Rhodes meets Roald

10th October 1997 at 01:00

What happens when Gary Rhodes meets Roald Dahl and celebrity cooking comes to children's television? Revolting recipes, that's what!

Rhodes, spiky hair a-bristle, flits manically round the kitchen, geeing up his assistant children with cries of "That's fantastic" as they spoon parsley into the sauce and involving visiting celebs in invoking the spirit of Roald Dahl as he whisks up revolting spaghetti from The Twits, Bruce Bogtrotter's chocolate cake from Matilda and mudburgers from James and the Giant Peach.

What would the sardonic Dahl have made of this very camp performance, adult viewers might wonder? Always the wordsmith above all, Dahl's gallery of grotesques is invariably toned down when translated into other media than language; his absolute savagery, the very quality which makes the savage in children thrill to his gruesome fictions, loses its cutting edge - or the adapters lose their nerve.

Ideally, cooking is best done with a degree of quiet concentration, especially when you have a group of children. Though there are token nods to this, with adults straining off the spaghetti or minding the deep-fryer, the whole enterprise is geared to being televisual entertainment rather than instruction. But slow, calm, measuring, chopping and weighing does not cut it on the small screen, so we have a lot of people milling around, with ones "made earlier" being constantly whipped out.

This is most confusing in the mudburgers, where at one and the same time burgers are being mixed, shaped and cooked. The mudburger episode, with Robbie from EastEnders minding the onion rings, reaches an apogee of campness, with the two men flipping fairy dust flour over the rolling-out board, in an unexpectedly messy take on how to make a beefburger - and sing the song from James and the Giant Peach.

The best of this series is the chocolate cake, featuring Pam Ferris (Miss Trunchbull from the film of Matilda). Clearly an old pro, Ms Ferris delivers the requisite amount of greedy delight interspersed with quick shots of her film role, much to the pleasure of the children, who seem to know the film and book off by heart.

It would be possible to learn a bit about cooking from this episode. That is not really the case in Revolting Spaghetti, which is confusingly cut and not helped by the presence of a cheesed-off Helen Lederer, who seems to think the whole thing a waste of energy. Adult viewers might agree, but if children are fired up either to help in the kitchen or to re-read a Dahl book, the series will not have been screened in vain.

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