Incisive. September 2015.

Dear Rowley,

London must have been en fete considering I’ve been barely able to speak for four days after having four wisdom extracted at UCL. As the nurses told me I was in the middle of a particularly amusing anecdote about the night Stephen Fry opened the Savoy’s Noël Coward Suite that Mrs T and I decorated when the general anaesthetic sent me to nod.

Actually the general was bliss compared to a previous local that had me screaming to the ceiling before the surgeon had even reached for the pliers. So now I have cheekbones like Garbo, jaw ache like James Dean and Joan Crawford’s temper. Garbo never did anything for me as an actress. I was much more a Dietrich fan. But as a stills model Garbo – as shot by Clarence Sinclair Bull – does contend as one of the most exquisite faces of all time.

It’s all about the lighting Rowley. The great Josef von Sternberg instilled in the young Dietrich everything she needed to know about playing to the light. Having studied the Hollywood portrait photographers such as George Hurrell, Laszlo Willinger and Ruth Harriet Louise, I can spot a key light in a restaurant before the menu arrives and strike a pose accordingly.

Having worried I wouldn’t wake-up from the anaesthetic I am terribly grateful to be writing this letter to you. That said they’re right about toothache making one crabby so do forgive me if a couple of acid drops slip out this evening. While resting-up I had the misfortune to watch a variety of cookery programmes labouring under the assumption that the contestants were in a culinary version of The Hunger Games.

Why in the name of Fanny Craddock do television producers insist on presenting a slice o’ light baking like gladiatorial  mortal combat between Christian and lion? Masterchef is the worst for butched-up gravitas that seems entirely out of place when the cooks (chefs?) are contemplating making raspberry macaroons on a bed of vanilla foam. You half expect Tina Turner dressed as Auntie Entity from Beyond Thunderdome to pop up next to Greg and John shrieking ‘two men enter, one man leaves’.

The judges on The Great British Bake Off and The Great British Menu pass sentence on a Swiss Roll as if they were condemning Crippen to hang. You’d think the losing baker was going to be dragged from the tent/studio and summarily executed at Tyburn. If only! That said, I like Paul Hollywood’s schtick: icy blue eyes like knives, smile like an assassin and bulk that suggests he could crack your head like a walnut if you cremate the toffee crisp coating.

Cooking bores me to sobs unless somebody is doing it for me. It astounds me that people derive pleasure from watching someone bake when they can neither taste nor smell the result. I’d have thought a cheeky trip to Gregg’s the Baker would be eminently preferable. Then again, how can you argue with the TV ratings or the book sales? Even if they can’t do it, it seems the British public like watching other people have a bash at baking.

There is such a thing as overkill though, don’t you find? As I said to La Farmer only yesterday, ‘we really don’t see enough of Mary Berry on the telly’. I like the old dear. Good luck and good health. I even quite enjoy the stretch denim, floral tops and burnished blonde candy floss bob makeover that women half her age would shrink from. But I really do think Paul and Mary could take a leaf out of Garbo’s book and know when to leave the party. As for Mel ‘n Sue, I’d rather have Burke & Hare at my funeral than those two on my screen.

The hubris of television chefs and aspirants does make me want to reach for the Andrews liver salts. If, for example, these people were contesting to complete a gall bladder operation or heart transplant I would understand the sense of urgency and jeopardy. I find it terribly hard to muster-up much interest in a room-full of people challenged to bake an opera cake in under five hours.

And another thing … What precisely makes Taylor Swift a superstar? I’ve never heard the lady sing a note. But in the pursuit of research following the MTV video awards last night I did have a brief look at Miss Swift’s opus on YouTube. The verdict? I genuinely believe Taylor Swift could be a drone constructed in a bunker beneath Facebook Head Quarters by scientists employed by Mark Zuckerberg. I was waiting for her to short circuit.

Isn’t it amazing that youth culture has completely overwhelmed culture? The mainstream TV and print media, horrified to have lost their power to t’Internet, are playing a desperate game of catch-up feigning interest in teenage pop culture and a cast including Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, the Kardashians, Miley Cyrus, Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry. The consequences are twofold: pop culture now believes itself entitled to our interest and older generations are pigging-out on the equivalent of cultural junk food.

Where once Martin Luther King or John F. Kennedy gave important speeches, now the masses hang off every puerile, bombastic, ungrammatical and inexplicable phrase that falls from the doped-up, potty mouth of Kanye West. Instead of applauding the beauty and elegance of a Grace Kelly or Elizabeth Taylor we’re supposed to invest our interest in what that vulgar, Bantu-bottomed broad Kim Kardashian is wearing. Dietrich and Garbo remain my goddesses who earned an immortality I very much doubt Kim, Miley or Taylor will enjoy in years to come.