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“The man in the kitchen”. Boulestin and Harben: Representation, gender, celebrity, and business in the early development of television cooking programmes in Britain

Geddes, Kevin



Ana Tominc


The proliferation of television cooking programmes can be seen as a ‘modern’ phenomenon (see Collins, 2009; DeBacker and Hudders, 2015; DeSolier, 2005; Ketchum, 2005), with only a light knowledge of their history in Britain documented. Much of the research into television cooking programmes concentrates on broadcasts from the 1990s onwards (for example, Brunsdon, 2003; DeSolier, 2005), seen by many as the time of ‘explosion’ in not only the number, but types of representations of cooking, and food, on television, with the introduction of dedicated food channels and an expansion of ‘celebrity chefs’ cooking on television (Tominc, 2017). However, television had been established in Britain since 1936 (Briggs, 1985), with the first broadcasts to feature food and cooking shown just a few weeks into the new schedules (BBC Genome, 2020). Cooking programmes have been a feature of schedules ever since.

This chapter focuses specifically on two television cooking presenters from the early days of broadcasting in Britain, X. Marcel Boulestin (who featured in television broadcasts before World War II) and Philip Harben (who featured in television broadcasts after World War II), both of whom played a significant role in the establishment and development of television cooking programmes in Britain. By reviewing archival materials and primary sources this chapter will examine the initial twenty years of broadcast television cooking programmes in Britain, looking in particular at these two male presenters, Boulestin and Harben, who dominated television cooking programmes before and after the war respectively.

Aiming to fill the gap in the literature, this chapter looks at how Boulestin and Harben accentuated and capitalised on their image and gender to connect with audiences (which included but were not limited to housewives), linking their own particular styles and projected personas to emphasise, and benefit from, their celebrity. Although ‘celebrity chefs’ on television are generally thought to be a more recent phenomenon, were these early pioneers able to connect the domestic task of preparing a meal beyond the home, beyond the screen and beyond the broadcasters to establish viable businesses and incomes which broadcasting at the time alone could not generate? To answer this, their contribution to the development of television cooking programmes generally will be analysed together with their roles in establishing the linkages with celebrity, business and the authentic representation of cooking on television, ultimately considering whether their contribution was more significant than previously considered.

Online Publication Date Feb 15, 2022
Publication Date Mar 9, 2022
Deposit Date May 25, 2022
Publisher Routledge
Book Title Food and Cooking on Early Television in Europe: Impact on Postwar Foodways
Chapter Number 2
ISBN 978-0367347888
Public URL
Publisher URL