The ADgenda: this week's most offensive advert

Fifty years of Flash.

Flash is waving a red rag to a bull, gleefully taunting the British female population with its 50th birthday celebrations. Not content with enraging Londoners with its Underground advertising campaign during the Olympics ("Imagine London is your flat and the world's your mum. Don't you want to clean your flat ready for your mum's visit?"), which resulted in otherwise dead-eyed commuters spluttering with indignation at the idea that their city is a shithole the rest of the time (and that's just fine by the corporate fat cats) but once the global eye was momentarily resting on this little backwater, it was time metaphorically to shove your dirty dinner plates under the sofa.

The saccharine theme song jauntily bounces over the top of a montage of housewives with fixed smiles concentrating very hard on wiping a bin lid with a cloth. Years pass but the dedication to their womanly duty remains – all that alters is the height of the hairdos.

Fifty years down the line, it's worth taking a look back at the world Flash was born into. It's 1962 and a large proportion of the female population has managed to shake off the stifling 1950s pristine housewife tag. These women are about to embark on an adventure of discovery – exploring their bodies, experimenting with drugs and pushing the limitations of gender boundaries. 

Meanwhile, amid all this societal flux, a new cleaning product is being launched, the makers of which take one look around at the newly bohemian landscape and promptly set to work putting women back in their place. Know your limits. So this is what Flash is celebrating and they have a lot to celebrate. Fifty years later, millions of bottles are still being sold despite no attempt whatsoever to give a voice to the thousands of families who don't conform to mummy cooking in the kitchen, daddy smoking in the lounge. The first female prime minister, the contraceptive pill and the slow crawl towards equal pay in the workplace have all come to pass and the Flash ad execs have staunchly dug their heads deeper into the sand. Progress? Pah. Gender liberation? Bloody hippies. Fifty years of Flash, 50 years of tired old stereotypes.

A woman's work: a 1960s housewife. Chaloner Woods/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
HEINZ BAUMANN/GALLERY STOCK
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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad