The F Word

Wednesday, July 5, 2006 by

The F Word is a double entendre. On the face it, it would appear to be a show about cookery, with the F obviously standing for food. In actual fact, it’s about swearing.

When a second series of The F Word was first mooted, it was hard to see what changes Channel 4 were going to make to the format. The first series of the Gordon Ramsay-fronted magazine programme for food lovers hadn’t done as well as commissioners had hoped and so they planned to tweak it. But since it was already such a mixture of every other cooking show already, incorporating elements from Jamie’s, Nigella’s and all the other celebrity chefs’ menu of tricks, it was hard to see what they were going to do to invigorate it as they had promised.

Judging by the results, their main aim was to get Gordon Ramsay to swear as much as possible.

The first big change was the removal of slightly annoying restaurant critic Giles Coren, who hosted a regular “consumer report” strand during the show’s first run. In his place is the occasional feature by either Ramsay himself or his female equivalent, Janet Street-Porter. More Gordon or Janet = more swearing, since Coren was at least linguistically restrained. Mission accomplished, Channel 4.

The other big change was the removal of the first series’ competition in favour of an alternative “inspired” by Hell’s Kitchen. In the first series, a few enterprising junior chefs who wanted a job with Gordon Ramsay would show off their stuff by working in The F Word‘s kitchen. Each week, the chef would decide who would go on to the next round and in the final episode, the winner got the job after a bake-off. A nice idea, really, watching someone step up from a second tier job in attempt to break into the big leagues, triumphing only through their own skills.

This time round, Ramsay just gets to shout at non-chefs while they find out what life in a kitchen is like. Do we, as an audience, learn much from watching amateurs chefs with no experience of working in restaurant kitchens not manage to do as well as professional chefs? Do they really get anything out of it except a chance to be insulted? The whole strand is little more than an excuse for Gordon Ramsay to hurl verbal abuse at people for no good reason. Except since they’re amateurs and they’re not as good as the pros, he swears at them more since the one thing he really hates is food treated badly. Again, another tick for the Channel 4 swear box.

The rest of the show remains pretty much the same, just variations on the previous series’ themes at most. Gordon going round men’s houses to teach them how to cook Sunday lunch, instead of going round women’s houses. No more turkeys being reared for slaughter; hello pigs on the same journey. In their favour, these strands remain some of the better elements of the show. But there’s been nothing of equal or greater interest added in the same vein.

One part remains that is just cringeworthy, however. Whatever you think of Ramsay as a chef, one thing he’s not is a celebrity interviewer – he makes Davina look like Parkie. When faced with Cliff Richard, all he could was try to goad him into swearing. Either give him some training or let the celebrity interview him, Channel 4, because it’s just not pleasant to watch.

Nevertheless, despite the paucity of inspiration and the changes for the worse, ratings for the show have been good so far. In fact, this episode combined with Big Brother and Property Ladder, gave Channel 4 its second-highest rated night of the year so far. It seems swearing is indeed both grown-up and cool.


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