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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Conjuring the ghost: the "shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genuis" of David Litvinoff

A new biography tracks down the elusive Kray confidant who became a friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

David Litvinoff is a mythic character to anyone with an interest in London during the Sixties. An intimate of the Krays, he was a tough and violent Jew from the East End. He was also a musical genius with an unrivalled knowledge of jazz, the blues and rock that made him a valued friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It was his ability to move from the East End to Chelsea, from the dives of Soho to Notting Hill, that was the critical factor in the extraordinary vision of London that Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg conjured into the film Performance, for which Litvinoff is credited as dialogue coach. And yet, even though all this is known and recorded, he remains a ghost, a figure who wrote nothing and who systematically destroyed all the records of his life he could lay his hands on. Even his exact role in Performance is shrouded in mystery. He is said to have dictated much of the script to Cammell. This biography claims that Jagger’s mesmerising song on the soundtrack, “Memo from Turner”, was in fact a memo from Litvinoff.

Multiple reports describe him as the most brilliant talker London had known since Coleridge, but although there are rumours of tapes they have always been just rumours. I’d have thought he was a figure who would defeat any biographer – a shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genius lost in a mist of hallucinogens – but Keiron Pim’s account of this extraordinary character is a magisterial work of scholarship. He tracks down all the living witnesses; he has also unearthed letters, and even some of those long-lost tapes.

The story that emerges is even harder to believe than the legend. Litvinoff came out of the Jewish East End but he was from one of its most talented families. His name was not even Litvinoff: his mother’s first husband went by that name but David was the son of her second, Solomon Levy. Long before he met the Krays or the Stones, he was a gossip columnist on the Daily Express, practically inventing the Chelsea set that shocked the prim Fifties. By that time he had met Lucian Freud, who painted him in an astonishing study, the working title of which was Portrait of a Jew. Litvinoff was furious when Freud exhibited it with the new description of The Procurer, and the bad blood between these two men, both of whom inhabited the drinking clubs of Soho and the Krays’ gambling joints, remained for the rest of their lives. In fact, it is Freud who comes over as the villain of the book, fingered by Pim as the man behind the most violent assault on Litvinoff: he was knocked unconscious at the door to his own flat, on the top floor, and awoke to find himself naked and tied to a chair suspended from the balcony, nose broken and head shaved bald.

I learned much from this book: a period working for Peter Rachman before he became involved with the Krays; sojourns in Wales and Australia when he was fleeing threats of violence. The big discovery for me, however, was Litvinoff’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the jazz and blues traditions that gave birth to rock’n’roll. He taught the Stones a lot but he taught Eric Clapton even more – they were both living at the Pheasantry building on the King’s Road, and Litvinoff seems to have had unlimited access to the most recherché back catalogues and the most recent unreleased recordings. The book traces, but does not comment on, a transformation from an amphetamine-fuelled hard man in the Fifties and early Sixties to the oddest of hallucinogen hippies by the Summer of Love in 1967.

But, for all Litvinoff’s knowledge, wit and gift for friendship, his tale is a tragedy. A man who could talk but couldn’t write; an out gay man long before it was acceptable, who seems never to have been at ease with his sexuality; a proud Jew without any tradition of Judaism to which he could affiliate. Above all, this was a man who lived to the full the extraordinary moment when London dreamed, in Harold Wilson’s Sixties, that class was a thing of the past. Back from Australia in the early Seventies, Litvinoff awoke again to find that it had indeed been a dream. His suicide in 1975 was cold and deliberate. He had outlived his time. 

Colin MacCabe edits Critical Quarterly

Jumpin’ Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock’n’Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim is publisyhed by Jonathan Cape (416pp, £16.99)

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser