When I was fresh out of university and even more naive than I am now I came across a family called Elliot who published a series of books known as “Elliot’s Right Way” books, each written by a different expert in their field. They covered dozens of topics, from driving to bridge to gardening. I was amazed to find that the names of the experts were made up and that each and every one of the books were written by Elliot himself or one of his two sons. They were massively popular and earned a fortune for the Elliot family.
It was a similar story with Mrs Beeton, author of the famous cookbook. Her husband was a publisher and he got his wife, who couldn’t cook to save her life, to pretend to be an expert and together they cobbled together a cookbook relying entirely on the expertise of others. Lots of howlers crept in, such as advice to cook carrots for 1 3/4 to 2 1/4 hours. Mr Beeton went on to produce a gardening manual under his wife’s name, which was ridiculed in the gardening magazines.
The Beeton story came to mind today when I read that Jamie Oliver has been named as one of the country’s most influential gardeners*. Now, there are two things we can say with certainty about Jamie Oliver. The first is that he can cook (unlike Mrs Beeton). The second is that he’s no gardener. He’s been named as an influential gardener because the DIY store, Homebase, have employed him as their new face. It happens that I’m a regular at Homebase (see – http://www.slow-life.co.uk/2011/11/11/over-wintering-cannas/) and I’ve seen ‘Jamie Oliver’ branded plants on sale there. I thought they were poor quality and over-priced, and I’ve got a feeling that that view was shared by others, as they featured prominently in the half-price “bargain corner”, looking rather worse for wear.
Influential Jamie Oliver may be, but it’s a poor sort of influence if the product is as bogus as the name of the author on an “Elliot Right Way” book.
*The Telegraph, “Meet Britain’s Most Influential Gardeners“, by Tim Richardson.