Tuesday, September 15, 2009

RIP Keith Floyd: No More Heroes

They say you should never meet your heroes. I learned that very early on in journalism. But even though I had the chance to meet my all-time hero Keith Floyd on a couple of occasions, I shrank away each time.

I wanted him to remain in my thoughts as the bow-tied roué lambasting the cameraman Clive, glass in hand, pan-frying sweetbreads and truffles, and heartily recommending that half the bottle of red should go into the beef daube, and the other half into the cook.

I wanted to remember him in his prime, drunk on the riverbank, hurling stones at a hapless fisherman who’d failed to catch any trout for the show. Cooking and playing for a Welsh rugby team, then skidding on his studs and scattering food across the floor.

That scene in Padstow, when he pretended to forget the name of a young Rick Stein as the fresh-faced cook, and his eventual usurper, squirmed on camera.

I wanted to remember him making mashed potato with a young Marco Pierre White. Serving a fried beer-mat to a man who’d complained about his schnitzel. Putting all his money on the roulette wheel and drinking into the small hours after a particularly bad night’s service.

I wanted to remember his refreshing, self-deprecating humour when it came to his own cooking talents. The live cookery demonstration when he left the giblet bag inside a roast duck.

But perhaps most of all I miss his infectious love of food, and his humbleness and readiness to accept where he came from - unlike many of the new breed of celebrity chefs spawned from his success.

Quite simply, he was a man who never forgot he was just a cook.

On one early Floyd On Fish show, he opened his box of knives and told viewers: “So you see the importance of my little black box is that it’s actually got the tools of my trade in, and if the worst comes to the worst, and the BBC goes bust, then I can still get a job as a cook anyday.”

I don’t want to remember him as the frail, doddering, aged-beyond-his-years man in last night’s Channel 4 documentary Keith Meets Keith.

From the moment the great cook was shown sleeping on a hotel sofa like some befuddled Chelsea pensioner, his energy and spirit finally succumbing to a lifetime of fags and booze, it was clear it was going to be uncomfortable viewing.

I tried to switch over several times, but this was Keith Floyd...

He might pull through and show his old magic, even a glimmer of it would do, but by the end I felt overwhelmingly sad.

The whole show – not helped in the slightest by the faux sensitivity of Keith Allen and crew – wreaked of mortality. It was like watching the last hours of a dying God.

It was obvious Floyd didn’t have long, and as it turned out, just a few weeks. Minutes before the documentary was aired, the legendary raconteur died from a heart attack while watching TV at his partner Celia Martin’s home in Dorset. He was 65.

Paramedics battled for 45 minutes to save him but he could not be resuscitated, his ghost-writer James Steen said.

Floyd had returned to Britain three weeks ago to start chemotherapy for bowel cancer, and died just before the publication of his latest autobiography Stirred But Not Shaken.

A book launch had been planned at Marco Pierre White's Knightsbridge restaurant Frankies on October 6, and will now go ahead as a celebration of Floyd's life.

A short statement on Floyd's website says: “On Monday, September 14 2009, Keith passed away. He will be greatly missed by many.”

The only faintly watchable bit of last night’s documentary was when Floyd called most of the celebrity chefs who fill our screens “c****”.

Fittingly, the likes of Jamie Oliver and co were quick to pay tribute to the man who had paved the way for their careers.

Oliver said: “Keith was not just one of the best, he was the best television chef. An incredible man who lived life to the full and an inspiration to me and to so many others.”

Antony Worrall Thompson added: “I think all of us modern TV chefs owe a living to him. He kind of spawned us all.

“He turned cookery shows into entertainment. He lived life to the full and didn't care what people thought about him.”

Born to a working class family in Somerset in 1943, Floyd was educated at Wellington School before first becoming a journalist for a local paper in Bristol.

But that didn’t last long, and he decided to join the Forces after watching Zulu and rose to Second Lieutenant in the Royal Tank Regiment.

While in the Army, he played a major role in the kitchen and so-called 'Floyd nights' became the stuff of legend.

After leaving the forces, he flitted between jobs as a barman, dishwasher and cook before opening three restaurants in Bristol.

It was in one of those that he had his TV break, when he met BBC producer David Pritchard, and Floyd on Fish was born.

At its peak, the show was broadcast in 40 countries.

But it was this fame that led to his undoing and the failure of four marriages.

Although clearly a natural in front of the camera, he often reflected that if he hadn’t gone into TV, he’d have been a lot happier, and would probably have still been running a bistro in Bristol.

“There is Keith, who is just a cook and doesn't want to be famous,” he once said.

“He wants to lead a simple life, go out to dinner with his mates, go fishing. Then there is this other person, Floyd or Floydie.

“He is universally popular. People are so obsessed with Floydie that Keith can never lead a quiet life. It is unjust. I don't want to be Floyd. If I've influenced people, then I have. But I've got no idea who Floyd is. Not a clue.”

His fans knew who he was though, and loved him all the more for it.

I can’t tell you how said I am at his passing.

I’ll leave the last line to Floyd’s favourite band The Stranglers...

No more heroes anymore.


Martha F said...

I'm so sad about his passing. He really did live life to the full, and I suppose it got the better of him in the end. What a legend!

Anonymous said...

Nicely put. Thanks.

SheeBeeGB said...

Thank you Lennie.
A fitting tribute to a great individual.

Anonymous said...

Perfect epitaph, thank you Lennie.

Keith Floyd was one of the few men of original character. He was from an era when it was OK to be openly proud to be British, as one could simply point Keith Floyd out as part of the reason why.

He can be assured that he'll be missed, as he left a legacy that has never, and will never, be replaced.