wholesome word: his Fifteen chain of restaurants aims to give a break to young folk who’re broken, by delinquency, addiction and poverty, by inserting them into the food industry as sous-chefs and so vastly improving their life chances.

It’s this combination of shameless avariciousness and a belief in the drizzle-down of oily emolument from the top to the bottom that makes Oliver the personification of contemporary Britain. If Terence Conran plummily taught the middle classes how to be a proper European bourgeoisie in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Oliver is his worthy estuarine successor, taking the permanent foodie revolution on to that portion of the former working class who bought up the public housing stock. Now they can borrow against their equity to buy bruschetta, while the poor saps who didn’t get their plutocratic act together poke Turkey Twizzlers through the school gates to feed their morbidly obese cuckoo kids.

Needless to say, Oliver sticks in my craw and I’d walk a cunty mile to avoid him and all his works. What this society needs is a culture that values its eternal soul above its lemon sole and a form of social justice that doesn’t depend on the tit-beating self-righteousness of charity – with all the patronising bullshit that goes along with this. Still, I don’t expect Oliver to have a Damascene conversion on these matters, not while he’s doing such a lovely jubbly.

Between the liverish columns of the brutalist former bank building at the end of Shaftesbury Avenue in London, a new outpost of Oliver’s army has been established: Jamie Oliver’s Diner. Unlike his delis and his Italian (sic) restaurants, the “pop-up” diner does indeed have a surrealistic, throwntogether feel, like the chance meeting between a hand-held card reader and a PR wonk on a conference-room table.

“I know,” some bright spark must’ve said, “let’s make it a themed western dinosaur burger joint!” And verily, it was so, complete with a triceratops meat chart on the wall and weird glyphs on the ceilings that show cowboys and dinosaurs peacefully cohabiting in the sagebrush. There are hortatory slogans painted along the architrave: “Gorgeous food cooked with love and care”; “No porkies, just free-range meat”; and – most heartening, this – “If it’s not eaten, it’s composted.”

My two velociraptors had standard sevenounce burgers with various bits and pieces, Mrs Tyrannosaurus (who doesn’t usually attend these reviewing meals) went for a chicken burger and I had the Caesar salad. The food was nothing special: Mrs T said her burger tasted “bitter”; the bit of grilled chicken on my salad was just that – a bit about two by three inches and as wafer-thin as Mr Creosote’s mints. The boys were pissed off by the cardboard straws in their Cokes, which were weirdly absorptive. The fries, naturally, came in those dumb little zinc buckets. With “home-made” lemonade for me, a Bacardi and Coke for Mrs T and a tenner tip, the whole schmozzle cost 20 quid more than the weekly Jobseeker’s Allowance.

On the back of the paper menu, together with recipes for cocktails called Cucumber Number and Dark’n’Stormy, there’s a chirpy little missive from Jamie himself, wherein he witters on about “great food values and ethics” and “sustainable and local ingredients”, all of which leads inexorably to “yummy healthy dishes”.

There’s also a sidebar entitled “A word about nutrition”, in which the usual guff about calories and saturated fats takes on the air of a pious homily. Jamie says: “The beauty of being a pop-up is it gives us loads of flexibility to listen to what you guys want, so please let us know.” To which I can only respond: do please pukka off with your millions to Necker Island with Branson and leave us in peace, matey.

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Russell Brand Guest Edit

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Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit